Open Letter to Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker III and the “By Invitation Only” Attendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT

December 12, 2013 

Brothers, 

How an initiative begins significantly affects how it goes forward. 

We read with interest the well-crafted December 9 press release of the coming “SHIFT,” a new initiative spearheaded by Rev. Joseph W. Walker III, Presiding Bishop-Elect of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. We paid special attention to the quotations and looked at the pictures. What a curious title: “Rebranding in the body of Christ: The Ultimate Leader Shift.” 

As we read the letter, we became increasingly more disturbed and troubled. Although our first response was “no women were in the room,” in fact our concerns are deeper. It was just sinful and wrongheaded for a group of men to gather without active, real participation of women. We want to be clear about what disturbs us in this moment. Generally, we ignore lists of “100 most influential,” “10 best preachers,” etc.—how could we know who are the 10 best preachers, given all the powerful preachers who will never have a stage? So we read “chosen ones” and “greatest movement” with a grain of salt. But if those gathered intended to communicate an inclusive, progressive, dynamic, forward thinking agenda, your images and rhetoric failed you. 

The post-letter from Bishop Walker—apparently written in response to comments made about the absence of women—said “a number of women who were invited… many were unable to attend” (though there were NONE present). We are hard-pressed to believe that all those busy men could come to the SHIFT meeting, but not one woman was available at the time. Quite frankly, if scheduling the meeting proved to be that problematic for women only, then one would be forced to rethink its planning strategies and organization. In the interest of being in solidarity with your womanist sister clergy, if this initiative really intended to be “new,” “progressive,” and “bold,” we think our Womanist/Black Feminist allies in the photo ought have refused to meet or release anything without a critical mass of sister leaders present, not as tokens, but as full participants. If there were men in that room who were in fact appalled by the lack of female representation because they did not know beforehand who would attend, we would hope that our brother allies would publicly declare their disappointment that a meeting with no women present was not rescheduled. 

That’s what solidarity and ally-ship look like. 

We’ve been chastened not to call black male church leaders out in public. We’ve been told that we have misunderstood. The rising bishop responded in his follow-up letter in what he called “a teaching moment” that we should “ask questions” rather than assume, presumably to correct his errant critics. We say that the gathered brotherhood of clergy should make their commitments clearer. What exactly do they hope to accomplish on behalf of the church? Does it matter to anyone other than women that women are invisible in a gathering of putatively this import? The Bishop’s letter read like a justification for male privilege. The usually “invisible cloak” of arrogance and male-only leadership was visible. All the rhetoric sounded like everything we’ve ever heard from male-dominated meetings.  

As Womanists-Feminists-preachers-scholars-activists our responses come from several places. We are not making assumptions. Your press release and its attending images speak volumes. You are not interested in iconoclastically breaking from tradition. You’ve made clear that even if women were invited their insight, input, or wisdom was not considered significant enough for the group to wait. Indeed, the notion that women have to be “included” is itself a male privilege power move. Surely, you are aware that most black churches are comprised of as much as 80% female membership. We also know that women do the majority of the work of the church, without whose labor the organization and mission would fail. To be crystal clear, women’s gifts and capacities in all aspects of church leadership are as critical to the survival, relevance and progression of the church as men’s. Are women not already included in God’s plans? 

You’ve communicated—loudly—that (male) “Generals” would strategize and tell all the foot soldiers what to do. A clear inference one gets from your invitation to meet is that God only calls “Generals” who are notorious and already “celebrity” preachers, i.e., those considered “important” and “special” people. Only those with thousands of members know anything about impact or leadership. We understand. That presumption makes sense in an entrepreneurial understanding of the church, where faithfulness is measured only in dollars and size. It smacks of religious elitism. What could an inner-city pastor with only a few members who’s faced gangs and helped people who are poor and struggling to thrive possibly have to offer? You’ve communicated that the hierarchical, “Fathers-know-best,” male-centric table works for you and you’ll scoot over and cram in a couple more of some you deem “worthy.” It is presumptuous and ill thought-out. 

We will take you at your word that you didn’t intend to communicate most of the above, if you’ll take our word that’s how many people who care equally about the future of the church received it. 

Intent and impact are two very different things. Be clear. Images matter. Rhetoric matters. 

In this climate in which the black church finds itself on the brink of becoming irrelevant in the public’s eyes and where black preachers are portrayed on TV as money-grubbing pimps in the pulpit, it would seem that preachers serious about redeeming the times and restoring the reputation of the black church would be committed to justice that reflects genuine shared  leadership with women. More than 27 years ago, Rev. Prathia Hall challenged the black Baptist Church on its rampant patronizing exclusion of women, and we find ourselves having to do the same. Dr. Renita Weems once asked, “What will it mean in the history of the church if record droves of women experience and accept their call and we go on with business as usual?” By your omission, you dishonor the legacy, ministry and lives of the biblical general Deborah and prophet Huldah; the church house leader Chloe; and deacon Phoebe and co-workers in the gospel Euodia and Syntyche. You dishonor the work and ministry of women such as Jarena Lee, Septima Clark, Ella P. Mitchell, Brenda Piper Little, Shirley Prince, and Bishop Barbara Harris, and countless of notable and unnamed others. 

The challenge with critiquing SHIFT and movements that exclude more of God’s people than  they include is that onlookers immediately think it’s personal. Religious male-centered leadership is “normal” and “sacred” and any attempt to question it is deemed perverse or personal. Our call is not for women to have access to patriarchal power, but that we all work together to create new, healthier, more humane—and therefore more godly—systems. We ask you to consider, not only those at the table you’ve spread, but those who are not present. We believe such consideration is central to the ministry of Christ. Women are invisible at the table, but so are many others, including, self-identified same-gender loving Christians. As you consider what or who has their feet on the necks of those you want to liberate, consider whose necks your feet may be holding down. Self-reflection and self-critique are deeply important in justice work. 

In response to your invitation for dialogue, here are a few questions to get the dialogue going:  How do leaders who claim to fight for justice not know that sexism—excluding women or only  including them as afterthoughts—is just as vile and sinful as racism and that it takes intentionality to transform, if in fact you intend to do so? How do self-proclaimed Womanist allies not include women and men who are Womanists and/or Black Feminists in the shaping of vision? Womanist/Black Feminists are not concerned only with the “inclusion” of women in public religious life. That’s about numbers. As people of faith, committed to the cause of radical inclusion, justice and love, we would be remiss in our integrity and derelict in our respective vocations, if we did not speak to injustices and oppressions as evidenced by this introduction of your initiative. We are interested in vision and shared influence and the building of the Commonwealth of God, beloved communities where everyone is valued, heard, protected, and helped to thrive, even if we disagree with them on a number of fronts. Jesus modeled this expansive community best and thus was persecuted for it by self-styled religious movers and shakers of his day. 

One last point. You can understand, can’t you, why talk about “core family values” by a fraternity of male preachers raises concern for many of us? We have seen from this last election cycle what happens to women, poor families, and same-gender loving people when right-wing conservatives draft laws and draw up policies in the name of God and family values. Is SHIFT an initiative of black men merely reflecting the same toxic politics and policies? In other words, who is permitted to sit at the table and to fully participate as self-possessed people? Are single people okay as single, or are they people who need to get married? What about single people who’ve adopted children and built families on the village model—a very African approach to family? Is there room for LGBTQ families already among your ranks, or is yours a movement bent on silencing, demonizing, or maligning them? Is there enough emotional, theological, and intellectual bandwidth within the organization to partner for social change with people with whom you don’t agree? I wonder what would happen if you thought Dream Defenders, New Black Man (in Exile), Moral Monday activists or Black Youth Project members, leaders of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, for example, were just as important collaborating partners FROM THE BEGINNING? 

Bishop Walker noted that women’s full inclusion is a key priority. If so, one social justice organizer said, “If you say it’s for ‘us,’ don’t do it without us.” A noted activist once said that if you’re comfortable with everyone in the room, you’re not leading a revolution. 

Finally, you may ask: “What do you want to happen?” We want this group to commit that all future SHIFT meetings will include women religious leaders around the table, clergy and lay, pastors and academics—the presence of women whose voices you admit are critical and crucial to participating with male religious leaders in redeeming the times and redeeming the future of the black church. 

We want members of the group to publicly acknowledge that, though you may not have intended the slight, this first gathering was sinful and flawed by these exclusions. If this exclusion was not the intended message, take a good faith opportunity to correct that error.  

We raise these concerns and questions because it is faithful and just to do so. As catalyst for this letter, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, along with any number of the undersigned are willing to be in an open dialogue with Bishop-Elect Walker and any of those in that first meeting. 

In the Struggle and in the Spirit,

Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D.                                                             
Biblical and Homiletics Scholar 
President & CEO of WomanPreach! Inc. 
Board of Trustees, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference 

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers 
General Secretary 
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference 

Rev. Carolyn Ann Knight 
The Seminary Without Walls 
Smyrna, Georgia 

Bishop Yvette Flunder 
Presiding Prelate, The 
Fellowship of Affirming Ministries 
Pastor, City of Refuge 
San Francisco, CA

Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, Ph.D. 
Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist Church 
Philadelphia, PA 

Jaha Zainabu, Poet 

Rev. Maisha I. K. Handy, Ph.D. 
Pastor, Rize Community Church 
Associate Provost 
Interdenominational Theological Center 

Robert Hoggard 
Founder & President 
American Baptist College 
Affiliate of S.C.L.C 

Matthew Wesley Williams 
Lithonia, GA 

Rev. Donna M. Vanhook 
Burlington, NC 

Rev. Marsha Foster Boyd, PhD 
Englewood, OH 

Brittney C. Cooper, Ph.D. 
Departments of Women’s & 
Gender Studies 
& Africana Studies 
Rutgers University 

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright 
Board of Trustees, Samuel 
DeWitt Proctor Conference 

Myia Williams-Sanders 

Rev. Martin L. Espinosa 
Senior Pastor 
Ray of Hope Community 
Church, Nashville, TN 

Rev. Vivian Nixon, Chief 
Executive Officer 
College and Community 
Fellowship and Founder 
Education Inside Out Coalition 

J.T. Thomas, Cleveland, OH 

Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson 
Senior Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ 
Brooklyn NY 
Associate Professor of 
Homiletics, Drew Theological 
Seminary 

Keri Day, PhD 
Professor of Ethics & Director of 
Black Church Studies, 
Brite Divinity School 

Rev Toni DiPina, Pastor 
Rockdale Congregational 
Church Northbridge, MA 

Rashad D. Grove 

Rev. Carla A. Jones 

Jeralyn B. Major

Renita J. Weems, Ph.D. 
Biblical Scholar 
Nashville, TN 

Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD 
Boston University School of 
Theology 

Rev. Asa J Lee 
Arlington, VA 

Rev. Carolyn Hutchinson 
Temple Hills, MD 

Rev. Rashad D. Grove, Pastor 
First Baptist Church of Wayne 
Wayne, PA 

The Rev. Dr. Violet Lee 

Tamura A. Lomax, Ph.D., 
Assistant Professor 
Department of Gender, Sexuality 
and Women’s Studies 
Virginia Commonwealth 
University 

Darnell L. Moore 
writer and activist 

Estee Nena Dillard 

Rev. Tawana Davis 
Executive Minister 
Shorter Community AME Church 
Assistant Coordinator, 
Rocky Mountain District Women in Ministry 

Rev. Cherisna Jean-Marie 
Atlanta, GA 

Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt, 
Chicago Theological Seminary 
Chicago, IL, UCC 

Karlene Griffiths Sekou, MPH, MTS 

Rev. Cedrick Von Jackson 

The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD 
Chair of the Biblical Area and 
Associate Professor, Hebrew, 
Jewish and Christian Scripture 
The Lutheran Theological 
Seminary at Philadelphia 

Min. Jamie Eaddy 

Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson 
Executive Pastor 
The Concord Baptist Church of 
Christ, Brooklyn, NY 

Rev. Andrea Clark 
Assistant Pastor 
Antioch Baptist Church 
Tulsa, OK 

Rev. Quincy James Rineheart, 
M.Div., S.T.M. 

Rev. Dawnn M. Brumfield, 
Associate Pastor 
Urban Village Church 
Chicago, IL 

Ashon Crawley 

Pastor Michelle E. Freeman, 
M.Div., Houston, TX 

Min. L. Proverbs Briggs, 
Atlanta, GA 

Rev. Dollie Howell Pankey, 
MACM, MTS 
Pastor, St. James Christian 
Methodist Episcopal Church 
Jasper, Alabama 

Rev. Catharine A. Cummings, M.Div. 
Pastor, Wesley UMC Church, 
Springfield, MA 

Rev. Earle J. Fisher, M.Div. 
Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church (Memphis) 
Adjunct Instructor of Contemporary Theology,
Rhodes College, Memphis, TN

Rev Dr Mitzi J. Smith, Ph.D 

Charles Bowie, Ph.D 

Rev. Carla Patterson 
Associate Minister 
Friendship Missionary Baptist 
Church, Charlotte, NC 

Rev. Vanessa M. Brown 

Karlene Griffiths Sekou, 
President Dignidad International 
Cambridge, MA 

Rev. Felicia Y. Thomas 

Rev. Carla Patterson 

Rev. Alisha Lola Jones, M.Div. 
CEO & Founder 
InSight Initiative, Inc. 

Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph. D. 
Associate Professor 
Interdenominational Theological 
Center 

Min. Brenda Summerville, M.Div. 
Chicago, IL 

Roger A. Sneed, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of Religion 
Furman University 

Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD. 
Pastor, Gifts of Life Ministries, Memphis, TN 
Dr. James L Netters Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Religion 
and African American Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary 

Rev. Althea Bailey 

Rev. Yvette A. Assem, M.Div. 
Womanist Missionary 
Language of the Black Woman’s Touch 

Min. Robin P. Sessoms, M.Div. 

Rev. Dorothy Harris, J.D., Pastor 
Unity Fellowship Church of 
Columbia (Maryland) 

Carla E. Banks 
Jamall Andrew Calloway, S.T.M. 
Associate Minister 
Mt. Aery Baptist Church, 
Bridgeport, CT 

Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds, 
PhD student 
Chicago Theological Seminary 

Fallon Wilson, M.A., ABD 
University of Chicago 

Rev. Karyn Carlo PhD 

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes 
Assistant Pastor for Special Projects 
Union Baptist Church, 
Cambridge, Massachusetts 
John D. and Catherine T. 
MacArthur Professor 
Colby College, Waterville, Maine 

Rev. Charisse R. Tucker, 
Minister of Administration 
St. Paul’s Baptist Church, 
Philadelphia, PA 

Terry T. Hocker, Sr. 
Pastor/Founder 
Bound By Truth And Love 
Ministries, Cincinnati, OH 

Rev. Jamie D. Hawley, Chaplain 
University of Michigan 

Rev. Kendal Brown 
Dean of Students 
Lancaster Theological Seminary 

Rev. Melva L. Sampson 

M. Brandon McCormack, Ph.D., 
Assistant Professor 
Departments of Pan-African 
Studies and Humanities 
(Religious Studies) 
University of Louisville 

Charlotte Caldwell 

Rev. Brian Foulks 
Lexington, SC 

Lisa Ann Anderson 

Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. 
Professor, Biblical Interpretation 
New York Theological Seminary 
Visiting Scholar of Religion & African American Studies, 
Columbia University

Rev. Toni Dunbar, D.Min. 
Associate Pastor & Dean 
City of Refuge United Church of 
Christ, Oakland, CA 
Executive Director, YA Flunder 
Foundation 
Founder & Director, Refuge 
Leadership Development 
Institute 

Rev. Gwen Thomas, M. Ed. 
Author, LGBT activist, & 
Huffington Post blogger 

The Rev. Canon Terence 
Alexander Lee, Rector 
St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, 
Hollis, NY 

Rev. W. Jeffrey Campbell, 
Executive Director 
Hudson Pride Connections 
Center, Jersey City, NJ 

Evan R. Bunch 

Pastor Genetta Y Hatcher 
Detroit, Michigan 

The Rev. Fr. Marcus G. Halley, 
Associate Priest 
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – 
Kansas City, MO 

Rev. Dr. MarQuita Carmichael Burton 

Rev. Don Darius Butler, Pastor 
Tabernacle Community Baptist Church 
Milwaukee, WI 

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ph.D. 
The Historic Ebenezer Baptist 
Church, Atlanta, GA 

Dr. Tony McNeill, DWS, Director 
of Worship & The Arts 
Historic Ebenezer Baptist 
Church – Atlanta, GA 

Rev. William I. Spencer 

Min. Davica Williams-Warren, 
M.Div., Miami, FL 

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou 
Pastor for Formation and Justice 
The First Baptist Church in 
Jamaica Plain (Boston, MA) 

Rev. Dorian Mendez-Vaz, 
President & Founder 
Within Her Reach, Inc. 

Min. Ryan Hawthorne, M.Div. 
Princeton Theological Seminary 

Rev. Kimberly Henderson 
Philadelphia, PA 

Rev. Raedorah C. Stewart, MA 
Preacher, Poet, Mother of a Son 

Rev. T. Renée Crutcher, 
Founder/President 
Sankofa Ministries & Tellin’ Our 
Story Publishing, Inc. 
Atlanta, GA 

Min. Kamilah Hall Sharp, J.D. 
M. Div. Candidate 
Memphis Theological Seminary 

Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, 
Senior Pastor, Living Water 
United Church of Christ 
General Secretary, 
Higher Ground Christian Fellowship International 

 Dr. Donique McIntosh 
Associate Pastor 
Namaste’ United Church of Christ 

Minister Kelli X, M.Div 
Madison, TN 

Rev. Sharon L. Bowers 
UMC Pastor 
ITC Alumna 

Rev. James A. Hardaway, 
M.Div., MACE 
Pastor, Mount Gilead AME 
Church, Columbus, GA 

Rev. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, Ph.D. 

Keith Crawford, Jr.

Min. Hazel M. Cherry, 
Oakland, CA, 
M.Div. Candidate 
Howard University School of Divinity 

Bishop Andre L. Jackson 
Founding Pastor, New Vision 
Full Gospel Baptist Church, East 
Orange, NJ 
MA in Practical Theology/ 
M.Ed Candidate 
Regent University, VA 

Rev Candace Lewis, United 
Methodist Clergy 

Rev. JoAnne Marie Terrell, PhD 
Associate Professor of Ethics, 
Theology, and the Arts 
Chicago Theological Seminary 

Dr. Irie Lynne Session 
Senior Pastor 
The Avenue – Warren Avenue 
Christian Church | Dallas, Texas 
MDiv. Black Church Studies 
Concentration | Brite Divinity School 
DMin. Transformative 
Leadership & Prophetic 
Preaching | Colgate Rochester 
Crozer Divinity School 

Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, M.Div. 
Consultant, WomanPreach! Inc. 
& Director, Women’s Center @ 
New York Theological Seminary 

Rev. Stephanie A. Duzant, MSW 
Hollis, Queens NYC 

Min. Louis J. Mitchell 
South Congregational Church 
Springfield, MA 

Minister Rhonda White-Warner, 
M.Div., D.Min. Candidate, SF 
Theological Seminary 
Founder Alabaster Jar 
Ministries, Oakland, CA 

Toby D. Sanders, Pastor 
Beloved Community 

Rev. Reginald W. Williams, Jr. 
Pastor, First Baptist Church of 
University Park 
University Park, IL 

Bishop John Selders Pastor 
Amistad UCC & Bishop Presider 
Interdenominational Conference 
of Liberation Congregations and 
Ministries 

Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton, 
Director/Campus Minister 
The Wesley Foundation at Fisk 
University, Nashville, TN 

Rev. Wm. Jermaine Richardson 

Dr. Safiyah Fosua 
Assistant Professor 
Congregational Worship 
Wesley Seminary @ IWU 

Rev. Frank A Thomas, Ph.D. 
Director of the Academy of 
Preaching and Celebration 
The Nettie Sweeney and Hugh 
T. Miller Professor of Homiletics 
Christian Theological Seminary 

Min. Kymberly McNair 
Social Justice Coordinator 
Antioch Baptist Church 
Bedford Hills, NY 

Dr. Teresa Fry Brown Director 
Black Church Studies Program 
and Professor of Homiletics 
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, 
Director, Black Church Studies 
Princeton Theological Seminary 

Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis 
Director of the Center for African 
American Ministries & Black Church Studies 
Adjunct Professor 
McCormick Theological 
Seminary, Chicago, IL 
UCC Pastor 

Rev. Kimberly G. Walker, Pastor 
Village of Hope CME Church 
Stone Mountain, GA 

Joshua Crutchfield Nashville, TN 

Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings 
New Covenant Christian Church 
Nashville, TN 

Rev. Dominique C. Atchison, 
M.Div. Associate Minister 
Brown Memorial Baptist Church 
Sacred Conversations on Race 
Coordinator, Connecticut 
Conference UCC 

Rev. Chaka S. Holley, MSW, M.Div. 

Dr Lynne S. Darden 
Assistant Professor 
New Testament 
Interdenominational Theological 
Seminary, Atlanta, GA 

 

Rev. Rosalyn R. Nichols, D.Min. 
Organizing Pastor, Freedom’s 
Chapel Christian Church (DOC) 
Memphis, TN 

 

 

Min. Guy Sebastian Johnson, 
Leesburg, VA, M.Div. Candidate 
Lancaster Theological Seminary 

EL Kornegay Jr., Ph.D. 
CEO/Founder 
The Baldwin~Delaney Institute 
Chicago, IL 

Liz S. Alexander, Seminarian 
Chicago, IL 

Candice M. Benbow 
Durham, North Carolina 

 

 

Larry T. Crudup 
M.Div. Candidate 
Perkins School of Theology


Rev. Dianna N. Watkins-Dickerson 
Chaplain, USAF

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4 thoughts on “Open Letter to Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker III and the “By Invitation Only” Attendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT

  1. Come on Christians (women), you are too intelligent to put up with this foolishness from evil spirits; pick up your cross and move on to higher heights. Our Lord does not require His servants to bow to demi-gods.

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