Nevertheless She Preached: Women resist marginalization in the Church

Fran Pratt leads worship on Monday night at Nevertheless She Preached, held at University Baptist Church. Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

Female preachers, christian feminists, womanists (those who see the limitations of second-wave feminism as excluding black women) and various other women calling for marginalized voices to be heard in the church came to Waco to speak at Nevertheless She Preached. The conference wrapped up its second annual gathering Tuesday. Musical artist Jennifer Knapp and author Rev. Wil Gafney were among the speakers at the event.

Kyndall Rothaus, senior pastor at Lake Shore Baptist Church and Natalie Webb, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio and doctoral student at Baylor, founded the conference last year to lift up voices that are often marginalized in the church.

“It’s a women’s preaching and empowerment conference designed by women, led by women, and it has been a phenomenal journey — and we’re so excited for it to keep going this year,” Rothaus announced before Knapp’s kickoff concert at Common Grounds on Sunday.

Many of the messages were intended to be challenging and heavy, poking holes in the blissful veil of equity in the church, telling stories and calling for a higher standard of respect for women and marginalized people, whether they are marginalized by race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality or any other myriad of identifiers.

“Spaces that we’ve been a part of as women in ministry, Baptist women especially, even places that are trying to be welcoming or think that they are affirming of women in ministry just often aren’t very helpful,” Webb said. “We needed to create a space where women aren’t kind of an add-on to the program that’s really for men.”

Rothaus explained that the conference was created out of a lack of openness from traditional church leadership to critique of their practiced equality, which often manifests in resistance or dismissal. Rothaus and Webb said they understand they also have a lot to learn from groups that have less privilege than them. They said they want to model good responses to criticism they have received. For example, in the future, they want to be more inclusive to non-binary people, or people who identify with neither gender.

“The fact that this is a place where people can give constructive feedback or just be honest about what’s harmful to them, even in this space, feels like we’re succeeding — we’re creating a space where people feel comfortable speaking their truth, and we can take that and learn and include more voices in leadership and more ideas,” Webb said.

Webb and Rothaus encourage Baylor students to evaluate how they listen. Webb, as a doctoral student, said she realizes the ease with which academics can train students to evaluate where they stand on an issue. However, Webb said it is important to withhold judgement or the desire to decide on a position with humility when someone is presenting an issue they experienced that you have not experienced.

“[Thinking critically] can be really harmful, and I have to consciously remind myself it doesn’t matter what I think about this, what I need to do is just listen,” Webb said. “And that doesn’t mean that I never get to have an opinion about anything, but when someone is saying something I don’t understand or is offended about something and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand that.’ Well, that’s probably because I have never had to understand that. As a straight white woman, I have a lot of privilege, I don’t face some of the things that the women on that panel face every day.”

In the situations where a personal worldview is being challenged, Rothaus encourages students not to shy away from it.

“This may sound cheesy, but one of my favorite Bible verses is from I John where it says ‘Perfect love casts out fear,’” Rothaus said. “I think so many of our hesitancies to understand and learn are fear based. Whether we’re afraid of the other person or afraid of finding out we were wrong … If I’m afraid, I need to lean into it. It’s not my job to hold everything together, it’s my job to be willing to learn. Don’t let your fear shape who you become or keep you from learning because that fear is never from God.”

The conference will be in Austin next year because of the nation-wide interest, and Webb and Rothaus encourage everyone to come, regardless of gender — especially if they think they might be uncomfortable.