Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu


The challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa have been the foundation of Nontombi Naomi Tutu’s life as an activist for human rights. Tutu is the third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nomalizo Leah Tutu. She was born in South Africa, was educated in Swaziland, the US, and England, and has divided her adult life between South Africa and the US.  Most recently, Rev. Tutu finished her MDIV at Vanderbilt University and is serving as Curacy to Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN.



Presbyterian Rev. Lis Valle


Episode 6.1 features daughter of a female pastor, Lis Valle.  Lis shares her story of growing up in Puerto Rico.  She first obtained her juris doctorate and practiced immigration law in Puerto Rico before starting Divinity school there.  She came to the states to finish her MDIV at Louisville Seminary and later started her phd at Vanderbilt University in Homiletics and Liturgics.  Lis and Sarah discuss her quest for gender justice in law and faith, how and why her gender informs her questions and how the church is the problem but needs to be a solution.


Keep Watch With Me - Lenten Reader

I’m contributing, along with incredible peacemakers around the world, to this Daily Advent Reader. Click the link to sign up for the daily emails. Every day of Lent, you’ll get a fresh reflection grounded in true personal stories on the beauty and pain of this season from a great diversity of writers: black, white, brown, LGBTQ, Palestinian, Navajo, Latinx, incarcerated, Australian, American, Irish, English, South African, Rwandan, clergy, laity, activists, authors, organizers, and more. These daily stories, reflections, and spiritual practices will be a wonderful way to contemplate this Lenten season. I hope you’ll follow along.

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A Sermon for MLK Day


Good Morning,


On a summer day on June 21, 1964, at a civil rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago, beloved Holy Cross priest and University of Notre Dame President Father Hesburgh stood together with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., singing "We Shall Overcome,” the famous African spiritual.


Fr. Hesburgh was member of the US Commission of Civil Rights.  And on that day where this famous picture was taken, he addressed a crowd over 57,000 people, saying “Be proud to be a Negro, we want to strive for dignity with you.” 


As a white person, I cannot speak to the experiences of the lived reality of a black person.  I cannot know what a black person’s daily struggles are living in a white world.  All I can do today is speak from my experience as a woman and as a theologian to give MLK Day some context – some theological language, if you will, to honor one of my most beloved theologians of all time and an American Civil Rights hero.


My message today is simply this – RACE IS A GIFT FROM GOD. 


I am saying what Fr. Hesburgh said that day in 1964 but in a more theological way.  And I will keep affirming this truth throughout my sermon this morning.


Thinking about RACE AS A GIFT FROM GOD changes our perspective on our differences as humans.  We were made by God with various shades of melanin as diverse as the colors of flowers in a meadow on a mountain.  Fr. Youmans reminded me that even the entire biosphere reflects God’s creativity in diversity, God made not just one type or one color or one species of things but rather God made 100s, 1000s, millions – we see this in Genesis 1 where God “made every kind…and saw it was good.”  So we too, as humans, reflect God’s abundance and wholly diversity. 


The cool thing about being human, however, is that we were made in the likeness and image of God, the imago dei. Genesis 1:26 states, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness,” and then after God had made everything God said it was very good.  Therefore, our bodies reflect something about God.  The very fact that we are so many colors says something about God.  And God said we are “good” because everything God made was “good.”  Therefore, RACE IS A GIFT FROM GOD. 


What is wonderful about being a Christian is that we can look to our sources of authority like the Biblical text and the life of Jesus (whom by the way, was a BROWN man) and the traditions of the Church to search for meaning in life.  Our theological resources give us truths and hints towards how to think about our worlds which should in turn help us discern how we ought to live in the world.


I am a strong believer that if we do not put our theologies into our ethics then our theologies are dead.  In other words, if we don’t live out what we believe to be true about God then there is no point to having faith to begin with.  Therefore, if we believe as Chrisitans that RACE IS A GIFT FROM GOD then how ought we act towards each other?


I am heartened and encouraged that several dozen Casady students volunteered at the Food Bank yesterday to honor MLK in a day of service and giving to others in need.  King’s vision was for a Beloved Community based on the philosophy and principles of non-violence.  In this community, King saw justice in relationships between fellow humans and striving for equal opportunity and mutual dignity and respect. Where people were judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. 


Where all work had dignity no matter if one was a sanitation worker or a physician.  In my favorite quote from him he explains, "all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny...whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.  And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality."  And also, “our ultimate goal is integration, which is genuine inter-group and inter-personal living. Only through nonviolence can this goal be attained, for the aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of the Beloved Community.”


So how do we realize King’s vision for the Beloved Community as a Christians, Muslims, Jews or people of good will that want to live in harmony and peace with one another?  I think a great deal of realizing King’s vision starts with our attitude and posture towards one another.  When I see a friend or person of a different race or ethnicity I shift my thinking from “oh wow this person is different than me so I fear them” to rather, “this person has a different experience than me from living in the world with a different color of skin, that is A GIFT FROM GOD therefore I am sure I can learn something from their lived experiences.” 


This is a very technical and fancy way to say







In a weekly podcast I run, interviewing women in theology – every time I get to interview one of my friends of color I am always so thrilled to learn from them.  They see the world and understand theology in a completely new and wonderful way that I have never dreamt of.  They make my faith better because they add their unique perspective.  They give my theology breadth and depth that I could not learn on my own.


We need each other.  In all of our diversities.  I cannot be who I ought to be until you are who you ought to be.  My salvation is wrapped up in yours and yours in mine, even.  This week’s lectionary text, John 1, Nathanael said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  If Christians profess faith in a Brown savior named Jesus from a gross town called Nazareth then I would hope we could see that image of god in our brothers and sisters of color in towns and places where we would least expect it. 


Maybe that’s where God is after all anyways. With those on the margins.  Why wouldn’t we want to learn from them and be in community with them for they are blessed.  And so are we as we work to realize the Beloved Community here on earth and not just as it is in heaven.  Amen.


Delivered by Sarah Elizabeth Smith at Casady School, OKC.




THEIR TIME IS UP—A Woman Theologian's Response to Andy Savage's Continued Ministry in the Church


by Sarah Elizabeth Smith 


“We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men.  For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up.  Their time is up.” – Oprah Winfrey 2018 Golden Globe Awards

“Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it.”

At the time, teenager, Jules Woodson, recounted the story of her church youth pastor Andy Savage taking her home from a church event at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Texas one evening.  She explains the details of this experience here and Andy’s current church employer’s response is here. Savage quietly left his church position in Texas after this incident but continues to serve in a leadership capacity in another church in Memphis. 

In an effort to expose the twisted logic of how the Church can condone his continued leadership I will center my reflection on the vantage point of the victim as is the model for restorative justice practices in judiciary spaces.  Therefore, instead of focusing on how this incident happened 20 years ago, like Savage’s current employer decries as adequate means for forgiveness, I will focus on what actually happened to Ms. Woodson which is what is quoted above and I will continuously quote throughout this piece so we do not forget what is at stake in compromising one’s power in this sort of relationship.

If a person abuses their power inherent to the role in which they are serving the world or community (e.g. pastor, doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.) there are consequences.   

For example, if a doctor abuses his or her power in writing prescriptions they go before a medical board and will most likely get their license to practice medicine revoked.  If a lawyer abuses their power, likewise, they will go before a committee and their BAR license will be suspended and/or revoked.  And also, in most churches, if a pastor or priest abuses their power of providing pastoral counseling and care to individuals and/or communities in the church their ordination title and credentials can be stripped or what is called “defrocked.” 

From what we know from the articles I’ve included, Savage did not go before a board, the church did not report him to state authorities, he did not apologize to Ms. Woodson, he did not lose his job (rather he resigned and “moved on”), he did not lose his credentials to pastor in a church (did he have credentials/education/training to begin with?).  It seems to me that his “accepting full responsibility” for his actions didn’t amount to much consequence for his action.  He simply moved away from this embarrassing crime and left a community with a nice good-bye party and a young girl in shambles.

“Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it.”

At first thought, what’s disturbing about this abuse of power is the negligence by Savage’s superiors, all of whom are male.  They changed the story and made it seem as though Ms. Woodman consented to this act of abuse of power and covered up the truth as they quietly let Andy go free on his own accord.  Again, they did not report this CRIME to state authorities.  HE SHOULD BE A REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER.  What is difficult here is there seemed to be no hierarchy of power or protocol in place of how to handle such issues.  But as we’ve seen in the Catholic Church, even if there is a strict hierarchy and loads of education and protocols there is still abuse being done by priests in positions of power over lay people.  Therefore, this isn’t necessarily an issue of hierarchy structure and proper protocol. 

What I see as a definitive and pervasive problem in churches that have sexual abuse scandals is this – THERE ARE NO WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS.

This is the biggest problem, in my opinion.  This is not the first time or the last time a group of men in leadership have covered up and mitigated damages for their fellow brother with little to no regard for the victim (woman/girl).  There is no way if there was a woman in a leadership position AND she was respected as an equal to the male leaders that she would allow this egregious abuse to continue.  This is because most women have either been through this exact same experience or they know someone intimately that has been through this experience.  The church even asked Ms. Woodman’s parents if they would be comfortable with hiring Andy back on staff and they of course said “NO.”  So why on earth would any other church community be so quick to hire someone like Savage? 

“Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it.”

Forgiveness.  Forgiveness from whom, though?  Ms. Woodman did not get that courtesy call.  Clearly, the church didn’t need her or her family’s forgiveness to consider hiring this criminal again.  It should not have been a question to hire him at all.  I don’t disagree that he should be able to join a church community again.  Church should be for everyone and a place where people can go to heal and make amends but not everyone can be in a position of leadership, especially people who have committed acts so clearly in violation to the inherent work of said leadership AND broken the law.

In a restorative justice process, the focus is on the victim.  The victim and their family and the church leadership and the perpetrator should come together to have a mediated conversation.  The consequences should be decided by the victim and their supporters then agreed to by the perpetrator.  If this doesn’t work then I would suggest going to actual criminal court which I am assured will be much more vicious in its verdict.  The restorative justice model seems to be a sort of “biblical” model to actually repair and forgive a damaged relationship.  I’m not sure Andy’s version of his “biblical” reparations where anything less of cowardly which I guess you could say could be compared to King David’s killing of Bathsheba’s husband so he could have his way with her.  And after all David was a man after God’s own heart so we should excuse his behavior as well, right?   

I’m for forgiveness but not for forgetting.  The fact that Andy’s current congregation is ok with him being a pastor in a leadership position is beyond my comprehension.  We would never let that happen to a doctor or lawyer who abused their power.  I’m not saying Andy shouldn’t be able to gain employment but I am saying NOT IN THE CHURCH. 

“Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it.”

If the Church is going to actually be a place that is safe and edifying for women we MUST have women in roles of leadership and respect them as such.  Their voices MUST be valued and be heard.  They MUST have equal say in policies and procedures and decisions in the church.  Otherwise, we just don’t care about women and their well being because men cannot relate and be trusted with our well being.  It’s not possible.  Their time is up.