Last evening, I viewed the CNN documentary on Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or more recently known as Notorious R.B.G. What this woman has done for women’s legal status in America is breathtaking. With relentless focus, she has challenged the male normativity and privilege granted by the Constitution, arguing cases before the Supreme Court that dealt with gender equity. She won five out of six cases.
When the Constitution was drafted, white men (many of whom owned slaves) were the subjects of “equal protection under the law.” Women and minorities were not the concern of the Bill of Rights, and thus a strictly “originalist” interpretation has the same flaws as reading Scripture without attention to our contemporary socio-cultural setting. Thankfully, Justice Ginsburg and feminist/womanist biblical scholars have pointed the way in how to read founding texts.
On Friday and Saturday, I attended events sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Initiative program in Nashville. Now launching the third cohort, Central believes that this specialized Master of Divinity equips women to lead in significant ways as pastors, chaplains, community organizers, and founders/directors of non-profits. It is a rigorous four years, yet constructively formative, as graduates tell us. They are flourishing in their post-seminary ministries.
I had the opportunity to observe the critical role of group and peer mentoring that is foundational to this process of learning ministry as a practice. From the reflection of those gathered I was reminded of how much courage it takes to go to seminary because it brings you face to face with yourself. For many women, this means facing the ways that they have been discounted in their churches, families of origin, or educational trajectories. Dealing with these hard things as a cohort is helpful, and the support offered is transformative.
I celebrate the creative capacities of women’s leadership. Women are busy constructing communities of inclusion; they are adept at balancing multiple stakeholders’ interests; and they find ways to empower diverse constituencies. Most profoundly, they bring a corrective vision for how to read Scripture, an understanding of the shadow side of history and theology, and new perspectives for enlivening congregational and community life.
Slowly, women are claiming their rightful place on the social landscape and crafting a more just narrative that includes both women and men. Central continues to press toward gender equity, a task yet to be completed.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.