I am Black, Woman, and in Ministry. Recently I had the opportunity to candidly share with a multicultural group on what it’s like to be a black woman in ministry.
Then I was asked to consider making a blog post with the content of my presentation; this is what it’s like inside my world.
If we have yet to meet, my name is Jade Lee and I am a wife, mother of three (two virtual twins- one biological and one being adopted, and a 19 year old we are about to adopt).
I am also a writer of three books, The Ferguson’s Dilemma: Healing America’s Racial Wounds Free to be You: Finding Your Personal Independence and The Pull: Winning the Battle Against Deception.
My husband, Corey and I started an organization that has affiliates nationwide called Convergence Movement. Together, we pastor Convergence Church. We have been in ministry together for 16 years and are now both MDiv students at Fuller Seminary.
Along this ministry journey I’ve found myself frequenting white evangelical circles a lot.
Black, Woman & In Ministry
Detailing my experiences in the intersection between my ethnicity and sex actually begins in my upbringing.
I was practically born and raised at First Baptist Church of Jericho in Deptford, NJ. This was an all black family church, where I do not recollect seeing a black woman preacher.
At the age of 12 we moved on to St. Matthews Baptist Church, which grew into an affluent mega church in NJ. There I also never experienced women preaching or teaching outside of sharing with other women. Women were not permitted to even stand on the pulpit.
It wasn’t until attending a small church in college with international influence that I began to see women preachers. This resounded with me greatly as a part of my calling, to be a woman preacher and teacher in ministry.
The hardships I would later find attached to this role were unseen at the time, but now I’m very well acquainted with the behind the scenes world of being a woman in ministry.
It has been an enriching journey, one I would not trade for the world, yet also demanding.
The first moment I will share with you occurred in Africa while with American missionaries. They began to share how African Christianity was full of emotionalism and a lack of education.
This wreaked of the similar assumptions about African American churches. It is troubling to know that many seminaries do not introduce students to black theologians nor black history, yet Christian leaders feel they have enough information to critique the black or African church who has proven herself to endure 400 slave years including persecution, the illegalization of Bible reading and gathering together as a body.
The black slave church is the foundational insituation of our humble beginnings and there is a plethora of lessons we could learn from her, yet the attitude that persists that she is too emotional or uneducated to be impactful. This could not be further from the truth.
Could the misconceptions, that churches and Christians of African descent are too emotional or uneducated, have stemmed from the rhetoric of “Christian” slave masters who enforced tales about her capabilities? Could it be informed by false European explorer reports dating back to the 1500’s, detailing the primitive look and nature of African people?
The second moment I will share is actually a collection of many moments I have had while sitting amongst white men. There are conferences where I have been the only women and definitely the only black woman at a table.
There have been times I have been ignored, talked over and it is somewhat humorous to see the facial expressions of some white men when I greet them on lateral terms.
There is oftentimes a look of shock, then wonder, at what to say to this young lady who is amongst educated Christian men.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm at predominantly white conferences.
This discomfort has obviously come from years of not interacting in multicultural settings. But it is okay because, we have more in common than different, let’s be friendly and talk about the weather, family or God! It’s okay to get out of your comfort zone as the majority culture, many minorities live in that place full time.
The third moment I will share is more on a business level. It can be hard not to wonder what is racism and “just imagination.” This has happened in business setting where people have believed I was a white leader, but show up to network, only to find I am black.
The business we ran was well known and thriving but our network meetings suddenly collapsed when people met us in person.
Oh the look of shock when realizing a young, black couple is in leadership.
The following week, after hosting a beautiful group of business leaders, no one showed up. During follow up calls they make excuses that they could no longer attend for various reasons.
We then moved our network meetings to a predominantly black area and people began to show up. It cannot be proven statistically, but too many black leaders struggle to gather Christian white leaders to their location, under their leadership.
Why is it that many white Christians struggle to follow black leadership, both male or female black leadership is denied.
The fourth moment I will mention is the tendency to talk to me immediately about race. This is common. I’m sitting with a white leader, the conversation goes directly into how this leader has helped black people, brought black people to their home, taught their children not to be racist.
That’s all great and dandy, but we are humans just like you. There’s no need to detail every black experience you have had nor prove to me you are not racist, again let’s just talk weather, sports or family.
The fifth type of moment is about my hair. I have had people touch my hair, which is strange to me, but also pet my hair like a chia pet or animal at a zoo. Then comments soar, “How did you get your hair like that? You are always changing your hair.”
These comments unfortunately remind me that I’m a different type of woman living in a land that’s not quite like me.
Questions are okay, but are they isolating or demeaning even when good intentions may be at root?
The sixth type of moment is the scary mention of race. When people ask me about my book or what I do I see a lot of withdrawal. Race is a “don’t touch this” topic. It gets awkward quickly.
Then the conversation may go straight to my write friends mentioning, “I’m not racist.” No one said you personally are racist. Just saying.
By the end of a lot of my presentations on racism, while a few stay in the front to talk to me as a presenter, most run out of the room avoiding any contact. The discomfort with this conversation is the tangible elephant in the room To day the least, it is awkward.
How do these experiences impact me?
These experiences have become my life so of course they impact me, but not in all bad ways.
The first way they impact me is they have made me stronger and able to insert myself in any setting. I love that God has used this as iron sharpening me to make me ultra comfortable and confident in my own skin.
Second, these experiences have shaped my view of the white church and cultural white Christianity. Before these moments, I knew there was white culture or a white version of Christianity being expressed, but now I am intimately aware of this culture’s inner workings.
I do not think white people see this as easily.
Third, these experiences have given me compassion for people of African descent. We are still in a position worldwide where the effects of slavery are at play in people’s view of us; unfortunately, we are still climbing out of this pit.
Fourth, these experiences have caused me to have a burden for the freedom of the white church and her leaders. I’m genuinely concerned about the identity crisis of white people. It is bondage not to be able to be yourself because a black woman walked into a room and sat next to you.
Fifth, it has caused me to want to speak more on the root of these issues and the beauty of the black church historically. Understanding is needed.
How have I coped with these experiences?
I have talked through these experiences with my husband and people who understand me, people who will not dismiss my experiences as “all in my mind” or extreme.
I have had to do a lot of forgiving people. Over and over again in various contexts.
I have written a lot to express and to heal.
I teach and share with open audiences.
I have learned to place myself in safe/honoring spaces, places where I am celebrated, not tolerated.
I also have female mentors who can relate to these experiences.
Tips on how to engage black women in Ministry
First, Learn, learn, learn everything you can about black history, race relations in America, the black church’s history, and the significant role women have played in black churches/in black culture from Africa to America. The more you learn the less awkward you will feel, and more culturally in tune to you will be to a people who are different from you.
Second, come into the relationship knowing the person is a person just like you. Talk to them just as you would a friend, don’t ignore them, don’t talk down to them. Just be a friend.
Third, use your privilege to give black women voices and positions of leadership at the table- include her in the conversation and advocate for her with dignity.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Position yourself to learn and sit under black women, taking a stance of humility. You can also read theological documents from black women and scholars.
If you don’t know where to begin, here is a list to get you started:
Dr. Love Sechrest- Can White People Be Saved?
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeal- Roadmap to Racial Reconciliation
Renita Weems- Just a Sister Away
Martha Simmons- Preaching with Sacred Fire
Yolanda Pierce- The Cambridge Companion to African American Slave Narrative feature
All Black Female Slave Narratives- Celia, A Slave, Sojourner Truth
And of course, here’s a shameless plug for my book, The Ferguson Dilemma Healing America’s Racial Wounds.
Hopefully this post has provided you with an inside look into being Black, Women and In Ministry. But more importantly, may it be a start at building bridges between someone who may be a little different than you! We need many stories to get the whole picture. Thank you for listening to mine!