I have just returned from a gathering of women presidents of schools that prepare students for ministry. We comprise about 11% of the CEO’s of the 274 seminaries in North America accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. While this body can no longer meet in a phone booth, we are still not a substantial percentage of the CEO’s leading these schools. There are a few more women serving as Chief Academic Officers, but still far from parity with men.
We reflected together on the gender dynamics in our roles, especially in light of the ongoing conversation in our nation about the suitability of women for significant positions of leadership. Some of us felt torn about the timing of the meeting. As we sat around tables analyzing the possible future for those women coming after us in theological education, millions of women around the globe took to the streets to voice their concern over the possible implications of the 45th presidency of the United States.
A peaceful protest, reminiscent of the freedom marches toward civil rights, signaled the widespread discontent women feel in the face of the sexism and racism and militarism spouted by the new president. He has legitimated a white male dominance through his rhetoric, and they know they will suffer as a consequence. They are also wary of the “America first” approach, realizing that women and children around the globe will experience diminishment.
Much is at stake as policies that protect the vulnerable are at risk, given the declared direction of the Trump regime. Surrounding himself almost exclusively with other wealthy men, primarily white, signals a return to a less inclusive epoch. The inability to empathize with the plight of so many will make dismantling social policies that protect those on the margins easier.
Do protest marches accomplish anything? Not without crucial follow-up with those in positions to legislate for the common good. Yet, they signal a willingness to go public with rising concern about the threat to justice for many. The great movements of the past—for women’s right to vote, for civil rights—do not really come to an end when new constitutional rights are put into place. Structural racism and sexism are still operative at so many levels, and effort to counter them is still required. So we do not grow weary in well doing!
Meeting with other women leaders is always inspiring to me. They bring passion for their vocation, and their schools bear the graceful imprint of their ministry. We understand that we have been given a great privilege; guiding a school to form leaders for service in God’s Reign is saving work.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.