Okay, so about 13 years ago, I had a dream. A dream that led to my call to the ministry. I’ve talked about it some in years past, but one thing I wanted to mention here is in this dream I had a conversation with God and God came to me as an African-American woman and that’s something that’s always struck me as very powerful. Something that’s always caused me to reach out to listen to voices that are different from my own. And last week I had this incredible opportunity to attend a conference in Waco, Texas. The name of the conference was Nevertheless She Preached.
This was a conference of of all female preachers. I heard about it months ago and I felt a call that I really needed to go and I needed to listen. And so last week I headed out to Waco, Tx and while I was there for two days I got to listen to Julie Pennington-Russell who was this woman who was ordained some 20 years ago and on her first day in the pulpit she was met with signs that said things like: How “Calvary Baptist has sinned by suffering Jezebel to teach in church;” “Scripture shuts the mouth of women pastors”. A sign said “Julie Pennington needs to go home and be a wife and mother” with some “helpful” scripture passages attached to it.
And I got to listen to Enedina Vasquez, an artist and a poet of Mexican descent who lives in what is now east Texas but whose family had been there for generations. She said “the border crossed us, we didn’t cross the border.” But because of the way that she was perceived, as she grew up there were no schools there for her to attend. The Catholic church that she grew up attending and she saw altar boys who helps the priest, she was told that she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near the altar, because she was a girl. Now she speaks all over the country. She goes to conferences and she says “there’s still times when I walk into the building and people see me and go, ‘oh there’s a mess in the bathroom.'” She says “no, I’m headed towards the stage.”
I got to listen to AnaYelsi Velasco-Sanchez, who was adopted from Venezuela and when the adoption fell through she grew up in foster care. She said I have a violent system. Because of who she is, brash, bold, and strong. But when she comes to speak about her experience now she has to change those parts of her. When she enters white churches or white society she has to come across as soft spoken and quiet because she doesn’t want to fit that stereotype of loud and abrasive Latinas. She talks about how she’s invited to tell her story and the church wants to celebrate in a way that she survived her extreme hardship but nobody wants to celebrate the parts of her that allowed her to survive. And she says that her story and others like her, they use this, what she calls “testimonial porn.” We want to come and we want to hear bad parts. We welcome the story but we reject the storyteller.
And I got to listen to Allyson Dylan Robinson, believed to be the first openly transgender Baptist minister. I got to hear her story about how she had been losing her faith in the church and the Bible. And yet keeping her faith in God.
And so many other incredible voices, Karoline Lewis, Wil Gafney, Kyndra Frazier…. And it was an unusual conference for me to attend because there were no men speaking. And that’s so unusual and it’s something that I welcomed. And I went because I realize that I’ve go to listen to these voices, I’ve got to listen to these voices that I’ve got to listen to these voices that are different from mine. I’ve got to listen to the voices and the experience of women.
Unfortunately, humanity has a long history of not listening to women. We even have Bible stories over and over again are stories of women who aren’t listened to from the beginning with Eve being blamed for everything. Hagar, the story we never get to hear her side of the story and she’s abandoned by Abraham. So many women in our scriptures don’t even get names; it’s “the Levite’s concubine” and “Jephthah’s daughter” and “the Syrophoenician woman.”
Even when Mary announces that she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit, Joseph decides to dismiss her quietly and to divorce her. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told the apostles about the empty tomb. The scripture says “their words seemed like nonsense to them and they did not believe them.”
Of course we’ve witnessed so much more of women not being listened to. This past week, at the Supreme Court hearings, we heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her stories. Many of us were reminded of the stories that Anita Hill told in 1991. I’ve seen how nothing has changed through all those years. Over and over again, dismissing testimony and not listening to women who have survived abuse and survived domestic violence.
And to note here that many of us have struggled this week. Many have gone through lots of different emotions and hard times and all of those emotions are valid. All of your emotions of anger and sadness and whatever else you are feeling come from God. I am here if you want to talk to me, if you feel comfortable talking to me. I will listen, and I implore you to find other ways to take care of yourself. To spend time in prayer and meditation. To spend time with friends with like minds. To do what feeds your soul.
See fortunately, the history in our Bible isn’t always about not listening. What’s great about the Bible is when it flips that story on its head. So there are these stories of women saving us. The King in our story today finally listens to Esther. She had to do a lot to get there. She had to spend her life as a harem. She had to use her looks and her charm to finally win this place of power where her voice was heard. And Joseph eventually listens to Mary after he’s visited by the Holy Spirit or visited by and angel and he realizes that he’s got to listen. Even Jesus, at one point, tries to ignore the Syrophoenician woman. He calls her and her people “dogs.” But she stands up to him and challenges him. Jesus realizes that he’s got to listen to her voice. And at some point, someone realized that they’ve got to listen to the women who discovered the empty tomb. Because we’re still here today, we’re still telling that story. That story that they told that got passed down to us. We’ve got to listen to the voices of women.
We’ve got to believe stories about attacks and abuse. We’ve got to listen to the voices of women of color and transgender women and women who have been marginalized and minoritized, to hear their stories of being cast out and oppressed. But it’s not only about the abuse it’s not only about that “testimonial porn.” We’ve got to listen to the voices of hope and strength and courage and change. We’ve got to listen to the ways that God speaks through the rainbow of voices that bless our world.
And a note about violence too. You know In Esther – you may have noticed the reading we had today skipped a few verses, skipped a chapter at one point. You know they mention the part about Mordecai being hanged but those three dots, those ellipses, have a horrible story about violence getting turned. Instead of the Jews getting killed, the King allows them to go out and to slaughter the Persians. And by some account, 75,000 people are killed. I don’t believe that that’s God’s way either. As I spent these 48 hours or so at this conference listening to all these women preachers, listening to them talking about “taking down the patriarchy,” none of it was about violence. None of it was about replacing men or removing men.
Toppling the Patriarch and dismantling systems where white Christian, straight, cisgender men have a monopoly isn’t something that men like me have to defend ourselves from; that’s something that we can and should welcome. We’ve got to listen to the voices and ideas and the leadership of women. That will help us move in our world into the future.
You know at the end of that dream that I had when called into the ministry, I asked God, I asked this woman that I was speaking to, “Why don’t people know who I am?” And she said “because they haven’t had a chance to hear you. They will hear your voice.” I woke up with that phrase in my mind, echoing in my mind, they will hear my voice. Well the Nevertheless She Preached conference was a helpful reminder to me that sometimes I’ve got to shut up too, that there are other voices that I have to hear.
If you are someone who is often heard, who’s voice will you listen for this week?
If you are someone who is often silenced, how will you find your voice this week?
May our God of rainbow and fiery pillar be with us as we seek to discover courageous voices among us. May we be a people on God’s journey, listen and lifting up all voices, especially the voices of those on the margins so that we may be led to the promised land of peace and justice and equality. In Christ name we pray, let the people say, Amen.