“One thing is certain. I am not afraid to act as my conscience dictates, no matter what the world may think …” – Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921)
As the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States, Antoinette Brown Blackwell purposed that to believe was to act. Her life demonstrated, unapologetically, her belief that faith and social justice must coexist in more than just words. As a speaker, she traveled the country championing reform issues including women’s rights and slavery.
For Blackwell, speaking wasn’t enough. She spent a year in the slums and prisons of New York City serving the people there as she studied how mental illness and social disorder affected poverty. She later wrote a series of articles for the New York Tribune on the gap between Christianity as the church of her day painted it and the life lived in poverty that was the reality for many on the city’s streets.
Speaking and writing were more than just a job or platform for Blackwell. Delivering her last sermon at the age of 90 and witnessing the passage of the 19th amendment allowing her to vote at the age of 95, she remained actively involved in reform issues until she died.
Belief Paired With Action
I think Blackwell discovered what many of us desire—that place where our calling, our passions and the world’s needs intersect.
Blackwell didn’t just talk about the social justice issues of her time, she believed that action was necessary if the result was going to be long lasting change and not just a band-aid solution.
I wonder how often we fail to take that approach today. Don’t get me wrong, providing people immediate, tangible help in the form of a warm bed or a coat or a meal or clean water is good and necessary. But, if that’s all the further we ever go I think we’re settling for band-aids rather than permanent change.
Social justice has become something of a buzz word in our churches today. Sometimes I feel like every time I turn around there is a new nonprofit organization to champion. While this may seem like a new trend, you don’t have to study long to discover it’s not. The belief that faith can’t be divorced from social justice has been part of the Christian church for centuries, but I think in many cases it looked significantly different then than it does now.
Voicing More Than the Mundane
Antoinette Brown Blackwell had a voice. You have a voice. But more importantly, as a communicator you’ve been given the responsibility of stewarding the voice of your church. It’s easy to forget that greater responsibility when getting to the next Sunday can seem like a monotonous routine of website edits, tweets, Facebook updates, bulletins, poster designs and newsletter formatting.
I want to encourage you to think bigger than band-aids. To act on those things you are passionate about no matter what the world may think. And to remember that as a church communicator you are a steward of a voice far greater than your own because it’s the voice of tens, hundreds, for some of you even thousands of individuals. How can you translate that voice into action?