Editor’s note: Read part one of this interview.
Ekemini Uwan is a public theologian and co-host of the popular “Truth’s Table” podcast. She received her Master of Divinity in 2016 from Westminster Theological Seminary. Uwan’s writings have been featured in several influential publications, including Huffington Post Black Voices, Christianity Today, and The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and her insights have been quoted by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker.
This is part two of Faithfully Magazine’s interview with Ms. Uwan, conducted by phone. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Have you found that your theological education has opened more doors for you in serving God’s kingdom? Have there been any difficulties you’ve experienced as a woman with a Master of Divinity from a theologically-conservative institution?
That’s a hard question to answer. Yes and no. I would say for me, I haven’t been able to secure a job—a traditional job—since I graduated. My generation struggles with that anyways, but I’ve had to chart my own course because I never wanted to be a pastor or do women’s ministry. That was never a desire of mine. I can preach the word when I’m called upon to preach, you know? I don’t have a problem doing that. But I’m not called to pastor, so I’ve had to track my own course and blaze my own trail which is hard to do when you don’t have a roadmap. You don’t have anyone to follow after particularly as one who is a public theologian, which is what I am. I interact with current events, politics, and things like that, and I talk about it from a Christian theological lens through my writing, my speaking, and on “Truth’s Table.”
[bs-quote quote=”At any given time, I have to, by God’s grace, speak what’s true when I see that there’s something wrong when an injustice is being perpetuated. If there’s something wrong, I have to speak up about it. That’s just something that’s central to who I am and I’ve always been driven by justice.” style=”style-13″ align=”center” author_name=”Ekemini Uwan”][/bs-quote]
It has also been hard because I do anti-racism work, so I say hard things, and prophets can’t be on the payroll. At any given time, I have to, by God’s grace, speak what’s true when I see that there’s something wrong when an injustice is being perpetuated. If there’s something wrong, I have to speak up about it. That’s just something that’s central to who I am and I’ve always been driven by justice. But, in a lot of ways, people are beholden to their donors and church members who pay their salaries. They’re muzzled by the purse strings. So, for me, it has been hard because I’m a truth-teller. That’s the nature of my ministry. I mean, if I wanted to be ordained today, I could be ordained, but I don’t want to be a pastor. Truthfully, I think my life would be somewhat easier if I felt that was the call God placed on my life because it’s more of a direct path and there is a roadmap for that. But when you don’t sense that calling, then you have to figure it out on your own. And to be quite honest, that’s been hard. Like, literally having to trust God for His provision. Trusting God for every and anything from big to small has not been easy.
Then, when you factor in the fact I’m a single Black woman, who is a public theologian, which is a title often reserved for White men, and I’m impacted by the inequities that exist within the church, even at conferences where I am not paid equally to the men even though I have more education than some of them. I’m always working to try to get that to be equitable. I am my own advocate.
Do you think it would be more difficult if you were a part of a Reformed denomination?
Yeah, definitely. That’s why I’m not there. I mean, really. People need to know. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not in the PCA [Presbyterian Church in America] or OPC [Orthodox Presbyterian Church]. Oh goodness, yes, it would definitely be hard for me. How could I? I have teaching gifts. I can’t do that there. So, even though theologically I am Presbyterian – I believe in that theological system—I don’t have a home. I don’t have a place to rest my head comfortably, and that’s horrible! In a lot of ways that’s an indictment on the American church that someone like me who is theologically Reformed and probably always will be cannot find solace and rest and refuge in the actual Reformed denominations for many reasons. I’m Black. I’m a woman. I’m single. I’m anti-racist. I teach. I can preach. Due to my calling, my race, my own theological convictions, my gender, and my own gifting makes it hard. I couldn’t be in those spaces as it is right now. Maybe it’ll change. You always have to hold out for change. But right now, I can’t.
As you may know, by being a host of “Truth’s Table” with Christina Edmondson and Michelle Higgins, you are virtually discipling, mentoring, and teaching many women and men on a regular basis. How does that make you feel knowing that you have been given such a wide influence?
Well, you know, it is scary and humbling. Maybe I should say “surprising,” but it’s also scary, you know? Because I fear God. And so, I take this responsibility very seriously, and it’s humbling that people would even want to listen to us at all. I mean, they have tons of podcasts, you don’t have to listen to “Truth’s Table,” really. There’s a lot of choices for podcasts on just about anything subject out there, so for me, it’s humbling and I think that it’s an honor to be trusted in that way. I never thought that I’d have a show or be on a show, and I never thought that it would be so influential and instructive for people. And so for me, I love discipling. That’s my heart.
I approach “Truth’s Table” with great reverence to God and I do it with fear and trembling knowing that I will, as a leader, have to give an account for every word that I’ve said. And so, I’m always trying my best—I don’t always do it perfectly—I’m trying my best to point people to the Lord and to know that there’s hope and that in the Lord they have everything they need in this life for godliness. We’ve been making sure that we’re centering Black women and pointing people to God for their hope. There’s really no hope to be found in this world. We live in a post-Fall world and it’s just getting worse. And so, I’m always pointing people to the Lord, and I think for me, it’s a responsibility. I love it. It’s an honor, and it’s more than a podcast; it’s a ministry. That’s the way I view it, that’s the way I approach it, that’s the way I pray about it and pray for our listeners. That’s the way we approach it, and we pray before every episode, that the listeners would be blessed. It’s an awesome responsibility.
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Who do you look up to as a Christian? Are there figures, movements, books, or events that have significantly impacted your outlook as a Christian and your calling in life?
Goodness. I think for me… Jesus, obviously. Typical Christian answer. No, but honestly… actually it’s just regular people in my life, to be honest. So, my mentor, Stefnie Evans, is really somebody that’s been very pivotal in my life. I still go to her for counsel, wisdom, or spiritual advice. I can talk to her about anything. My Grandma who catechized me. My mom is really influential in my life. She’s one of my best friends and I talk to her every day. I, of course, admire historical mothers in the faith like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Maria W. Stewart, Fannie Lou Hamer. These women paved the way for me to do what I do. I don’t take that lightly and I think that the Christian faith that I adhere to is the one that is in the same vain and tradition of these mothers in the faith who have gone before me. That is the Christian faith that I cling to. And as I look to them, history informs a lot of my work, particularly on white supremacy. You have to look back in order to understand what’s happening now. History is a present reality. We live history. So, I have a lot of reference points, but Black women of faith are dear to my heart. My faith goal in life is to be a “church mother.” I hope I’m on my way.
What do you hope and pray the church will look, be, and act like 10 years from today, and where do you see yourself in service to help bring the church to those ends?
Well, that is a lot. Ten years from now, I hope that the American church… I want to be clear here. This is the context that I know, and it’s the context that I came up in and grew up in, so I don’t want to speak for the church-at-large, the global church, if you will. But, the church in America… I would love the church in America to be lovers of truth. Even when the truth costs us our reputation. I think it’s just shameful that there’s a #ChurchToo. I think it’s shameful that Lisa Sharon Harper has to push #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. That should not even be a reality within our church, but it is. And oftentimes, we are the biggest propagators of injustice. That to me is something that I cannot abide. It keeps me up at night and it’s why I do what I do. And so, to be lovers of truth, to own our own complicity, perpetuation of white supremacy, sexual abuse, sexual violence within the church, patriarchy, particularly the patriarchy that keeps women like myself out of particular denominations. I hope that we begin to look at ourselves honestly and make changes. And not only change but turn, repair, make restitution, reparations as well, for damage done. And do so voluntarily, not kicking and screaming, not having to be taken to court to do what’s right. To seek to do justice by searching out and wanting to make something right. I think that’s so important. I think that would be a great witness to unbelievers too because this is a matter of the witness of the church when all of these injustices are perpetuated. It’s an evangelistic issue. It impacts our witness and it’s a stumbling block for the gospel and I believe it grieves the heart of God. So, my role in this is with regard to justice, race, racism, and white supremacy within the church, and so my hope is that the church would begin to get much more honest. Not just talking about it but actually doing justice, actually righting wrongs, and actually repairing past wrongs and current wrongs monetarily, materially, and symbolically.
Definitely big prayers, but we definitely have a big God so that’s definitely not out of his power and ability to do it.
Amen. That’s right. It’s not out of His power and ability to do it, and we really have to hold onto that because I can lose that sometimes, and I’m like, “Oh, God, it’s never going to change!” But God is in control and He loves the church way more than we ever could. He loves it so much that He sent His only Son to die for the church, and so we’ve got to hold on to that hope and act in light of that hope.