Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dorothy Kelley Patterson

Dr. Dorothy Kelley Patterson

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg








After I recently saw the film RBG, my interaction with Dorothy Kelley Patterson years ago came to mind. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dr. Dorothy Kelley Patterson, in the same generation with Ruth a little older than Dorothy, both experienced sexism, but they responded in opposite ways. The film includes a photo of Ruth at Harvard Law School surrounded by men—she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men. Dorothy was among the few women theology students in her class at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and in the Doctor of Ministry program at Luther Rice Seminary at that time.

Justice Ginsburg’s experiences of discrimination led her to work tirelessly for justice and equality for women throughout her career. Dr. Patterson’s experiences led her to work tirelessly to fit traditional subordinate roles for women and to teach other women to fit into these roles. What made the difference?

Both Ruth and Dorothy drew guidance from their conservative religious traditions. Ruth grew up in Orthodox Judaism. But when she saw up close the second-class status of women in her religion, she chose to focus on the demand for justice in Jewish history and tradition. She has a large sign in her chambers inscribed with Hebrew words from Deuteronomy, translated “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (16:20). When Dorothy from her conservative Southern Baptist religion also received messages that God intended only men to be leaders in church, home, and society, she chose to focus on passages in the Bible used to place limits on women.

My religious background, like Dorothy’s, is Southern Baptist, but I resonate more with Ruth. My Baptist roots run deep. My father and grandfather were Baptist preachers. My mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, my husband, David, and I all graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But instead of messages of restriction based on my gender, from my Baptist heritage I got messages of freedom to follow God’s call wherever that leads.

So, when I debated Dorothy in 1988 at the Southern Baptist Historical Society, I had a hard time understanding how she could defend putting limits on God’s call to women. The debate took place in a large meeting room in one of the imposing buildings of the national Southern Baptist headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. David, who had come to cheer me on, and I arrived early to learn the order for the debate. I was scheduled first to read my paper “Why I Believe Southern Baptist Churches Should Ordain Women,” and then Dorothy would read her paper, “Why I Believe Southern Baptist Churches Should Not Ordain Women.” (These papers were later published in Baptist History and Heritage.) We had twelve minutes each. Although Dorothy and I had read each other’s papers prior to the debate, we were to make no rebuttal of each other’s points until both of us had finished. Then the audience could direct questions to us, and we could respond to them and to each other.

I sat on the platform beside Dorothy, wife of Paige Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dorothy wore a hat as a sign that she submitted to male authority, just as the Bible told her to do, she said. I felt weak and shaky as I listened to the moderator introduce me.

When I stood at the pulpit and looked out at the sea of male faces, my knees shook so hard I felt I might collapse. My voice began softly and tentatively but gained power as I referred to the biblical story of Gamaliel, who counseled religious leaders not to hinder the apostles’ work because “if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:39). I swiftly drew the parallel, “Southern Baptists cannot overthrow the ordination of women because it is of God.” I then moved confidently into my theological arguments, heavily supported with scriptural passages including Acts 2:17, which records Peter’s announcement that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (The Greek word translated “prophesy” also means “preach.”) Also, claiming Baptist history, I commented on women preachers in England as far back as 1646 and told of a leading Presbyterian minister at that time who accused Baptists of having “she-preachers.” I cited well-known Baptist women preachers in eighteenth-century America such as Martha Marshall, Eunice Marshall, Margaret Clay, and Hannah Lee. Inflamed by my passionate conviction, I delivered my concluding call to action:

As in the issue of equality of the races, Southern Baptists have failed to take a prophetic stand on the equality of men and women. Not only have we failed to be a redemptive force in society, but also we have impoverished our churches by placing restrictions on the ministry of women. The pressing spiritual, emotional, and physical needs in our world demand that Southern Baptists cease to limit the ministry of more than half our members. If we follow the steps of Christ and of our Baptists forebears, we will repent of past sins and ordain all women, along with men, whom God calls to ministry.

Dorothy clapped along with the audience as I sat back down beside her. She then rose and walked slowly to the pulpit. Instead of beginning with her paper, according to the agreed-upon procedure, she began a rebuttal of my points. She questioned the legitimacy of my biblical interpretation and the orthodoxy of the theologians I referenced. And then in the midst of her paper, she made a comment about “women whose need for power led them to seek positions in denominations other than Baptist.” It was obvious that she wanted to discredit me by implying that I was not a true and loyal Baptist because I had taken a pastoral appointment in a Methodist church. Sweat started trickling down my back, but I tried to sit there on the platform looking pleasant and professional. Dorothy proceeded to muster all the biblical passages traditionally interpreted to exclude women from ordained ministry. She spent the longest time on a few verses in 1 Timothy that state that women should “learn in silence with full submission” and should not “teach or have authority over a man.” In my paper I had commented on this passage in 1 Timothy: “Those who take the statement concerning women’s silence in church as an eternal principle must also take as a literal command for all time the preceding statement forbidding women to wear braided hair, gold, pearls, or costly attire. Those arguing against ordination of women on the basis of this passage practice selective literalism, violating contextual and historical hermeneutical principles.”

After reading our papers, the moderator invited questions and comments. An earnest young man in the audience directed the first question to Dorothy: “Dr. Patterson, if you believe, as you stated so strongly, that women are not to teach or to have authority over a man, why is it that you have come here today to teach us, an audience of mostly men?

“That’s a good question,” she said. “I’ve come here only by the permission and under the authority of my husband, Dr. Paige Patterson. By the way, he regrets very much that he could not be here today, but he gave me permission to speak to you. As you probably know, I wear this hat as a symbol of my submission to the authority of my husband.”

One man asked me why I had taken a position in a Methodist church, but I could tell by his tone that his question was not so much a challenge as an invitation to defend myself against Dorothy’s charge. I answered that although I’d like to have had an opportunity to pastor in my Baptist tradition, my call to ministry took precedence over denominations. He responded by lamenting the loss of talent Baptists suffered by excluding women from ministry.

After the program, Dorothy and I exchanged polite compliments. Then she opened her Bible to Genesis and redoubled her efforts to prove to me that, from the beginning of creation, God had ordained women’s subordinate role. I countered that hers was only one interpretation of the passage and proceeded to reiterate mine. Pointing adamantly at the verses, she insisted, “But this is what God says, right here! Can’t you see?”

Later when David asked what Dorothy and I had been talking about so long, I said, “She kept trying to persuade me that her interpretation was not an interpretation at all, but the literal, inerrant word of God, and that’s scary!

Now 30 years later, as I reflect on my interactions with Dorothy, I find it sad that a woman with so much intelligence, leadership ability, and theological education would spend her gifts and energy advocating and teaching limitations on the exercise of women’s gifts. And I find myself asking what made the difference in Dorothy Kelley Patterson’s becoming a strong defender of restrictions on women and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s becoming a strong advocate for women’s equal rights. I find it tragic that Dorothy’s biblical interpretation still limits women’s gifts and calling in so many churches. Also, I find it scary that this theology so often leads to and condones abuse of women.

Theology and biblical interpretation have consequences, as Dr. Molly T. Marshall so powerfully articulates in her article, “The Peril of Selective Inerrancy,” in Baptist News Global.

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Singing Resistance and Healing

Another horrific school shooting occurred last Friday, this one close to home in my state of Texas. A teenage boy opened fire on Santa Fe High School, not far from Houston, killing ten people and wounding ten others. There has been an average of one school shooting every week this year. I heard an interview with parents about how they are trying to talk to their children, some as young as seven, who are asking if they’re safe at school or anywhere.

At times I feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to respond to all this violence and so many other injustices that daily come to my attention. I’ve tried to respond in a variety of ways, but often wonder if anything I do makes a difference.

Alicia Crosby

Today I read an excellent blogpost by Alicia Crosby, my friend and colleague in Christian Feminism Today, that brought encouragement and renewed focus. In this post, “Finding Your Place in the Resistance” Alicia writes:

“You have something to offer to efforts that resist the injustices faced by members of our human family. Whether it be resources, time, art, space, relationships, social media shares, physical presence, spiritual counsel, emotional support, bail money, blogging skills, lobbying experience, caretaking, conflict meditation, free/low cost professional support, voter mobilization, or something you can name that falls beyond the scope of this writer’s imagination, you have something to lend to those working towards our collective liberation. It will take all of us combining our varied gifts to creatively dismantle prejudice, inequality, and the complex social and institutional systems they lurk behind.

That said, I want to invite you to take some time to consider the following: Knowing who you are, the realities you navigate, and the resources you have access to, what is your place in the Resistance?”

My response to Alicia’s question is that I find my place in the Resistance through writing and through organizations, like Equity for Women in the Church and Christian Feminism Today, dedicated to our collective liberation.

I find my place in the Resistance through writing song lyrics. I believe songs empower social justice movements and can be a unifying force for change. We can sing our resistance. We can sing our visions of healing and liberation.

Recently I wrote this song to the tune “Pass Me Not”:

Heal Our World, O Christ-Sophia

Heal our world, O Christ-Sophia; heal us all, we pray;
fill us all with loving kindness; show Your peaceful way.

Hear the urgent cries of children, marching for their lives;
help us now to end the violence, so they all survive.

Women rise up now for justice, calling out “Me Too”;
Black Lives Matter movement joins in making all things new.

Help us join Your work of healing, that we all may thrive;
give us grace and strength for action; keep our hope alive;


Christ-Sophia, heal our world, we pray;
fill us all with loving kindness; show Your peaceful way.

Words © 2018 Jann Aldredge-Clanton      PASS ME NOT tune for this song





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“The Spirituality of Philanthropy,” SXSW Conference

One of the inspiring sessions I attended at the SXSW Conference focused on philanthropy as a spiritual practice.

In a previous post I acknowledged my ambivalence toward money. I wrote about hearing more negative than positive messages about money as I grew up. For example, I learned “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). My family encouraged me to choose a vocation with the priority of helping people rather than making money.

But I’ve been realizing more and more the power of money to do good. And the organizations doing the most good often have the least money while organizations doing the most harm, like the National Rifle Association, have the most money. As co-chair of Equity for Women in the Church, I’ve understood the need for money to fund our good work of gender and racial equality, but I’ve found it difficult to ask for money.

So I attended this session at the SXSW conference, hoping to get inspiration and strategies. Caroline Boudreaux, founder of the Miracle Foundation, began by defining “philanthropy” as “the love of humanity.” She went on to say that everyone wants these three things:

  1. to love and be loved
  2. our families to be healthy, happy, and taken care of;
  3. to have a purpose and make a difference.

Caroline then told her personal story of having a great corporate job where she made a lot of money, but felt unfulfilled and discontented. This confused her because she had thought that once she was successful, she would be fulfilled and happy. She decided to quit her job and take a trip around the world for a year. In a remote part of India, she accidentally walked into an orphanage. “I was horrified by what I saw there,” she said. “110 filthy, bald, starving children.” A little girl, about a year and a half, put her head on Caroline’s lap, and she rocked her to sleep. When she took the baby to her room where there were thirty wooden beds with no mattresses, no pillows, no blankets—just hard wooden beds—she thought, “What am I doing? I’m partying around the world, and she doesn’t have anything.” In that moment everything changed for Caroline. Soon after, she founded the Miracle Foundation, dedicated to empowering orphans to reach their full potential. “It’s important to bring our best selves to the world, keeping our souls in place.”

Shamina Singh agreed with Caroline’s comment about bringing our whole selves to the world. “That for me means unlocking the power of purpose,” Shamina said. “It’s about being mission driven. For a company like MasterCard, or for any other company, your competitive advantage is your people. You want to be around colleagues who are showing up every day because they want to be there doing something. Everybody wants to feel that they belong. It’s important to be able to integrate our entire selves.” She talked about MasterCard’s creation of a foundation and encouragement of other companies to create independent, philanthropic foundations with 10% of the bottom line of the company. “We use assets of the company, not only money, but data and purpose-driven people, to make a social impact. It’s a good investment for the company and the right thing to do.”

Amy Lukken spoke about the greatest asset of companies being the people. When she found that heart and soul were missing in business, she started changing the culture of her company through a “joyologist” point of view, which she defined as “the study of love, joy, and happiness.” The way to counteract greed, she said, is through giving. “When we help people to give, set them up to give, we avoid the nasty, greedy corporate look of companies.” She commented on her belief in “radical generosity.”

Rabbi-Cantor Marie Betcher talked about ways people practice spirituality whether or not they’re affiliated with faith traditions in a formal setting. She cited the statistic that 35% of millennials are not affiliated with institutional religion. They and others are not getting their “souls fed in congregations,” but are finding their own spiritual pathways through work, music, art, and philanthropic organizations. Rabbi Betcher commented that the secularization of America could help people to stop seeing each other as Jews, Muslims, or Christians, and to start seeing each other as human. She also mentioned the good philanthropic work that interfaith organizations are doing, based on teachings about social justice, giving, and service that religious traditions have in common.

All the panelists then responded to this question: How does giving change us? Here are some of their responses:

Research indicates that when we give to someone else instead of ourselves, we reach three times the level of happiness. If giving becomes part of our sustained behavior, happiness becomes joy, which is deeper and lasts longer.

Giving is good for mental health.

Giving connects us to our purpose.

Giving gives us meaning.

Giving helps us use our power for good.

The panelists closed by talking about helping companies give their employees joy, purpose, and meaning through giving. They commented on how we do people a favor by giving them the chance to give and to make a difference they all want to make. “Innate in people is the desire to give, to make the world better. When employees have opportunities to choose the charities they believe in and want to support, those that connect with their purpose, then everyone wins.”

From my personal experience, we well as from observation of others and from research, I have long known the importance of meaning and purpose found through giving to others. As an oncology chaplain, I saw how meaning and purpose could add to quality of life and often length of life for people with cancer. Also, It was not new for me to hear the panelists talk about the happiness and joy that come from giving.

Attending this session reinforced what I’ve heard non-profit fundraisers say about helping people through asking them to donate to organizations they believe in. Even though it may still be hard for me to ask people for money, I felt challenged anew to help them find meaning and joy through giving to organizations that make a difference in the world. And I got the idea of approaching companies to add Equity for Women in the Church and Christian Feminism Today to their list of charities from which employees can choose to give.

I came away from this session with new messages about the power of money to contribute to the well-being of givers and receivers and the importance of helping people find ways to give.

You can listen to the recording of this session here.


Caroline Boudreaux

Caroline Boudreaux founded the Miracle Foundation in 2000, after she visited India for the first time. From the first moment she met a group of more than 100 orphaned children and witnessed their beautiful smiles and incredible potential, she committed her life to helping them realize that potential. Caroline was born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and attended Louisiana State University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Prior to her nonprofit work, she had a successful career in media advertising. For her achievements with the Miracle Foundation, Caroline was presented with the Hope Award in 2005 and the Impact Award in 2008. In 2009, she was invited to join the Young Global Leaders, a community of the World Economic Forum. She has been featured in various forms of media, including, CNN and “One Peace at a Time,” a 2009 film by Turk Pipkin. In 2011, Caroline completed a prestigious course on Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century at Harvard Kennedy School.


Rabbi-Cantor Marie Betcher

Rabbi-Cantor Marie Betcher, an Ordained Rabbi and Cantor, Police Chaplain and Opera Singer, serves as Consulting Rabbi for Congregation Chaverim B’Kavanah, Cedar Park/Northwest Austin. She served congregations across the country, gaining a wide and varied experience throughout her pulpit career. She serves the Austin Police Department and Cedar Park Police & Fire Departments as Chaplain. She is one of the very few female Rabbi/Cantors to serve as Police/Fire Chaplain in the country. She is very active in interfaith communities in Austin and surrounding cities. She is a Member of the Board of Directors for Interfaith Action of Central Texas, sits on the ChaplainUSA Board, and invited to the Lesbian Gay Peace Officers Association Board meetings. Rabbi Betcher has served on the American Conference of Cantors Executive Board, Chair of the ACC Caring Committee, and the ACC Budget Committee. She serves the Advisory Board of The Interfaith Arts Council (IAC). She was on staff for Life Long Learning Institute. She has served on the Austin Jewish Clergy Association, Interfaith Clergy Association, Bureau of Jewish Education, Faculty for Global Day of Jewish Learning at Dell Jewish Community Center, SULAM, Tapestry. Rabbi Betcher sang in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and toured Sicily and England, among many other venues.

Amy Lukken

After 15 years as an executive at a Fortune 500 company Amy Lukken arrived at a truth which would shape the rest of her life and the lives of all those around her. People are the number one asset in any company AND managing that asset is the most complex component of any business. This revelation coupled with a seminal life event, inspired Amy to partner with Gallup’s world-renowned behavioral scientists. Together, paying special attention to what most intensely motivates and inspires people, they looked at “feeling-sets,” which included love and joy and its extraordinary impact on employee satisfaction, efficiency, productivity, and the bottom line. Amy has practiced the skills she learned as vice-president of a large corporation combined with her skills as a Certified Strengths Coach, and sees how natural and powerful it is when the focus stays on what’s good within people versus emphasizing their weaknesses and failures. Leadership takes on a new meaning as the company culture begins to thrive, thus creating a thriving bottom line. Currently co-creating a culture of love and joy at Tito’s Handmade Vodka as Chief Joyologist and Director of Philanthropy, Amy oversees all national and global philanthropic endeavors for the company.

Shamina Singh

Shamina Singh is the Executive Vice President, Sustainability & President of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. In this role, she is responsible for advancing equitable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world. Previously, Shamina was Mastercard’s Global Director of Government Services and Solutions where she worked to digitize social subsidy programs in over 40 countries. In 2015, she was appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a six-year term to the Board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Prior to joining Mastercard, Shamina led Government and Public Affairs for Nike and spent five years with Citi’s Global Community Development Group. Over a 15-year career in the public sector, Shamina has held senior positions in the White House and the US House of Representatives.




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SXSW Conference: “The Divine Feminist & Her Place in Modern Religion”

pictured with Rabbi Rebecca Epstein, Simone Talma Flowers, Rev. Joseph Parker


It was a great joy and honor to be on a panel at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference with these prophetic ministers doing remarkable work in the world: Rabbi Rebecca Epstein, Simone Talma Flowers, and Rev. Joseph Parker. It was good to connect with them and learn from their work for gender equality in various arenas.

People often misunderstand the term “feminism.” So panel moderator, Simone Talma Flowers, began by asking us to define “feminism” from the perspectives of our religious traditions and our personal experiences.

Rabbi Epstein responded:

As a rabbi, the way that I define “feminism” is the process by which I live in which I see the importance of lifting up women’s stories and women’s voices from our sacred teachings and giving them an important place. We continue to write the Torah by interacting with those ancient texts. I view feminism as a process by which we continue to write ourselves into the Torah by lifting up women’s voices and women’s stories from those ancient teachings and also weaving in our own experiences and stories. As applied to the tradition of Jewish textual interpretation, Jewish feminism is a powerful tool for incorporating women’s voices and perspectives into contemporary understandings of Torah and liturgy. Weaving women into Torah and liturgy – a movement which sparked the inclusion of other under-represented persons, including Jews of color, and LBGTQ Jews – has resulted in the ongoing formation of a Jewish tapestry in which all Jewish people are included, demonstrating the power of an inclusive, diverse, and just society.

Pastor Parker said that I had honored him by calling him a “feminist.” He acknowledged that he’d had some labels, but not that label and that he hadn’t used this word until he came across Gloria Steinem’s definition. “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” He continued:

When I read that statement, I recognized that as far back as I can recall, I have been living a life of feminism. I was raised around the issues of equality and justice, and cannot recall any time when I thought that a woman could not be a faith leader. My father, also a Baptist preacher, was involved in interdenominational work; he got his seminary training at a United Methodist seminary which recognized women in ministry. I never heard him say anything negative about women being in ministry or ordained. I came up around his interdenominational work and saw women in ministry. I may have been raised in feminism and not recognized it. It was not until I started preaching my last semester at law school that I heard opposition and didn’t understand it. But I came to know that our shared texts, particularly Genesis 1:27—we’re all created in the image of God— drives me in all ways about equality. And in the New Testament, Galatians speaks about no male or female in Christ.

This was my response:

Feminism is simply the equality of female and male, based on Genesis 1:27 that states that female and male are created in the divine image. It is thus essential to include female images of God in faith communities as a foundation for full gender equality. Theologian Leonard Swidler defines feminism as equality extended to women and as essential to the gospel of Jesus. In the Christian Scriptures, we find Jesus choosing Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection and Galatians 3:28 affirming gender equality: “there is no longer male and female, for you are one in Christ Jesus.” Another definition of feminism important to me is from journalist Linda Ellerbee: “Feminism is not turning tables on men but throwing out all tables except round tables.” Also, I’m guided by intersectional feminism that emphasizes the connection between gender, racial, and LBGTQ equality, economic and environmental justice and all justice issues.

Moderator Flowers moved on to a question about how our various religious traditions are incorporating feminism today.

Rabbi Epstein spoke about the traditional method of Jewish text study that she views as feminist. In Jewish tradition people study texts by sitting together with a partner, going through a process of close reading of the text, asking questions about the meaning, and then delving into the text deeply to discern what it’s teaching today. She illustrated this method of study with the first chapter of the book of Exodus, where we find the Israelites enslaved by the Pharoah in Egypt. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, initiated the process of the Exodus by defying the order of the Pharoah to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Shiphrah and Puah, “who are the first named women in the book of Exodus, are described as knowing God and fearing God and going against Pharoah’s decree,” Rabbi Epstein continues. “These lowly midwives go back to Pharoah and say, ‘These Hebrew moms are just too fast. Before we can get there to get rid of their baby boys, they’ve already given birth and brought the babies to safety, so sorry we can’t follow through with your order.’ When we look at these lines in the text closely, we see some really interesting things about what it means to be a strong woman. There’s ambiguity in the Hebrew text about whether the midwives were Egyptian or Hebrew. I wonder if that ambiguity is there to get us to think about if it matters whether they were Hebrew or Egyptian in helping out the Hebrews, and that ambiguity brings us to that next level of understanding that feminist work can apply to everybody and can go across racial and religious boundaries. That’s there in the text of the Hebrew; when we as feminists sit together and delve deeply into it and start to ask questions, there’s a powerful lesson about who the midwives are and what they can teach us today.”

Pastor Parker acknowledged the slow progress for women in ministry in his Baptist church tradition, especially in the black church. But he celebrated the “breakthroughs” he was seeing of women becoming ministers, becoming faith leaders: “We now have women who are brave and courageous enough to acknowledge a vocational calling from God to go into ministry. And we have men who are courageous and have a willingness to take a stand, because we have been the gatekeepers as to whether or not women get the credentials and the entry into ministry. Increasingly, I’m seeing more of us who are willing to open the doors, to use the access we have.”

In my response to the question about how various religious traditions are incorporating feminism, I talked about how churches and other faith communities are reclaiming multicultural female images of the Divine to affirm the sacred value of females. They are including Wisdom, Ruah, Mother, Divine Midwife, and other biblical female images of Deity to make powerful contributions to gender, racial, and environmental justice, I said. “More and more faith communities are reclaiming the power of the Female Divine in hymns and other sacred rituals. I discovered in research for my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World in the World many clergy and laypeople who are transforming their faith communities and the wider culture through rituals that include multicultural female divine images. One of these communities is here in Austin, St. Hildegard’s Community, with Rev. Judith Liro as priest.” To illustrate my belief in the power of music and visual imagery to move feminist theology from the head to the heart, I played a video with one of my songs along with visual images from various artists, focused on the female divine image of Midwife, found in Psalm 22:9-10.

Moderator Flowers prefaced her next question by commenting on the importance of male allies in her work as Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT): “I work with many diverse communities. I cannot work without men because so many faith leaders are male. So it’s really important to form relationships and to identify males who can be allies to support women in ministry.” She directed her question about the importance of male allies especially to Pastor Parker, the first leader in his 94-year-old church’s history to include female ministers, and board member of the non-profit Safe Place, an organization dedicated to stopping domestic violence. Here are some highlights from his response and from all panel members’ responses to the follow up question about the benefits of female leadership within and beyond faith communities.

Pastor Parker:

“I’ve been referred to as a ‘bridge builder,’ and when I hear that, my response is ‘when you are a bridge builder, you get walked on from both sides.’”

“One of the gifts I received from my parents was a willingness to have courage and stand alone. I grew up in segregated Birmingham. In 1966 I was among a handful of students to integrate a school of 2000 or so. Looking back now, I see that this terrible experience brought me to the place where I’m not afraid of standing alone for what I believe is right.”

“In 1996 I was elected president of the Austin Bar Association. I decided there were three issues I wanted to take on, and one was domestic violence. I led the lawyers and judges in the city to come together for a Domestic Violence Summit. Safe Place invited me to serve on their board. For 22 years I’ve been involved with this issue, and recently got involved with what they call the men of Safe. We sign pledges as to what we will do. Once I became more informed, I started preaching on preventing domestic violence and posted safety plans in our church.”

“Our church, in many ways traditional, had never had a woman in ministry and didn’t believe in it. It was my job to show them from Scripture why I believed in women ministers. In 1998 our church voted to call our first full-time woman minister. Now we have seven women ministers.”

“The presence and full engagement of these female clergy in our African American Baptist Church help to shift the ministry and worship atmosphere and perspectives, and expand the reach of ministry inside and beyond the local church. These clergywomen provide models for all generations.”

Rabbi Epstein:

“Women faith leaders model what it is to be a mother, to be a teacher, to be someone who officiates rituals and transforms people through rituals, who pastors at the bedside in the hospital, and who speaks for justice. It’s critically important that girls and women and all congregants see the many different ways that ministry can occur and see that women can and are and should be doing all of those things.”

“Jewish women clergy provide a powerful example of the diverse roles within the category of ‘women’s leadership.’ We all show that women’s leadership can take on many forms, and provide influence on many levels within the Jewish community and society at large.”

“I want to lift up this awesome memory I have of being together with Simone at the Austin Women’s March last year. We stood together and gave the invocation at the Capitol. We were among five women from five different faith traditions giving the invocation. We stood there in front of all the women and men who were gathered there to say that women’s rights are human rights. We were able to speak from our traditions and from Scripture and from our understanding, and connect what was going on in the public sphere to our ancient sacred traditions. It was such a powerful moment of bringing Scripture to life.”

“Bringing our understandings of Scripture into the public sphere—that’s what it’s all about. We’re not meant to be sitting in the sanctuary cloistered away, just making ourselves better. We’re in the sanctuary to become inspired to go out and change the world for the better. That is one of the main reasons I think it’s so important to have women in leadership, in the clergy.”

In my response I talked about the benefit of having women faiths leaders to empower women and girls to be all we’re created to be. I quoted Marian Wright Edelman: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” When females are free to develop and use our creative gifts, everyone benefits.

I emphasized that including female leadership and language in faith communities affirms the equal sacred value of females, providing a foundation for gender equality in faith communities and beyond. Gender equality in religious leadership and gender inclusive names and images of Deity provide a model of mutual, harmonious gender relationship.

Another benefit I mentioned is that equal representation of women in religious leadership contributes not only to gender equality but to racial equality and to interfaith collaboration. In my experience people advocating equality for women also advocate equality for all races and genders. I gave the example of Equity for Women in the Church—recognizing the connection between sexism and racism, working to eliminate these interlocking injustices, advocating and networking on behalf of women of all races and cultures, modeling inclusiveness of gender and race on our board. I quoted Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, cochair of Equity, on the importance of male allies: “I believe it’s vital for men to be involved in the gender equity movement. This involvement is not for validation, but as allies in addressing inequity.”

Female leadership also creates and strengthens interfaith communities. In seeking opportunities to exercise our calling, women often embrace ecumenical and interfaith ministries. Interfaith Action of Central Texas, directed by Simone Talma Flowers, is a wonderful example of the benefits of female leadership as she works with people of diverse faith traditions to cultivate peace, justice, and equality.

Before moving to the audience Q & A, Moderator Flowers affirmed the benefits of female and male faith leaders working together: “Rabbi Epstein mentioned that we were together at the Women’s March to do the invocation. That was through an invitation of a male ally who was asked to do the invocation and said, ‘This is a Women’s March; I know some women who can do this.’ We need each other to lift each other up because our work is so important, and we are all important, regardless of who we are and where we come from.”

You can listen to the recording of this panel here.

Simone Talma Flowers

Simone Talma Flowers is the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), whose mission is to cultivate peace and respect through interfaith dialogue, service and celebration. Simone Talma Flowers brings over 26 years of extensive experience in non-profit management. Simone promotes a culture of high performance, support and collaboration. She advances the mission of the organization by bringing people of diverse faiths, cultures and backgrounds together, to break down the barriers that divide us. Passionate about diversity and inclusion she believes everyone—regardless of age, gender, religion and culture should have access to opportunities, so they can live up to their fullest potential. Simone has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from St. Edward’s University. Simone is a member of the Austin Area Research Organization, Town Lake Chapter of the Links Incorporated and Impact Austin. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for; Community Advancement Network, serving as the Immediate past Board Chair, Austin Housing Repair Coalition, One Voice Central Texas, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, Texas Impact, National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation, and formally Urban Roots. Simone serves on the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities and on the Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council. In 2017, she received the Gulen Peace Award from the Dialogue Institute of Austin. And in 2018 Simone will receive Leadership Austin’s 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award.

Rabbi Rebecca Epstein

Rabbi Rebecca Epstein decided to pursue a career as a rabbi, as a personal response to witnessing the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11/2001 in New York City. At the time, she was teaching Hebrew school at a synagogue on the Upper West Side. Rebecca concluded that she could connect both students and adults to the wisdom of Jewish tradition as a way to deal with these demanding times. Concurrently, Rebecca explored Eastern spiritual traditions through her study of yoga. She concluded, however, that Judaism and the path of the rabbinate were the right fit for her. She began her rabbinical studies in 2004 at the Hebrew Union College, and was ordained in 2009 after completing studies in Jerusalem and New York City. Upon ordination, Rebecca served Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, New Jersey as Assistant Rabbi. There, she pioneered a teen mentorship program, a women’s spirituality group, a Jewish yoga class, and a comprehensive environmental certification process, in addition to directing the religious school. Rebecca and her family arrived in Austin in 2012, where she has served in various roles in the Austin Jewish Community, as well as national Jewish organizations including the Association of Reform Zionists of America and as the Convention and National Events Vice President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Rebecca is proud to be a part of the Congregation Beth Israel community, where she strives to connect people of all ages to the wellsprings and challenges of Judaism and Jewish life, through her current role as Director of Education which she assumed in 2014. Rebecca grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and attended Vassar College, graduating in 2000 with honors in Cognitive Science. At Vassar, she also pursued a life-long passion for modern dance and choreography. Rebecca is proud to be married to Barak Epstein and to share in the parenting of their three daughters.

Rev. Joseph Parker, Jr.

Rev. Joseph C. Parker, Jr., Esq., D. Min. has been the senior pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church since 1992, having become a minister at David Chapel in 1982. He has been described as “called by God, shaped by experience, a man of action, and a Renaissance man.” He has been a licensed attorney since 1983, having been a litigator and a mediator, now with a part-time mediation practice. In 1996 he was elected the first African-American president of the Austin Bar Association and has been honored as a “Trail Blazer” by the State Bar of Texas. In 2018 he received a “Distinguished Lawyer Award” by the Austin Bar Association, which previously named the “Joseph C. Parker, Jr. Diversity Award” in his honor. Further, he has taught preaching at Baylor University and trial advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law. He has been a board member of Safe Place (Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Survival Center) and a Community Advisor of the Junior League of Austin. He has held several faith/interfaith, legal, and community leadership positions. He is a graduate of Morehouse College, University of Georgia, University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Baylor University (Truett Seminary), and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.





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Reclaiming Sophia: “All Her paths are peace; She is a Tree of Life.”

The image of Sophia is prominent in some of my YouTube videos. People have asked, “Who is Sophia?”

Sophia, the Greek word for Wisdom, is a resurrected biblical feminine divine image that opens new possibilities for liberation, justice, and peace. New Testament writers link Christ to Wisdom, a feminine symbol of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew) symbolizes creative, redemptive, and healing power. In their efforts to describe this same power in Christ, the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers draw from the picture of Wisdom. The apostle Paul refers to Christ as the “power of God and the Wisdom (Sophia) of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24), and states that Christ “became for us Wisdom (Sophia) from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The book of Proverbs describes Wisdom as the “way,” the “life,” and the “path” (4:11,22,26).  The Gospel of John records Jesus’ saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus identifies with Wisdom (Sophia): “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet Wisdom (Sophia) is vindicated by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19). Origen, a prominent early Christian writer, declared Sophia to be the most ancient and appropriate title for Jesus.

My book In Search of the Christ-Sophia: An Inclusive Christology for Liberating Christians gives a thorough explanation of the connection between Christ and Sophia (Wisdom) in Scripture and in Christian tradition.

Sophia is one of the most powerful biblical Divine Feminine images. “Mother” may be an ambivalent image for some people, depending on their experiences with their own mothers or with the image of Mary. Wisdom, Sophia, helps us experience our own wisdom more powerfully. Sophia invites us to develop a partnership relationship with Her.

Even though Wisdom (Hokmah, Sophia) is a prominent name for God in the Bible, She is ignored and excluded in most congregations. Just as women have been excluded from leadership and still are in numerous congregations, Divine Wisdom may be excluded from worship because the Bible presents Divine Wisdom as female and refers to Divine Wisdom as “She.” Also, people don’t always want to know about Her paths of peace and justice “All Her paths are peace. She is a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:17-18). Sophia is one of the many biblical female images of God. Including these female images along with other biblical divine images to create gender-balanced worship will expand our spiritual experience and contribute to equality and justice in human relationships.

The pictures in my videos celebrate diversity in race, culture, and gender.

“Wisdom Sophia” by Mirta Toledo

One of these images, “Wisdom Sophia” by Mirta Toledo, blends races and illustrates what Rev. Rebecca Kiser calls “gender-full.” (See Rebecca’s story in Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers and on my blog.  The videos also include pictures of people from a variety of races and genders to emphasize that the truth of Sophia (Wisdom) brings healing and freedom to everyone.



May these videos increase your hope and your experience of Sophia’s power to set us all free to be all we’re meant to be!



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