Wednesday 17 April 2024

New York church sued for gender bias picks male pastor again, continuing 200-year tradition

Kevin R. Johnson, founding pastor of Dare to Imagine Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been recommended to take the helm of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, ensuring that the church’s long line of male pastors remains unbroken after the church was sued earlier this year by a woman who sought to become the congregation’s first female pastor.

“The Pulpit Search Committee is confident in Rev. Johnson’s ability to lead and uphold the history and legacy of our institution of faith,” an internal church memo dated April 13 and cited by The Associated Press said. “We look forward to presenting the final candidate to you and will announce the date of the congregation vote in the coming days.”

Church spokesperson LaToya Evans also confirmed the decision with the AP.

The church’s top job opened up on Oct. 28, 2022, when its longtime pastor, Calvin O. Butts III, died from pancreatic cancer after leading the church for three decades.

The Rev. Eboni Marshall Turman, a Yale Divinity School professor who made history when she became the youngest pastor ordained at Abyssinian in 2007, had hoped to make history again as the church’s first female pastor after Butts’ death.

When she wasn’t named as a finalist for the position by the church’s search committee, Turman filed a federal lawsuit accusing the church and its search committee of gender discrimination, the AP reported.

Turman, who researches gender politics in black churches and related issues, accused the search committee chair, Valerie S. Grant, of asking her inappropriate questions that weren't raised with male candidates for the job.

“Gender discrimination motivated the decision not to hire (Marshall Turman), a fact discussed openly during meetings of the Committee, including by Grant and another Committee member, who said that Abyssinian would only hire a woman as its Senior Pastor ‘over my dead body,’” the complaint says.

When she was told that Johnson had been chosen for the job, Turman noted that the congregation still had to approve the search committee’s recommendation of Johnson.

“The blessing of Baptist polity is that we ascribe to the distinctive of the ‘priesthood of all believers,’” Turman told the AP. “With the help of God, the power to call a pastor ultimately rests with the congregation. The church still has to vote.”

According to the bio on his church’s website, Johnson and his wife, Kimya, who's a corporate attorney and serves as vice president of the church’s board of directors, founded Dare to Imagine Church, Inc. in November 2014 in their living room with just 20 people.

The congregation has since grown to 1,500.

He has been married for 26 years and shares three children with his wife.