Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle’s Charge/Challenge in Morning Worship of the Access and Equity for Women Clergy Conference

Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, photo by Paula Clayton Dempsey

Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, delivered this powerful charge/challenge to participants at the Access and Equity for Women Clergy Conference in the morning worship service on Friday, October 25, in Davis Chapel of Wake Forest Divinity School.          

As we begin this conference devoted to the pursuit of equity for women seeking careers in ministry, my responsibility is to set before us a challenge that can provide a rallying cry for all that will follow us and inform us over the course of the next two days. In doing so I want to refer to an article that was written a few weeks ago by Leonard Pitts, the syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald. He wrote about two adjoining neighborhoods in Miami; Coconut Grove that is a solid middle class white neighborhood and West Grove that he described as a hard-scrabble black neighborhood that was like something from the other side of the world.

Toxic material was found in the soil of playgrounds in both of those neighborhoods, but how that problem was treated was as different as night and day. The soil in Coconut Grove was immediately deemed dangerous, and it was  removed and replaced within three days. However, that same soil in West Grove was deemed not to be hazardous, and was not removed until more than  three months had gone by. What was not tolerated in one neighborhood was ignored, accepted, and tolerated in the neighborhood just next door. What Leonard Pitts wanted to know was how it was possible that this obvious act of inequity and injustice could take place in 21st century America.

I want you to hear the conclusion reached by Pitts:
     These inequities exist because we allow them,
    because we condone by our silence the second-class
    citizenship of those who are not us. People have the
    right to expect they will be treated as if they matter,
    even if they live on the other side of the world.
Hear and consider three points embedded in the analysis of Leonard Pitts as to why inequity exists between groups:
    1.    We allow it to happen.
    2.    We condone it by our silence.
    3.    We treat as second-class citizens those who are not us.

That is the theme I want to set before us as we begin our work today. People have a right to expect they will be treated as if they matter. When that expectation is not met, whether due to race, or gender, or anything else that marks a person as “not one of us” we should not condone by our silence the second-class treatment of other people. I say again, “We should not condone by our silence the second-class treatment of others who are defined by someone as being “not one of us.”

There is a necessary alternative to condoning inequity by our silence, and it is found in the words of  Isaiah 58:1ff who says : Cry aloud and spare not. In pursuit of equity for women in ministry we all must cry aloud and spare not. In standing against those who treat women as second-class citizens in the life and work of the church we must cry aloud and spare not. To male clergy who reserve unto themselves opportunities and responsibilities they believe were never intended to be exercised by women we must cry aloud and spare not.  To pastoral search committees such as the one on which my mother served some years ago who announced they would rather choose an unqualified man over a well-qualified woman we must cry aloud and spare not.

There are people who do twisted and contorted exegesis on scripture so they can, according to Demetrius Williams use the same Bible to condemn racism but uphold sexism. In response we must cry aloud and spare not. There are women in the church who contribute to the exclusion of their sisters from careers in ministry because they have bought into the notion that they only want a male to be their pastor. In response to them we must cry aloud and spare not. There are still some people with a 1st century worldview who know that women serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and in the highest levels of education, industry, the military, and in government, but who believe that when those women step inside the church they should sit in silence and submission. In the face of such people we must cry aloud and spare not.

We must do this in honor of all the women in ministry that blazed the trail in years gone by that women today are determined to follow. Over the course of my forty years in pastoral ministry I have presided over the ordination of four women and the licensing of a fifth into Christian ministry. I ordained seven women as deacons in a black Baptist church. I did all of that in memory of my very first pastor, the first preaching voice I ever heard; her name was Mary G. Evans. She is one of the women profiled in Betty Collier-Thomas’s book “Daughters of Thunder.” For me, Pastor Evans was not an historical figure I read about in a book in seminary. She was the pastor for my entire family at Cosmopolitan Community Church on the South Side of Chicago when I was born in 1948.

She had an M.A. in Theology from the University of Chicago that she earned in the 1930s. She was a leading voice in the anti-lynching movement in this country. Of course she was told that she should not attempt to be a preacher. Of course she was told that God did not call women to preach. Of course she was ostracized by almost every male pastor in Chicago, but she persevered because, as Paul said, “She knew in whom she believed.” Along with Lucy Smith Collier who was also a black  woman in ministry in Chicago, Pastor Evans was not only the best preacher I ever heard, but she was unapologetic about her calling.

As we begin our work here today I invite you to call to your mind those voices of women in ministry that may have inspired and informed your life, as Mary G. Evans inspired and informed mine. Then, in their honor let us refuse to condone by our silence the inequities that women face today as they seek to pursue the call that God has laid upon their lives. Let us cry aloud and spare not, or in the words of the song from the Broadway play Ragtime, “Make them hear you.”

Dr. McMickle currently serves as President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and Professor of Church Leadership there. He is an ordained American Baptist minister and has served as pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church of Montclair, New Jersey; pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio; and on the pastoral staff of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City. In addition, he has served as Professor of Homiletics at Ashland Theological Seminary, and on the adjunct faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and New York Theological Seminary. He is the author of 14 books and dozens of articles that regularly appear in professional journals and magazines. His writings also appear in the preaching commentaries Feasting on the Word and Preaching God’s Transforming Justice. He is a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA.


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