Sexism Matters in the community, work and church

Crazy Faith Ministries

The festivities for the commemoration of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have ended; the masses of people who flooded Memphis and Washington D.C. have gone home, but the question lingers overhead like a storm cloud … “Now what?”

There has been some progress in the work to dilute or at least neutralize racism, but of course, everyone who has one iota of social awareness recognizes that in this country, racism is still the bullying and arrogant presence it has always been. White supremacy is part of the core of America; it is the reason that the Founding Fathers had to argue over whether or not African Americans were: 1. human and 2. humans worthy of the rights afforded to All-American citizens. The inbred racism of the Founding Fathers indicated that they did not believe either.

But racism is not the only sore that plagues this nation. Sexism is still a major component of the American belief system and, just as women, too, were not thought to be worthy of full American citizenship by the Founding Fathers, neither has that implicit – and too many times, explicit – bias been eliminated from our culture.

Nowhere was this starker than this week in Memphis at the historic Bishop Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ, where King delivered his I’ve Been to the Mountaintop sermon. Early in the day, a conference was held in the church, where icons of the Civil Rights movement, including Rev. Dr. James Lawson and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and men who had been a part of the original sanitation workers’ strike, gave moving messages.

At the beginning of the conference, it was a woman’s voice that announced the panel discussion was about to begin. It was her voice that brought actor Danny Glover to the podium to begin introductions of the panelists.

Only her voice.

In the evening, it was a woman’s voice, again, which told us to take our seats, and which introduced the speakers and singers for the evening. She was not at the podium and was not, in fact, anywhere visible. The pulpit area was flooded with men – primarily, it seemed, African American clergy. There were a few “church mothers” allowed in that space. Rev. Dr. Bernice King was the only woman to grace that pulpit. Women were given their role, which was to entertain the crowd, and while their voices were phenomenal, something did not seem right.

Where were the voices and the bodies of the women who helped make the movement what it was? Yes, it was wonderful to hear from Ambassador Andrew Young and Jackson and Lawson and others, but the event would have been more balanced had women been included – not just over a sound system but in body at the podium, telling the story of how this man was a willing servant in a movement which included the hard work, love and sacrifice of many – especially and including women.

Toward the end of his life, Dr. M.L. King seemed to pivot from concentrating primarily on the attainment of civil rights for Black people to the attainment of human rights for all people, Because of the time period in which he lived, he most probably was sexist, but he certainly knew the extreme value women played in getting the goals of the movement accomplished. In turning his attention to the plight of the poor, he stated unequivocally that the poor included all people of all races, and none of them deserved the suffering poverty caused them.

Our culture still struggles with some of the “isms” that have always plagued us. Too many Black churches still will not allow women into the pulpit; too many revivals or Seven Last Words services are still closed to female preachers. Sexism within the culture is pervasive, and sexism within the Black religious world seems to be even more so. Our actions as a culture seem to indicate that the “dream” of equality does not include women.

It was right to remember Dr. M.L. King’s work; it was right to point out how he understood the value and the need for religion and labor to work together for the human rights of all people. It was right to reward the surviving sanitation workers who endured the horrific treatment they received just because they were Black, but who refused to back away from their demand for dignity.

All of that was right.

But it was wrong to minimize and ignore the important role of women in getting America to where it is today. The contributions of women were ignored and it was painfully noticeable.

The sound of the voice of a woman over the sound system, a message that said that women were to be heard and not seen, seemed to indicate that maybe we do not understand the concept of “beloved community” after all.

Rev Dr. Susan K Smith is available to preach, give workshops or hold seminars on the issue of how religion and politics have been ineffective in destroying racism. She is working on a book on the subject at this time. To book her, visit revsuekim@sbcglobal.net, or visit http://www.crazyfaithministries.org.

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