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Valuing Women of Color at Christian Conferences

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everal weeks ago, theologian Ekemini Uwan was interviewed on stage at the Sparrow Conference for Women. But when Uwan, a Nigerian American who frequently speaks out against racism and white supremacy, began doing so at the conference, people in the audience began walking out, according to a report from The Witness. Uwan later tweeted that she had to hire an attorney to force the conference to send her photos and video of her interview. YouTube also removed a video of her remarks at the request of Sparrow, and the conference’s social media did not include her images or quotes, in contrast to those of other speakers. Earlier this year, author Kathy Khang preached at chapel at Baylor University. Khang, a veteran speaker, included an anecdote mentioning an 11-year-old boy who was arrested after not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. In the middle of Khang’s talk, a Baylor student stood up and said, “That’s not what happened. He was making terroristic threats to his teacher.” The event deeply rattled Khang, both for her personal safety in the moment and also when the same student who attended the event posted a video slamming her. It’s important that the conference organizers who invite women of color to speak—especially when the speakers are delivering a message that may challenge the audience—ensure the audience is prepared to hear their message, says Khang. “If you’re asking me to talk about the church, what are the ways you’ve already prepared your audience to hear this message?” said Khang. “What are the books you’ve had them read? Who are the other speakers who have come in? What is the reception like for them? What is the follow-up you have planned for the event you’re inviting me to?” When attendees find themselves uncomfortable by the remarks of a particular speaker, that can be a good time for their own personal reflection, says author Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, who also frequently teaches at Christian conferences. “We don’t always have to agree, but what is going on here? What are the blind spots?” said Sistrunk Robinson. “Have you been stretched and challenged by this in a good way?” Sistrunk Robinson and Khang joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and theology editor Caleb Lindgren on Quick to Listen, to discuss how Christian conferences and institutions can do a better job supporting the women of color that they invite to address their audiences.

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