Presbyterian podcast looks at the harmful effects of church patriarchy

Liz Cooledge Jenkins was the guest last month on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Liz Cooledge Jenkins

LOUISVILLE — Liz Cooledge Jenkins, author of a new book on the perils of patriarchy, said on a recent episode of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” it can be “a long journey” for churches to determine just who gets to be considered a leader, a theologian or a biblical scholar. But many have found it’s a journey worth taking.

Jenkins, a Presbyterian and the author of “Nice Churchy Patriarchy: Reclaiming Women’s Humanity from Evangelicalism,” published last month, was the guest on the weekly podcast hosted by Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe. Listen to their 35-minute conversation here.

“Just seeing a woman in the pulpit is huge,” said Jenkins, a former campus pastor who calls herself a “recovering evangelical.” Even the ways that men and women read scripture are often different, she said, “because we’ve been socialized to notice different things and read in different ways.”

In fact, the gospels depict women “as some of the most devoted followers of Jesus,” Catoe said. “Women were there at the tomb, and they stayed at the cross.”

“They were disciples who were learning so that someday they could teach,” Jenkins said. “They’re even named by Paul, who says some sexist things but also clearly has female co-workers … that he respects and values.”

Sometimes, preachers talk about females in scripture without exploring their full humanity — unlike, for example, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jenkins said. “Isn’t that great? Let’s be more like Jesus. Do we see the woman as a full human?” Jenkins cited other gospel examples, including the Canaanite woman who seeks healing for her daughter and the woman “who anoints Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears at the party.”

“People like that approach Jesus in power and agency to ask for what they need. They approach Jesus in faith, and Jesus commends their faith,” she said. “It’s not just, ‘Isn’t it great how Jesus treats women?’ It’s also, ‘Aren’t these women awesome and an important part of the story?’”

There are “a lot of characteristics female pastors are expected to have that male pastors aren’t,” Jenkins said. Many clergywomen find themselves asking: “Is this because of my gender? Would they ask the same questions of a man? There’s all of that internal angst that male pastors don’t quite have to deal with in the same way.”

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

Catoe called the important conversation going on in the PC(USA) on the intersectionality of gender bias and racism “one of the hardest conversations this denomination is having.”

“I think these are things we have to address together, issues of racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism — all of these things, all the ways people have been kept out of positions of power,” Jenkins said. “… I really want to be thinking of all those intersecting systems of power together and thinking about my social location as a white woman.”

“There are ways I need to press into my own agency, my own value and worth as a human being and ways in which I need to look at the privileges I have — the racial privileges I have — and see if there are ways I can open up doors or positions of power for people of color, especially women of color, in any places I may have the authority to do so.”

“Believe women. Take them seriously,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of cases where people of privilege would say, ‘Oh, was that really about gender? Was that really about race?’” Instead, Jenkins suggests asking, “Is there anything I can do that would be helpful? Then follow that person’s lead.”

Jenkins was raised in a PC(USA) church before wandering “into a more conservative stream in college,” she told Doong and Catoe. “I feel fortunate. My family have been supportive through all that.” She’s once again part of a PC(USA) congregation, “and it’s been really great” to find a faith community four years ago already working on “a move toward justice,” toward being “an anti-racist church, trying to lift up young people and leaders of color, women and queer folks and figuring out what all that looks like. We’ve very much not arrived, but I feel like there has been a lot of meaningful change that’s happening.”

The first part of her book is a look at her faith journey so far, “and the second half of the book is focused on how faith communities who want to be places where men and women and people of all genders can flourish together,” she said. “What are some things we need to change, to rethink? It goes into how we read scripture, how we read church history and the awesome examples of women we read in church history whom I feel empowered and inspired by. How do we listen to women and especially to women of color? How do we restructure churches so women of color and women are leading?”

Doong thanked Jenkins for appearing on the podcast and suggested listeners check out her website.

New episodes of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drop each Thursday. Find them here.

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