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Expanding the narrative: Women and the Reformation

Women involved in new video series describe the project’s significance

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The T-short that the Rev. Dr. Kerri Allen wore during Tuesday’s “Just Talk Live” show co-hosted by Lee Catoe and Destini Hodges. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — On the premiere edition of season two of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) online show “Just Talk Live,”  Presbyterian women who participated in new video series from Theoacademy on Expanding the Narrative: Women and the Reformation” described why this project is so important to them.

One of the video series producers, the Rev. Beth Olker of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, said that a denominational study showing that gender discrimination is still very pervasive in the PC(USA) helped put the six-part video series in motion.

That 2016 study, which can be downloaded here, included two basic findings. One was that gender discrimination is still pervasive in the PC(USA). Eight out of 10 female teaching elders said they’ve experienced discrimination, harassment or prejudicial comments due to gender, while 4 out of 10 felt gender bias was in play in hiring, for a promotion or selection for an official position in the PC(USA). Yet almost half of PC(USA) church members don’t think there are any issues in their churches with gender prejudice or bias.

“The next step was to say, ‘What are we not doing?’” Olker said. “And we realized what we’re not doing is putting out the stories of women — and the story now of our gender non-binary folks — in our preaching, in our teaching, and in our storytelling.”

That realization led to a gathering of female theologians, pastors and professors, and out of that came the brainchild for these conversations with women about the Reformation. While producers have been going around the country doing interviews with women in leadership who are in various stages of their lives, Olker said her favorite part was a dialogue between women and non-binary gender folks.

“They said they knew women had a role in the Reformation because they’ve seen it in their church and in the history books,” she said. “But they asked, ‘Why aren’t we telling those stories? What stories are being neglected?’’’

The Rev. Dr. Kerri Allen, director of mission and spiritual care for Aurora Health Care in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, and Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell, professor of Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, participated in some of the interviews in the video series.

In one of those conversations, Olker referred to another “Expanding the Narrative” producer, the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, who asked Craigo-Snell, “What was the most important day in the Reformation?” Her reply was “today,” because for her the Reformation isn’t just a time period that happened over 500 years ago.

Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell

“It’s a movement within the Christian tradition that is still going,” Craigo-Snell said. “It’s a way of doing theology and Christian practice that is focused on what we are doing today and tomorrow. It’s very forward-thinking.”

Allen said the “Expanding the Narrative” video series is a great resource to generate conversation about what the Reformation really means, both for individuals and also for conversation within a community. To her the Reformation as an ongoing process means the questions being asked by the church change for the times we are living in.


“How are we responding to the questions being asked now, and how we are going to respond to them in the future?” she said. “I have to wonder about January 6, where we have an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Think about the way we as clergy people, as preachers and teachers, could’ve been different. What could we have we been doing?”

the Rev. Dr. Kerri Allen

Allen thinks this too is part of our Reformed heritage. We look at what has happened in the past, she said, and we take history seriously to help inform us so that we can continue reforming based on our past experiences.

“And to really be open to the Holy Spirit on how we might do things differently as a community,” she said.

“This project tells the truth,” added Craigo-Snell. “We live in a broken world and that brokenness becomes a part of us. But through truth-telling and in the repentance that comes afterward, God can open up possibilities and a new future that doesn’t look like the past.”

To hear more of the “Just Talk Live” conversation about this moment in time, in which Allen says, “the physical, emotional and spiritual violence against people who have been historically marginalized has exploded,” even as a Black and South Asian woman was being inaugurated Wednesday as vice president of the United States, click here.

Watch “Expanding the Narrative” here.

 “Just Talk Live” is a weekly web series from Unbound, the online Christian social justice journal of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, and the Young Adult Volunteer program of PC(USA). Lee Catoe is Unbound’s managing editor and Destini Hodges is associate for recruitment and relationships for Young Adult Volunteers.

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