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Let’s Not Be Blind


I would never go so far as to call all opponents to women in ministry bigoted. However, there is a sizable vocal segment that do share a dangerous philosophy with those who champion prejudiced ideas.

A few weeks ago, Duke professor, Jerry Hough, wrote an incredibly racist rant about black people which was fodder for a myriad of conversations about race relations in America. Some of his more ridiculous points played into the “model minority” stereotype by contrasting Black plights with Asian success (conveniently overlooking the particular hardships faced by many Asian groups such as Cambodians and Laotians). In his explanation, he partially attributed this difference between groups to the tendency for Asians to assimilate to America by giving their children “very simple old American” first names instead of the “strange new” names African-Americans give their children. Nevermind the fact that when he speaks of traditional American names he probably doesn’t mean ACTUAL American names such as Alo, Onida, or Winona. And let’s conveniently set aside the fact that the names that he most likely means –such as  Edward, Angela, or Christopher– are just as much of a “new” continental import to the Americas as Kwame, Aziza, or Khadijah. And let’s overlook his weird assertion about interracial relationships. In my opinion, more than his individual points, his overarching theme was the most egregious: assimilation is the key to being looked upon as equal. This particular brand of racism is cut from the same cloth as of the idea of “Colorblindness”. Although, those who proudly wave the colorblind banner would say the exact opposite.

The concept of colorblindness is in and of itself racist for the obvious fact that it requires the viewer to claim that they “don’t see color”. Unless one is actually blind, that’s pretty unlikely. Instead, the person is actually saying that in order to see the other person as equal, they are willfully suspending their observation of culture and pretending that others have the exact same cultural background as they do. In this way, they can “mentally assimilate” them. Their solution to inequity is to eliminate all differences–albeit by imagination. To colorblind people, the fact that others are different IS the problem. This belief is the essence of racism. What colorblind people are saying is that the only way you can be perceived as equal is if you are perceived as identical.  Many people who espouse colorblindness will protest that this is untrue. However, to the recipient of colorblind treatment, this is insulting. I remember once eating at a White friend’s home on an occasion when many of the dinner guests were Black. At a point in the discussion, one guest stated that the hostess was so cool and down to earth he most often “forgets” that she’s White. Was that a compliment? In other words, Whiteness is inherently uncool and vapid. Therefore she’s not like other White people. She spoke up asking him how he would like it if she stated the same about him. It shouldn’t be news that “you’re not like other Black people” isn’t flattering ( and also If “forgetting” a core aspect of a person is the only way you can see them as equal, you have a problem.

This is where many in the debate about women’s ordination get off track as well. Many times I hear that female pastors “want to be men”. Although I can’t claim to know the hearts of every female called to ministry, not one I know has expressed displeasure with being a woman. Yet opponents to women in ministry often make the claim that women want to be seen as equal to men ergo they want to be identical to men. That’s as ridiculous as stating that minorities who want to enjoy equal rights really want to be White! 

Unfortunately, opponents aren’t the only one who make this false equivalency. Well-meaning supporters will sometimes advise women pastors to wear their hair back, speak in a lower register, don dark colors, avoid heels, etc. Essentially, the advice is to downplay aspects that people consider to be stereotypically associated with women. In this way, they can reduce the barriers to opposition. Just as misguided as Hough’s screed, these advisors inadvertently play into the notion that assimilation is essential to equality. If one believes that it is necessary to be thought of as a man to be taken seriously, then what does that say about the way one views women? If one has to “forget” that the speaker is a woman in order to listen to the sermon, exactly what is occupying one’s mind during the homily? In all of my years of delivering sermons, the only body parts I’ve used–besides my legs to stand on–have been those above the waist. And although pastors have different techniques, I can confidently say that if you are using genitalia to write sermons, you’re doing it wrong. If the preacher is delivering a solid Word, that is not the hallmark of imitating a godly man: there are many godly men who are poor preachers and many godly women who are excellent expositors. Instead, it is indicative of being a student of the Word. “Student” is equally applicable regardless of sex.

There are people who truly believe that the Bible doesn’t allow for females to be in leadership roles. And if one would like to argue the exegesis of certain texts, that is a welcome debate. However, regardless of your position, please don’t insultingly reduce women’s call to ministry to a desire to BE men or a longing for the church to be “blind”. Being identical should not be a prerequisite to being treated as equal.


Courtney Ray is a pastor in the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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