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Challenges persist for women aspiring to higher leadership positions in America’s Black Church

Rev. Gina gives a speech at a chapel (Via Charles Langles/Shutterstock)

No woman had ever delivered the keynote sermon at the Joint National Baptist Convention, a gathering of four historically Black Baptist denominations representing millions of people.

That changed in January when Rev. Gina Stewart took the stage in Memphis, Tennessee — the Southern city where she leads Christ Missionary Baptist Church as senior pastor — and delivered a powerful message. She emphasized that Jesus not only included women in his ministry but also identified with their struggles.

However, what followed highlighted the challenges women in Christian ministry still face within the patriarchal culture of the Black Church in America. Several women pastors told The Associated Press that it should serve as a turning point.

“This shows that no matter how high you climb as a woman, you will encounter patriarchy at the summit,” said Martha Simmons, founder of Women of Color in Ministry, which supports women in getting ordained.

“The next Norton Anthology of African American preaching might be 20 years away, but that sermon will be included.”

Rev. Gina at a church service (Via Terence Guetta/Shutterstock)

Despite the enthusiastic reception for Stewart, the original recording of her historic sermon vanished from the convention’s Facebook page, sparking a social media outcry — mostly from women — demanding its reinstatement.

A recording of the sermon eventually reappeared, but there were accusations that the convention edited her concluding remarks, where she urged the four denominations to fully embrace women in ministry.

Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. He mentioned at a January meeting that he believed the Facebook page had been compromised and said he intended to involve the FBI.

“I still don’t know what happened with the sermon, but it’s clear that this was a form of erasure,” Stewart remarked. “I was as shocked, surprised, and stunned as everyone else.”

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