​At the table: beyond Christian tokenism

For weeks I waited for the day to come. It was my very first meeting as a committee member with a Christian organization and I could not help but smile. I was radiant! I was dressed in my Sunday best! It was such an honor to be invited to the table. The interviews we conducted lasted all day and I was physically and mentally exhausted by the time our meetings finished. I was certain this was the reason I felt a real sense of emptiness. At least it's what I told myself.

Deep down inside, I knew something was wrong. I was grieving but did not understand why. How could such a "great opportunity" leave me feeling so blah? What was I to do with this emotion?

It took longer than I care to remember, and one too many meetings, before I made sense of the void. I was invited to the table, but I did not have a face. They did not know my name, and I did not have a voice. I had a chair at the table, but I clearly did not belong.

That experience changed my life forever. I had a real encounter with Christian tokenism. As an educated, Latina woman, they checked off many of the boxes by bringing me on the team. I served for years on that board, alongside many well-intentioned, but disconnected, privileged white male Christian leaders. It took a long time before I was able to fully occupy a real space at the table but it happened. After many years and plenty of stories to tell, it finally came to pass. I had a space, a chair, a face, a name, and a voice. There was no "us or them." It was our table! I belonged!

I often call the Apostle Paul my cousin. Whenever I get around to tracing my ancestry, I am sure I'll have the proof. (I'm serious . . . sort of.) I do relate to the writings of Paul and his relentless posture. There was no way Paul was going to back off when he saw Peter behaving in a tokenism manner. Peter, Paul, and the Gentiles had shared a table and the "breaking of bread together" so many times. There was no need to separate the Gentile from the Jew. It was their table—that is, until the Jews came into town.

Peter ended up in an awkward position, and chose to distance himself from the Gentiles. He abandoned the once familiar table and did not welcome the Gentiles to the table reserved for the Jews. Paul was not happy! He could not believe Peter had the audacity to do this to the Gentiles, and to do so in his presence.

Paul's calling and ministry revolved around the unification of people. The tearing down of the walls that caused division between Greeks and Jews, and men and women, was at the core of Paul's message. No wonder he viewed Peter's theology of otherness as a fluke.

Each time I read this passage, thoughts of my personal experience surface. Things slowly changed as I transitioned from a no-face-name-voice to having full presence and a voice to speak and be heard. I "won" my place at that table but the days of dealing with Christian tokenism did not end.

I want to encourage you to do away with the tokenism. Hermana, move over and make space at the table for someone else, someone different. Most women understand the importance of having a space and the voice to be heard. We must, therefore, not fall prey to surrounding ourselves only with people who look like us and share the same life experiences. How boring!

You have no idea the richness that comes from exploring life through the lens of a woman from another culture. Slide over and welcome someone else into your life. Not only will you be a better person, but you will experience the kingdom of heaven here on earth!

Just in case you are wondering, I am fully convinced you will tap into blessings you didn't even know existed! And you know what else? When you create space for others at your table, you will come to know Jesus in a way you've never known him before.

The other thought I must share comes from a different perspective, but is intended to encourage you to rise up like Deborah in the book of Judges.

For many years, scholars have written about glass ceilings in the corporate world while theologians reference stained glass ceilings in the church. I do not ever want to minimize the difficulties that exist within and outside of the church that are directly correlated to the gender of a woman. The obstacles to overcome are very challenging and often ridiculous.

At the same time, I want to remind Christian women that they must have the courage to break through the stained-glass ceilings so they might occupy the space already available at the table and designated by God.

I want to make sure I emphasize that sometimes it will be the token space that first appears, and learning how to navigate the world of tokenism will be necessary. But more recently, I have found there are some opportunities for women to rise, but we lack the courage to see ourselves as capable! Come on, sister! Is God commanding you to be strong and courageous? If so, then please, do not be afraid or discouraged. Keep his Word alive in your heart and rise up! We must stop saying we need more women in higher positions! We need women with courage to step up and be faithful to God. He is calling us to lead in those positions!

Mis amadas hermanas, do not practice tokenism. It does not honor God. Sisters, do not treat yourself as a token. It does not honor God. Step into faith and allow God to use you as an agent of change. Open up your table and create spaces that move beyond Christian tokenism. He will be glorified!

Read the original post here.

Dr. Joanne Solis-Walker is an ordained minister of The Wesleyan Church. She has a PhD in organizational leadership and development with an emphasis on ecclesial leadership. Rev. Solis-Walker serves as director of education for Latinas at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University and as chair of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Formation in The Wesleyan Church.