Honoring the Imago Dei for All
Profile: Mary McClintock Fulkerson

By Enuma Okoro

Mary McClintock Fulkerson laughs at the memory of herself and a friend at Salem College who were comically known as “The Godsquad.”

“We were so naive back then,” she says. “We used to hitchhike from Salem College to UNC just to go to Campus Crusade meetings! And we just assumed that God would take care of us!”

The image of this esteemed scholar thumbing her way along I-85 for Christ does not come easily. But the faithful passion that informed her sojourns from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill, while re-directed, is in no way diminished.

One of her goals is helping male and female students alike understand that issues of gender affect them, says Mary McClintock Fulkerson D’77, professor of theology & women’s studies and the first director of the new Gender, Theology & Ministry certificate program.

McClintock Fulkerson, professor of theology and women’s studies and director of the new Gender, Theology and Ministry Certificate Program at Duke Divinity School, is recognized today as one of the nation’s leading scholars of feminist theology.

She speaks with passion about the importance of recognizing the ways that Christian tradition has denied or diminished the full imago dei of women, and by implication, of men as well. Telling those truths, she maintains, includes often neglected aspects of what it means to live fully into the imago dei, the beautiful and multifaceted image of God.

Raised in the “staid, white southern Presbyterian Church” of Little Rock, Ark., and enrolled at the all-female Salem College, McClintock Fulkerson soon found herself intoxicated by UNC’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). This approach to Christianity, in fact, led to her transfer to UNC, where she completed her degree in music performance. Gradually, though, she realized that she was growing out of her campus ministry boots.

“The longer I stayed in CCC, the more difficult it was to square my feeling to a call to ministry with my being a woman,” she says. “Campus Crusade began to feel narrower and narrower a fit for me.” Members went from dorm to dorm sharing the four spiritual laws, and one Friday night, as she watched a girl getting ready to go out on a date, she thought to herself, “Jeez, I’d rather be doing that!”

Before graduating from UNC in 1972, she had moved away from CCC, but not from her commitment to ministry. She planned to attend Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Va., but realized Union Seminary right across the street was a better option. At the very last minute, she entered Union with plans to become a Christian educator in the local church, the only ministerial role she had seen women perform. But that would soon change.

Halfway through her Union education, McClintock Fulkerson’s husband, Bill Fulkerson, was accepted at UNC Medical School. She transferred from Union to Duke Divinity School and earned her M.Div. in 1977. She was ordained the following year in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., just as she and Bill, by then a graduate of UNC Medical School, moved to Nashville, where he began his medical internship and she entered the Ph.D. program in theology at Vanderbilt University.

Her experiences at Vanderbilt dramatically influenced both her scholarship and her teaching, and she emerged with a new understanding of what it meant to lead students to more faithful discipleship as Christ bearers in a diverse and unjust world.

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