Since the vast majority of para-church ministries are still largely led by white men, and because there seems to be a stronger push for ethnic diversity in recent years, I’ve seen a theme emerge among my friends who are women of color. It is a theme of what I call the single voice.
What this means is that as ministry leaders seek to diversify their organizations-with speakers at conferences, VP’s on executive teams, or simply diverse leadership at all levels- they tend to only want ONE person from certain ethnic groups to be their token minority. What this creates is a scarcity mentality among minorities who are all vying for that one space. It ends up pitting women of color against one another. Rather than fighting to make room for more of us, we often quietly shut the leadership door behind us, secretly glad we got the spotlight for that moment.
And I get it, I’ve seen it in my own heart too when I’ve watched other Latinas get platformed over me in that coveted ONE space. We all know its reality in these majority white ministries. We joke about it, lament over it, and even repent of it at times.
Several years ago I had a Latina friend on an advisory panel for a large white organization. She noticed early on that there was no Asian American representation on the board, and so she decided to advocate for more voices in the mix. The response she was given was, “Well, if you are willing to give up your spot on this panel, we can invite an Asian American to take your place.” Again, there’s always only room for one.
Hold it wide open. Take the door off the hinges if you have to, even if it ticks off all the powers that be. It is the work of justice.
So whats a woman of color to do in these spaces?
- Always work to extend the table. Invite others with you into these spaces. Fight to maintain a theology of abundance when it comes to power and influence even if the leaders around you behave differently. I saw a great example of this in the movie Hidden Figures that I watched this weekend. Dorothy Vaughan realized at some point in the movie that the skills of her department were going to become obsolete. So she taught herself and the black women she supervised a new computer language that would prepare them for the future of NASA. She didn’t just look out for herself, but for so many other women behind her. What an inspiring picture of brining others along with us.
- Or create a new table. We all know that there are times old wineskins can’t hold new wine. For women of color, sometimes our loyalty to these ministries keep us around longer than is good or healthy for our souls. There comes a point where we need to stop trying to change places that may speak of wanting diversity but continually break their word or resist movement towards that end. Phrases like “change is slow” can only placate for so long, right?
I do know, though, that the Lord has called some of my friends to stay in the fight in these ministries longer than I ever could. Hats off to you, my friends. Just be sure not to close the leadership door behind you on the way in. Hold it wide open. Take the door off the hinges if you have to, even if it ticks off all the powers that be. It is the work of justice. It is the announcement of the peaceable kingdom that has come and is coming again.
Let’s be in this together.