Preacher Woman | Katie Lauve-Moon

Preacher Woman

The following is an excerpt from Preacher Woman by Katie Lauve-Moon. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

Another woman joined her on the opposite end of the stage, and they offered each other reassuring looks. She stood tall, composed, and resolute, but her face was soft and peaceful. The first woman began again:

Let’s continue with an old and ancient story. Once upon a time, she was warned. She was given an explanation.

The second woman responded, “But nevertheless, she preached,” and continued, “She was told she was too bossy, her brazen exterior too fly, too flossy.” The first woman raised her open-palmed hand up and to the front of her, and then she and the crowd responded, “But nevertheless, she preached.” The two women continued the call and responsive reading alternating every other one with the crowd responding in between each time:

She was told she was too soft, too weak, too passive. She didn’t have the stuff of a leader.

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told she was too timid, her caution mistaken as indifference.

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told she was too confident, her calling mistaken as arrogance. Her gift is her shame, her vocation a mere power grab.

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told she was too loud, she had too much to say, too alive, too proud.

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told she was too quiet. I can’t hear you. I won’t hear you. Did you say something?

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told emotion clouded her clarity, that nothing good comes from when we are undone.

But nevertheless, she preached.

She was told she was too radical, too extreme. She really ought to calm herself down. Be more moderate, ride the fence. Whatever you do, don’t upset anyone. Ever.

But nevertheless, she preached.

After the crowd responded the final time, they cheered, laughed, cried, and held each other. They held hope in their eyes. Their bodies were now open. They moved around like humans feeling seen and heard and known for the first time in a long time. I quickly realized that what I was witnessing was distinctly different than my previous observations of women working in the church. Women were not invisible here, their jobs not thankless. They were front and center.

They made up the majority of the band. They were the organizers. They were the preachers. They were the prayers, the poets, and the announcers. They weren’t the token Scripture readers or soloists or pianists. They weren’t only in charge of the flowers or refreshments or children or administrative tasks. They led the service in every way. I had never before experienced this in a sanctuary. It occurred to me that this must be how so many men feel every time they attend a church service! Or, perhaps they take it for granted?

This worship service marked the opening night of the inaugural Nevertheless, She Preached conference. Nevertheless, She Preached was first breathed into life by a group of women ministers who were met with the news that the seminary from which they graduated would be hosting a lecture given by a religious leader known for his opposition to women’s leadership in the church. Their Baptist seminary was founded as a safe place for women to prepare for vocational ministry in response to the Conservative Takeover within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) that doctrinally barred women’s ministerial leadership across the SBC. Their seminary had officially educated and affirmed the calling of women ministers since its inception and, therefore, it pained and frustrated many of its women graduates when it agreed to endorse this particular religious leader. In response, many of these women pastors organized a counter-event “aimed at fully empowering and encouraging the clergy women who felt sidelined by the very institution that had loved and supported them into being.”

The seminary eventually canceled their involvement in this religious leader’s lecture but plans for Nevertheless, She Preached carried on. One of the organizers, Reverend Kyndall Rae Rothaus, wrote:

Our plans grew into a two- day preaching event designed and led by women. Men were welcome in the space, but for once, women held the stage. We named it, “Unauthorized: Nevertheless She Preached,” a title that resonated with women across the nation and across denominations. We saw it as an outward sign and symbol that women desperately needed a place to be fully seen and heard, and that we were not getting that support out in the world— not consistently, not enough, not in our churches, not even in our seminaries. It wasn’t an act of hostility but an act of truth-telling.

These women’s frustrations with being denied a voice are further corroborated by statistics that extend beyond the seminary and into Baptist churches. Their seminary is primarily affiliated with two Baptist denominational entities. One of its affiliations is a statewide denominational entity, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); only a half percent of this organization’s churches employ women as senior pastors (25 out of 5,318). Their seminary is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The CBF is a national denominational entity with only 5% of its churches employing women as solo senior pastors despite women enrolling in almost equal rates as men (46.7%) at CBF-affiliated seminaries. Rothaus continued:

We created our preaching event out of the sense that we were not the only women who felt unheard and unseen, who needed a word of sincere and unmitigated acknowledgment. We weren’t the only denomination still struggling to give women a place at the table.

The underrepresentation of women pastors in most non–Southern Baptist Baptist denominations mirrors distinctly low national trends in other religions and Christian denominations with women representing only 13.5% of head clergy and 20.7% of all clergy across all religious traditions in the United States; these statistics have remained about the same for the last 20 years. When Roman Catholic (2.6% women leaders), white conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist such as the Southern Baptist Convention (2.4% women leaders), and non- Christian (32.6% women leaders) religious congregations are removed from the figure, women still only constitute 16.2% and 29.8% of religious leaders in Black Protestant and white liberal/ moderate congregations, respectively. These statistics are particularly telling, given that women represent at least 60% of membership in the vast majority of congregations of all religious traditions and Christian denominations in the United States.

Women ministers’ underrepresentation in religious congregations reflects similar trends in leadership positions in the United States. For instance, women represent only about a fourth of U.S. Senators and Representatives and 7% of Fortune 500 company chief executive officers. Even in the field of education in the United States, which is predominately female, only 67.7% of education administrators are women. Moreover, in the predominately female field of social work, a profession inherently committed to the pursuit of social justice and gender equality, men disproportionately hold leadership positions. These patterns raise an important question: In a country with at least some workplace equity laws in place and the vast majority of residents opposed to sexism, why do sexist outcomes persist? And more specifically, why do congregations affiliated with the CBF, a denominational entity founded by Baptists who separated from the fundamentalist SBC in part to support women in leadership, continue to produce sexist outcomes almost 30 years later? I argue that investigating explanations to the second question moves us closer to a more comprehensive answer to the first question.

Praise for Preacher Woman

Preacher Woman grabs attention from the first page with a beautifully written story. The narrative recounts a conference called ‘Nevertheless She Preached’ and the welcome at the conference welcomes readers to the book. As a woman preacher myself, my heart beat faster at the strength and depth of that welcome: it is offered, like a litany, to readers’ different parts. There is an urgency of invitation here, which is difficult not to find compelling.”
Naomi Nixon, Student Christian Movement, Birmingham, Modern Believing

“In a time when much of America’s social critique has been shifting the focus from individuals to systems, Preacher Woman makes an important contribution to understanding gender inequalities in religious communities from a systemic vantage point and is an essential addition to the scholarly work on gender and religion.”
Benjamin R. Knoll, Sociology of Religion

“an important study”
Dwayne Howell, Homiletic

“A must-read for anyone in church leadership who desires to empower women.”
CBE International (Christians for Biblical Equality)

“An excellent textbook option for undergraduate, graduate, and seminary courses focusing on gender and/or religion. … Preacher Woman makes an important contribution to understanding gender inequalities in religious communities from a systemic vantage point and is an essential addition to the scholarly work on gender and religion.”
Sociology of Religion

“Shattering the stained-glass ceiling is now a closer reality with Lauve-Moon’s Preacher Woman. This thorough and multi-disciplinary work is a much-needed mandate for churches to address the embedded sexist policies that continue to hold women back from leadership roles. It is this kind of research and forthright narration that might indeed break down systemic barriers and transform our ecclesial institutions toward true gender equity.”
Karoline M. Lewis, Marbury E. Anderson Chair and Professor of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Preacher Woman goes a long way to explaining why women remain so under-represented in the pulpits even of a religious group that espouses gender equality. Lauve-Moon shows how the absence of role models, ostensibly gender-neutral hiring practices that are anything but, implicit and explicit biases, and subtle and not-so-subtle discouragements all play a role. Preacher Woman is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the barriers to true equal opportunity for female clergy.”
Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religious Studies, and Divinity, Duke University

About the Author

Katie Lauve-Moon

Katie Lauve-Moon is Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work and Affiliate Faculty in the Women & Gender Studies Department at Texas Christian University.

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