The voices and perspectives of women of color have too often been devalued, excluded or silenced throughout the history of the church and society. Responding to God’s call for the church to be more diverse and to inspire women to all forms of leadership and service, the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reaffirmed the church’s commitment to recognize the gifts of women of color in the church and extended the “Decade of Hearing and Singing New Songs to God” until 2022.
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has heard God’s call for the church to be more inclusive and to break down all barriers to leadership that exist for women of color through its re-commitment to a Decade of Hearing and Singing New Songs to God,” explains the Rev. Neal Presa, moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012). "We call upon every Presbyterian, at all levels, to be intentional about living out these commitments so that we can truly be God's beloved community that dignifies and celebrates differences and diversities in all its fullness."
In 2001 the Racial Ethnic Women’s Dialogue of Presbyterian Women made a historic decision to call for a gathering of racial ethnic women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The first Women of Color Consultation was held in 2004. More than 180 Asian American, African American, Latina, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islanders, and new immigrants participated in that seminal event.
The report of the Women of Color Consultation Task Force – Hearing and Singing New Songs to God: Shunning Old Discords and Sharing New Harmonies was approved by the 218th General Assembly in 2008. The report contained thirteen recommendations, the first of which declared 2009 – 2019 as the “Decade of Hearing and Singing New Songs to God.” The initiative, one of several aimed at increasing racial ethnic and gender diversity in the PC(USA), called for transformation of the church, focusing on the intersections of gender, race and class.”
In response to the 218th General Assembly (2008), a second Women of Color Consultation was held in 2011. A report and a set of recommendations regarding the consultation, including extending the decade of emphasis through 2022, were approved by the 220th General Assembly (2012).
Several recommendations in Hearing and Singing New Songs to God have been completed since the start of the ‘Decade,’ signaling some progress, although more will be done. A Joint Working Group on Women of Color in the Church consisting of two members each from the ACWC and ACREC has been formed. A gender equity audit has been developed and is available on the Gender Justice Web site.
Within the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women (RE&WM/PW) ministry area, along with the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, helps the church live out its call to be more diverse, inclusive and empowering of women in all ministries of the church.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency will be expanding basic antiracism training to include modules on the intersectionality of race, gender and class and providing focused training on internalized oppression, as called for by Hearing and Singing New Songs to God.
A third consultation is being planned for later this year, in consultation with the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) and the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), and a report will be submitted to the 221st General Assembly (2014).
The Rev. Nancy Benson-Nicol, associate for gender and racial justice in RE&WM/PW, is leading the effort to plan the next consultation.
“Be it Zipporah, wife of Moses, or the figure of the bride adored in the Song of Solomon, or many other women in Scripture, women of color have been important and beloved agents of God, and continue to be to this day, “ Benson-Nicol notes. “In fact, our history as Presbyterians in the United States and throughout the globe has been shaped profoundly by women of color living out their calls to demonstrate the good news of God’s grace to all. We honor God’s work through their ministries when we celebrate their voices; we diminish God’s work in the world when we seek to silence and suppress them.”
“The church continues to be grateful for the unique talents and gifts women of color bring to the body,” says the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly. “It is only right to commit to a further decade of recognition and celebration.”
Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, adds: “I join the moderator and the stated clerk of the General Assembly in recommitting to the ‘Decade’ and declaring that our church has heard God’s call to be more inclusive and diverse. We invite the whole church to join us in singing new harmonies in order to enhance the roles of women of color and to embrace their leadership and full participation at all levels of the church.”