Moving Toward the Center
New Certificate on Gender, Theology and Ministry

By Enuma Okoro

Duke’s new certificate program for Gender, Theology and Ministry began when three students approached Old Testament Professor Thea Portier-Young during Duke Divinity School’s 2005 Women’s Week.

Convinced that a significant number of seminarians, both male and female, were eager to explore the intersection of race and gender with issues of ministry, theology and leadership, Portier-Young garrisoned an initial steering committee.

This group included professors Teresa Berger and McClintock Fulkerson and Roberta Schaafsma, then associate director of the Divinity School Library. Each member took on a specific task: McClintock-Fulkerson set to work defining the theological and theoretical rationale for such a program; Berger focused on creating a rubric for student research in the field; and Portier-Young began collating and narrating student interests. She also researched gender certificate programs at peer institutions and reviewed The Divinity School’s ATS self-study to highlight places where gender studies would add to the existing strengths of Duke Divinity School. Schaafsma began the time-consuming process of creating a resource library of essential books for such a program.

Meanwhile the three students—Chanequa Walker-Barnes D’07, Kathryn Broyles D’07, and Jenny Graves D’08—rallied student interest and documented rationale and goals for the program.

“I am interested in learning how to minister to women in a way that liberates and empowers them,” wrote Walker-Barnes. “How do we empower women in a way that is consistent with Christian discipleship and community?”

Broyles acknowledged the excellence of Duke University’s Women’s Studies Certificate, but articulated a need for a Christian theological perspective on global issues.

McClintock Fulkerson and student Philip Shoe D'07 following his April 27 presentation for the Certificate in Gender, Theology and Ministry: "Recovering Wholeness through Eucharist: An Approach
to Spiritual Healing for Those Oppressed by
Sexual and Gender Norms."

“While called to redress power imbalances in the world, I can conceive of political and psychological reasons for abuse of power, but cannot conceive of underlying spiritual causes,” she wrote. The Women’s Studies Certificate offers ways of using language to expose, to disavow, and to empower, “but it cannot offer an understanding of the Word incarnate as the source of ultimate healing and redress,” said Broyles

Jenny Graves envisioned the certificate as especially benefiting those called to women’s ministries in prisons, crisis centers or individual and marriage/family counseling. “I think of theology related to gender as opening a different door to theological thinking/study which is life-giving in itself,” she wrote.

“Being in church history and theology has made painfully clear (and sometimes even in reading scripture in our Hebrew class) that women’s ways of worship and thinking about God have often gone without voice,” said Sarah Jobe D’06. “It strikes me that we need to understand the historical workings and thinkings of women … to adequately understand how the women in our congregations or ministry settings are shaped and formed and be able to pastor them well.”

After approval by the divinity school’s curriculum committee, Dean L. Gregory Jones and Duke University Provost Peter Lange helped secure initial funding to launch the Gender, Theology & Ministry Certificate in fall 2005. Twenty existing courses apply toward the certificate, and four more have been added to the curriculum:

  • “Gender, Ethnicity and Violence in the Old Testament,” taught by Portier-Young;

  • “Gender & Race in Paul,” taught by Douglas Campbell, assistant professor of New Testament;

  • “Discipleship of Women in Methodism” taught by Paul Chilcote, visiting professor of the practice of evangelism; and

  • “Virtue and Virility: Christian and Non-Christian Conceptions of Masculinity,” taught by Warren Smith, assistant professor of historical theology.

Twenty-two students are currently pursuing the certificate program, which requires a service learning or research project and participating in a monthly colloquy during senior year. One of the 13 faculty members affiliated with the certificate program directs each project. One of the first projects was Continuous Blessings: A Resource Manual on Gender and Theology, a school-wide resource manual compiled and edited by Jessica Terrell and Theresa S. Thames.

A survey by Kathryn Broyles led to the daylong workshop, “Offering Sanctuary” (see Newsmakers) by Dina Helderman, coordinator for the Center for Continuing Education, who previously worked with victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

“This program has allowed students to continue to hammer out a working theology while engaging these critical issues,” says Portier-Young. “It has created a space where questions about gender and race can be posed in theological terms, taken seriously and not simply relegated to the margins.”

Under the direction of McClintock Fulkerson, the certificate program promises ongoing benefits to the academic and the local community. She brings not only her theological education and passion for ministry, but also a diverse range of experience including work with Durham-CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods), a grass-roots organization that advocates community change.

“I think that my leadership of the certificate program reflects my passion for the feminist, womanist, Latina and other theologies that explore the conditions for women of different social locations,” says McClintock Fulkerson.

“But as important to our program is that students learn to ‘read’ different faith communities and honor their particularities. That’s where my theological work helps.”

Her research includes ethnographic studies of a variety of women from Pentecostals in Appalachia to middle-class white Presbyterians, and her new book focuses on an interracial church that includes people with disabilities.

“Getting the church to address the ‘scary’ issues of sexuality, gender, race and such is crucial,” she says, “but must be done with respect and wisdom.”

For more information please see the Certificate Program in Gender, Theology, and Ministry.

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