Trauma Informed Preaching: A Case Study of Jezebel

Rev. Dr. Irie Session

Rev. Dr. Irie Session gave a compelling presentation, “Trauma Informed Preaching: A Case Study of Jezebel,” at the “Unauthorized: Nevertheless, She Preached” event. Rev. Dr. Session, a womanist preacher and theologian and ordained Disciples of Christ pastor, currently serves as Director of Training & Spiritual Support for New Friends New Life, an organization that restores and empowers formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and children.

The “Me, Too” campaign, recently gone viral on social media but originally created by Tarana Burke 10 years ago, further underscores the urgency of Rev. Dr. Irie’s message about women’s universal experience of the trauma of abuse. She connects traditional patriarchal readings of biblical texts to the abuse of women, as do many who tell their “Me, Too” stories. She emphasizes reinterpreting biblical texts so that they empower instead of oppress women. “When we preach Good News,” she says, “we must make sure it’s Good News for everyone in the house, because everyone has experienced some trauma.”

As a womanist preacher and theologian, Rev. Dr. Irie empowers women and  dismantles patriarchy. Womanism, she says, is “situated in the intersections of race, class, and gender oppression and recovers black women as equal partners,” and womanist preaching is “trauma informed.” Trauma informed womanist preaching asks this question: “Who experiences trauma and who dishes it out?” Trauma informed womanist preaching examines “what happens to people, not what’s wrong with people.” Womanist preaching “is prophetic because it exposes patriarchal oppression in certain biblical texts.” Womanist preaching mines biblical texts for “women’s self-love, communal concerns, strength, resiliency, creativity, and ingenuity.”

Rev. Dr. Irie urges us to recognize that “there is trauma in the pews; people are hurting; people are wounded.” Because what we “say behind the pulpit has great power, we must take care how we preach the texts.” She asks, “Will our preaching repair or revictimize survivors of trauma?” This is a question she hopes to ask every week for the rest of her life.

In her preaching and teaching Rev. Dr. Irie empowers women by re-examining biblical stories. She believes in the power of the Bible to bring death or life. On her website she explains: “I believe the church has traditionally interpreted and taught the Bible in a manner that devalues women and girls. Such interpretations adversely affect their survival and ability to experience wholeness. As a result, certain biblical passages have become death dealing for women and girls. As a womanist, I am committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people. Therefore, I teach the Bible to liberate both men and women. I teach the Bible to highlight God’s love for every human being. I teach the Bible to summon life from dead places. I teach for resurrection.”

At the “Nevertheless, She Preached” event, Rev. Dr. Irie re-examines the story of Jezebel, one of the most misunderstood and despised women in the Bible. According to the CEB Women’s Bible, Jezebel has become a symbol for “uncontrolled female power and unrestrained sexuality,” even though the Old Testament story portrays her as a “devoted spouse.” Like many other biblical females, Jezebel has long been defamed, demeaned, and misinterpreted. The name “Jezebel” has been used as a derogatory epithet to denounce and shame women. When Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell became the first woman to pastor a Baptist church in Texas, outside protesters came with picket signs that referred to her as “Jezebel.”

Rev. Dr. Irie reclaims and revalues Jezebel as a woman who “resisted adopting the traditional role of women” in her time. “Even though Jezebel lived in a time when women were voiceless, when daddy could just give you to whoever he wanted to give you to, when you had no rights of your own, she refused to surrender her identity.” Jezebel “refused to take on the religion of her husband,” remaining faithful to her own religion to her death.

Jezebel shows us what a woman can do “when she’s oppressed, put in a box,” Rev. Dr. Irie says. “When we feel oppressed, when we feel that we have no voice, when we feel that we have been subjugated, something within us will rise up. Something will happen in us that we will not feel comfortable with that. Now we may go along to get along for a little while. But something about that just doesn’t feel right, and it ought not feel right because God didn’t make us to be dominated.” Something within us will help us rise up and resist.

Here is a short video clip from Rev. Dr. Irie’s powerful presentation:

Jezebel: A Case Study from Dr. Irie Lynne Session on Vimeo.

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Sheroes in the Faith: Rising Above Adversity

Rev. Jewel London

Rev. Jewel London gave an outstanding presentation, “Sheroes in the Faith: Rising Above Adversity,” at the “Unauthorized: Nevertheless, She Preached” event in Waco, Texas. Rev. London, a minister at The Church Without Walls  in Houston, Texas, inspired us by lifting up current women who have overcome obstacles to fulfill their call to ministry.

Pastor Tabatha C. Whitten


Pastor Tabatha C. Whitten: Founder and pastor of Remnant Fellowship Church in Houston, Texas, she is also a licensed social worker and has worked with troubled youth and their families for over 20 years. She preaches the Gospel in prisons and cares for the poor, and ministers to families through a company she established called L.I.F.E. (Living Intentionally For Eternity). She is also a writer, vocalist, and producer.




Rev. Dr. Claudette A. Copeland

Rev. Dr. Claudette A. Copeland: In spite of those who argue that women shouldn’t preach, nevertheless, she preaches and co-pastors New Creation Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas. She and her husband were the first African American clergy couple in the history of the U.S. Military Chaplaincy. She has ministered in Haiti, South Africa, West Africa and East Africa, and is the founder of a national empowerment group for women.

Rev. Dr. Pam Durso

Rev. Dr. Pam Durso: Executive Director of Baptist Woman in Ministry (BWIM), she is a strong, tireless advocate and resource for women serving in all areas of Christian ministry. Currently serving as adjunct faculty at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, she edited and contributed to This Is What A Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry. She and Rev. London serve together on the BWIM leadership team.

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon: Director of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, she is an active campaigner for civil rights and the rights of women in the United States. She is the first woman pastor in the 156-year history of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. A powerful voice for social change, she is a courageous and visionary leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, and she ministers to underserved women and children.

Pastor Dianne Dabney

Pastor Dianne Dabney: Ordained through the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (P.A.W.) in the mid-nineties, she pastors Life N The Word Church in Houston, Texas. Overcoming obstacles, she has preached in many churches and in a prison ministry. She is also the founder of Helpers One to Another Ministries.


Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart


Rev. Dr. Gina M. Stewart: She overcame obstacles of sexism to become the first African American female pastor in Memphis, Tennessee. In addition to serving as pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, she serves as Faculty Mentor for the United Theological Seminary Doctor of Ministry Program, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology for the Samuel D. Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, and Co-Convener for the Women in Ministry Conference. She was the first female to receive the Carter G. Woodson Award from Southwest Community College.

Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell

Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell: She was the first woman to pastor a Baptist church in Texas. On her first Sunday as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, people came from outside the city to protest in opposition to a woman pastor. Nevertheless, she became a prominent preacher, currently serving as pastor of The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C. Her sermons have been featured on television and radio broadcasts and at the Festival of Homiletics.

Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale

Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale: Some people questioned her call to preach and she also struggled with her call because she hadn’t seen women preach. Nevertheless, she preached. And she became the founder and pastor of a Disciples of Christ church that now has 5000 members. She developed the national Women in Ministry Conference, was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, and was inducted into the African American Biographies Hall of Fame.


Rev. Sharnelle Jones

Rev. Sharnelle Jones: She was in a church that doesn’t affirm women’s call to ordained ministry. Nevertheless, she claimed her call and was ordained by another church. She is a spiritual counselor and chaplain with Harbor Healthcare Hospice in Houston, Texas. She created “Be Great Now!,” a one-day event where five eleven-year-old girls spend four hours learning and exploring how to exercise their dreams and career goals.

Rev. Cheryl Young Archer

Rev. Cheryl Young Archer: The pastor of her home church opposed her ordination. Nevertheless, she preached, and she served as Women’s Staff Chaplain of Harris County Jail in Houston for ten years. Founder and president of Mannequin Ministries, she reaches out to women in jails and prisons who have been abused. Having experienced healing from abuse herself, she brings healing to other women.




“Nevertheless, She Preached” participants praying for Rev. Jewel London

Rev. London had to leave right after her presentation to go back to Houston to minister to victims of Hurricane Harvey. We all gathered around her to pray that she would have strength and wisdom for this ministry. She says, “This was one of the most encouraging and loving moments in my entire ministry career.”


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Subversive Sisters: A Herstory of Our Foremothers

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace

“Unauthorized: Nevertheless, She Preached” exceeded all expectations of organizers Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus and Rev. Natalie Webb. They launched a facebook page with a really cool logo and t-shirt, designed by artist Rev. Heather Mooney, and within a few days they had the conference fully funded. They raised enough money to bring amazing speakers, including Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace, church history professor from Memphis Theological Seminary and board member of the national, ecumenical Equity for Women in the Church.


Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace gave a compelling presentation titled “Subversive Sisters: A Herstory of Our Foremothers.” She began by supporting her statement that “patriarchy is at the root of every systemic evil, including slavery, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and every other form of oppression.”

Nevertheless—in spite of patriarchal oppression women down through the centuries have answered God’s call to preach, teach, write, and lead in ministry. Rev. Dr. Pace drew from diaries, journals, and other publications to reclaim and celebrate the stories of some of these “subversive sisters.” She challenged us also to publish in order to “establish our voices in unerasable form.”

It was inspiring to hear about these faith-filled foremothers who courageously resisted, persisted, preached, and advocated.

Christina of Markyate

Christina of Markyate (c.1097- c.1155): She had deep faith from the time she was a child and made a private vow of chastity. Her mother arranged for her to be raped so she would have to marry. But she dressed herself as a man to escape. She became an anchoress and Prioress of St. Albans Abbey at Markyate in England.





Beguines (13th-14th centuries): These religiously dedicated laywomen lived together in simplicity, chastity, and prayer. They were financially independent, so their own visions were unregulated by ecclesiastical authorities. They described the Divine in female names and images, and questioned gender norms.

Marguerite Porete

Marguerite Porete (1250-1310): She was a French mystic, believed by historians to have been associated with the Beguines. She authored The Mirror of Simple Souls, in which she espoused the centrality of divine love. Refusing to remove her book from circulation or recant her views, she was jailed as a heretic and then burned at the stake.



Teresa of Avila


Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, she worked within the system to change it. She was a reformer in the Carmelite Order and taught contemplation and active charity. Her theological works include The Interior Castle. She had to defend what she wrote against power plays to discredit her work, but she was finally canonized in 1989.


Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz

Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz (1651-1695): A Hieronymite nun during Mexico’s colonial period, she became a nun so she could study and write. She critiqued male leaders as not being true to biblical texts. In her convent cell, she amassed one of the largest private libraries in the New World. She criticized the misogyny of church leaders who taught that women shouldn’t write theology, and she was silenced and forced to divest herself of her library.


Marguerite d’Youville.


Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771): A French Canadian widow, she founded the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal. She established and directed a hospital and an orphanage. She was called a heretic because she would help anyone, but she was finally canonized in 1990.



Anne Hutchinson


Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643): A Puritan charismatic teacher, she drew large crowds of women and men to her meetings. Religious leaders accused her of heresy because she claimed grace to be separate from works, but they were really objecting to her gender, believing that she shouldn’t be teaching men. Also accused of witchcraft, she was tried and banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee (1783-1864): She walked thousands of miles on her itinerant preaching tours. When she was first called to preach, she told the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richard Allen, but he refused to let her preach because she was a woman. Later she became the first woman authorized to preach by Allen, but she continued to face hostility to her preaching because of her race and gender. She was the first African American woman to have an autobiography published in the United States. She was not ordained in the AME denomination until posthumously in 2016.

Maria Fearing


Maria Fearing (1838-1937): Born a slave in Alabama, she learned to read and write when she was freed and went on to graduate from Freedman’s Bureau School. She became a successful teacher and then a Presbyterian missionary. Failing to get support from the denomination, she financed her own mission work in the Congo as a teacher and Bible translator for twenty years. She became known as “Mother from far away.”



Lucy Farrow

Lucy Farrow (1851-1911): Born into slavery in Virginia, she became a prominent holiness pastor. In spite of experiencing prejudice and injustice, she became an important voice in Pentecostalism and sparked a revival in Los Angeles that spread across the world. She was the first African American to be recorded as having spoken in tongues. She helped others receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of glossalalia. On a preaching tour to Liberia, she continued her powerful ministry.



Helen Barrett Montgomery

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934): In 1921, she was elected as the first woman president of the Northern Baptist Convention, the first woman to become president of any religious denomination in the United States. A social reformer, educator, and writer, she was the first woman scholar to publish a translation of the New Testament. She helped women in the United States become aware of unjust conditions of women around the world.



Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day (1897-1980): Journalist and social activist, she co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement to combine direct aid for the poor and nonviolent activism on their behalf. She was also an activist in the pacifist and women’s suffrage movements. Practicing civil disobedience, she was imprisoned for her women’s suffrage activism and arrested many times when advocating for other social justice causes. She has been considered for canonization, but some have objected because she wasn’t a virgin.


Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931): Born a slave in Mississippi, she became an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A journalist, she led an anti-lynching crusade through her writing and was active in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements. She criticized the temperance movement for not letting black women participate. Her work contributed to waking Southerners’ conscience about race.

Nannie Helen Burroughs


Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961): An educator, religious leader, and social justice activist, she founded in 1909 the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, DC, the first school in the nation to provide vocational training for African American females who otherwise had few educational opportunities. An activist for wage equality and women’s equality, she gave a speech titled “How the Sisters Are Hindered from Helping,” at the 1900 National Baptist Convention.


Prathia Hall

Prathia Hall (1940-2002): Civil Rights Movement leader and womanist theologian, she was one of the first African American women ordained by the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. Courageous in civil rights activism, she was arrested many times, shot at, wounded, and jailed for weeks. Nevertheless, she persisted. Nevertheless, she preached. Active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she was head of the Selma Project and the Atlanta Project, training many Northern white college students. Her repetition of “I have a dream” in a public prayer inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. She spoke with such power that MLK once remarked, “Prathia Hall is one speaker I prefer not to follow.” For many years Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace has been researching and writing about Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall and is currently completing a book on her. In an article Courtney writes: “Little did I know at the beginning of this journey that Prathia would become a spiritual mother to me, a ‘shero’ who continues to inspire me about the real meaning of life and faith.”

After presenting this stirring “herstory of our foremothers,” Rev. Dr. Pace left us with this challenge: “What will young people see in us? I want to leave a legacy of bold resistance and persistence for social justice.”

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Women and the Bible

Rev. Christine A. Smith

Rev. Christine A. Smith

Rev. Christine A. Smith gave an outstanding presentation, “Women and the Bible,” at Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program at Memphis Theological Seminary (MTS). In her presentation Rev. Smith, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Euclid, Ohio, and board member of Equity for Women in the Church, drew from her book Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors and from other biblical scholars.


Although participants in the Calling in the Key of She program didn’t need convincing that the Bible supports women’s calling as pastors and as other church leaders, we all face challenges from people who still try to argue that it’s unbiblical for women to serve as leaders. Many church leaders and members still take some biblical passages out of context and use them to prevent women from serving as pastors and leaders in the church. These biblical misinterpretations are among the obstacles women encounter in claiming our calling. One of the goals of Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program is to give participants the tools to use in teaching people that the Bible, when interpreted correctly, presents both females and males as the embodiment of God’s image and as equally called to be leaders. Rev. Smith was among those who provided these tools at the MTS program.

Chris1Rev. Smith begins with the first chapter of Genesis where we find the foundational biblical truth that male and female are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). She explores the implications of being made in the Imago Dei (the image of God): equality of females and males in creation, equality of females and males as reflections of God, and equality of females and males in responsibility and leadership.

The second creation account in Genesis 2, Rev. Smith demonstrates, has often been misinterpreted. The Hebrew word ezer, usually translated “helper,” referring to the creation of woman, does not mean “someone who is lower in a hierarchy, authority or leadership.” Rev. Smith quotes biblical scholars Linda B. Hinton and R. David Freedman who explain that the correct interpretation of the Hebrew word for “helper” is to “surround (that is, to protect or save)” and “to be strong.” The word ezer denotes strength and power, and is often used in the Bible to refer to God.

Turning to Genesis 3, Rev. Smith laments that women have been blamed for the “Fall” of humanity and that this misinterpretation has been used to overshadow the initial pronouncement in Genesis 1 of females’ equal creation in the image of God and equal responsibility for the earth. She lists other misinterpretations of Scripture and “bad theology” that have been used to justify the second-class status of women in the church:

* Women are portrayed as sexual predators (Genesis 19:3-36; Judges 16; 1 Kings 11).

* Women are depicted as deceitful and untrustworthy (Genesis 39:7-20).

* Women are suspected of fornication or adultery (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; Numbers 5:11-31).

* Women are silenced for stepping out of place in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

Rev. Smith quotes from Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: “Frequently, persons who draw on these passages to argue against women clergy ignore the broader implications of the texts. Much work has been done to refute the misinterpretation of these and other Scriptures that have been cited to prevent women from serving as pastors and church leaders.” (In a footnote she includes Daughters of God: Southern Baptist Women in the Pulpit, by Denvis O. Earls).

Still, these biblical misinterpretations along with formidable patriarchal structures “inculcated and advanced an inferior and subordinate view of women and their perceived appropriate roles.” Despite the biblical passages that have been misunderstood to bar women from church leadership, Rev. Smith points to “compelling Scriptures” that speak positively about women as prophets and other leaders. Women prophets “speak on behalf of God,” providing “leadership, guidance, wisdom, insight, confrontations, instruction, and words of warning to men, women, and entire nations.” She gives examples of women prophets found in the Bible:

* Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22-28);

* Deborah (Judges 4:4-10);

* Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21);

* Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3);

* Anna (Luke 2:36-38);

* daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9).

“These passages verify that a woman’s word and leadership were highly valued. Her prophecies were respected; there were no inquiries regarding her gifts or her calling from God. Gender never became a part of the conversation. These women prophets’ leadership roles were never questioned in the text.”

At Calling in the Key of She, Rev. Smith gave us a handout with additional women leaders in the Bible, including these:

* The Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 26:33; 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Joshua 17:3-6): They led in changing inheritance laws in Israel.

* The Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42): Jesus’s conversation with this woman is the longest dialogue recorded in the Gospels. She preached to her whole village that Messiah had arrived, and they believed.

* Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; 6:17-25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25): She saved her family and the Israelite spies. In New Testament passages, Rahab is commended as a paradigm of faith.

* Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2): She was a deacon who preached and taught in the church, and a benefactor who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. As a leader in the church, Phoebe had the authority to speak on Paul’s behalf to answer any questions the Romans had about the letter.

* Priscilla/Prisca (Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 24-26; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19): Priscilla and her husband Aquila were leaders, co-workers with Paul, in churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. Priscilla likely had a higher status in the church than her husband, since her name is listed first more often than his.

Rev. Smith cites other biblical affirmations of women as leaders:

* The prophet Joel declared that women as well as men would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29).

* Jesus welcomed women as close followers (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3), an act most teachers of that day would have viewed as scandalous.

* Each of the four Gospel writers reported that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, although the male disciples dismissed their testimony.

* Paul proclaimed that in Christ there is no distinction between male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Rev. Smith also discusses the power of biblical female names and images of God to affirm women as equal embodiments of the divine image and as equally called as church leaders. She gave us a handout listing some biblical female divine names and images:

* “Wisdom” (Hokmah in Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 1, 3, 8; Sophia, Greek word for “Wisdom,” linked to Christ in Christian Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30);

* “Mother Eagle” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12);

* Ruah (Hebrew word for “Spirit,” Genesis 1:2);

* El Shaddai (Hebrew for “The Breasted God,” Genesis 49:25);

* Shekhinah (feminine Hebrew word used in the book of Exodus to denote the dwelling presence and/or glory of God);

* “Midwife” (Psalm 22:9-10);

* “Mistress of Household” (Psalm 123:2);

* “Mother Hen” (Matthew 23:37);

* “Baker Woman” (Luke 13:20-21);

* “Searching Woman” (Luke 15:8-10).

As Rev. Smith clearly shows, there is no excuse for anyone to use the Bible to place limits on women called to serve as pastors or in any leadership roles. She gave powerful proof that the Bible affirms females and males as equal embodiments of God’s image and as equally called and qualified to be church leaders.



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Men, Masculinity, and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Church and Society

Dr. Matt Matthews

Dr. Matt Matthews

At Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program at Memphis Theological Seminary, theology professor Matt Matthews questions our culture’s definitions of “masculinity.” In his powerful presentation he demonstrates that if there is to be gender equality and justice, men as well as women need to be involved in bringing personal and institutional change.

Matt2Dr. Matthews challenges men to work for gender equality as part of their gospel calling. He claims that in order to embrace their baptism as Christians, men must work to liberate masculinity from patriarchy: “For men to become allies of women in the struggle for gender justice, they must embrace their baptism by doing the hard work of reimagining masculinity and liberating it from the same patriarchy that oppresses women.”

Dr. Matthews shows how socialization of males has created and maintained violence against women. He recommends the documentary series Tough Guise, by Dr. Jackson Katz. This series demonstrates that the ongoing epidemic of men’s violence in America is rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideals of manhood. Tough Guise examines the violent, sexist, and homophobic messages boys and young men routinely receive from every corner of the culture—television, movies, video games, advertising, pornography, the sports culture, and U.S. political culture. Tough Guise seeks to empower young men — and women — to challenge the myth that being a real man means putting up a false front and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.

Here is a Tough Guise video:

The work of Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men, also informs Dr. Matthews’ presentation. He gave us an article by Porter titled “A Call to Men: It’s Time to Become Part of the Solution.”

Porter urges “well-meaning men” to acknowledge the part “male privilege and socialization play in sexual assault and domestic violence as well as all forms of violence against women.” He defines a “well-meaning man” as one who believes women should be respected and who would never assault a woman. “A well-meaning man, on the surface, at least, believes in equality for women,” Porter writes. “A well-meaning man believes in women’s rights. A well-meaning man honors the women in his life. A well-meaning man is a nice guy, a good man.” He continues that it’s not the purpose of a Call to Men to “beat up on well-meaning men, but to help us understand through a process of re-education and accountability, that with all our goodness, we have still been socialized to maintain a system of domination, dehumanization and oppression over women.”

“Well-meaning men,” Porter writes, must examine how male socialization fosters violence against women. “We must examine the ways we ‘keep’ women in marginalized roles throughout every aspect of society that enforces and maintains our male dominance.” As I read this statement and listened to Dr. Matthews’ presentation, I thought especially about how “well-meaning men” have kept women marginalized in the church, an injustice addressed by this Calling in the Key of She program, a project of Equity for Women in the Church. Calling in the Key of She works to change the socialization of males and females that marginalizes women who are gifted, called, and educated to serve as church leaders. Only about 10% of pastors of all Protestant churches are women. The percentage of women of color who find places to fulfill their call to pastor is much lower. In many denominations the percentage of women pastors of all ethnicities is lower than 1%.

Porter challenges men “to understand and acknowledge that violence against women is a manifestation of sexism” and to “acknowledge that all men are part of the problem.” He lists ways “well-meaning men” can become part of the solution to ending sexual and domestic violence.

  1. We have to examine and challenge our own sexism.
  2. We have to stop colluding with other men, get out of our defined roles in society, and take a stance.
  3. We must remember that silence is affirming: when we choose not to speak out, we support the behavior.
  4. We must educate and re-educate our sons and other young men.
  5. We must challenge our homophobia, which serves to get in the way and stop us from actively getting involved in the fight to end sexism.
  6. We must accept our responsibility that sexual and domestic violence won’t end until well-meaning men become part of the solution. While a criminal justice response to violence is necessary, cultural and social shifts are also required.
  7. As well-meaning men, we must accept leadership from women; we must accept that, left to our own devices, our sexism will continue to surface, consciously or unconsciously. Owning and accepting our sexism and our role in ending violence against women also means taking direction from those who understand it best, women.
  8. We need to be reminded that living in the United States means living in a construct that was purposely designed as a race, sex, and class-based system of domination. So, when speaking of ending sexual and domestic violence, we must ALL, men and women both, accept and own the reality that we are not doing the best work we can until the voices of women of color inform us that we are.

Here is a TED Talk by Tony Porter, co-founder of a Call to Men, an organization that works to end violence against women by promoting healthier attitudes about masculinity:

At the  Calling in the Key of She program, Dr. Matthews also gave us a handout titled “10 Things Men Can Do to End Men’s Violence Against Women” (Copyright ©  2004, ACT Men Inc.):

  1. Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.
  2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.
  3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.
  4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.
  5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.
  6. “Break out of the man box.” Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.
  7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.
  8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.
  9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.
  10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most, women.



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