By Mashaun D. Simon

As far as Teresa Hord Owens is concerned, the Disciples of Christ Church has something really big to say.

On July 9, the congregation overwhelmingly elected Owens general minister and president of the Protestant denomination. She is now the first African-American woman, and second woman, to lead the denomination.

The historic nature of Owens’ election, which has also been lauded as the first time an African-American woman has ever led a mainline Protestant denomination in a solo capacity, is not lost on Owens.

She considers her election one of both hope and expectation.

“The hope and expectation is both good and bad,” she said. “There are definitely challenges with being the first. I can’t help but to think about when Senator Barack Obama was elected president, many professed that we were post-racial and that the race issue could be set aside.”

There have been some whispers on social media that Owens could not be the first as far as leading a mainline denomination is concerned, referencing the election of the Rev. Denise Anderson as co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in 2016.

Other reports reference the election of Dr. Joan Salmon Campbell’s election as PCUSA moderator in 1989. Anderson, in a tweet, referenced Owens as the first, clarifying that the Disciple’s general minister more accurately corresponds to the PCUSA’s stated clerk position, not moderator.

Being the among the first is not enough for Owens.

“Justice must be visible. There is no magic gavel or magic wand that I have to wave that eliminates the vestiges of racism and white privilege from our church. We cannot fight racism if we still see difference and Blackness as being deficient,” she said. “I must be seen as a Black woman. I cannot just be the token. I cannot be expected to turn away from my particular cultural expressions. Being a Black woman has to be just part of who I am and it has to be part of my term as general minister and president.”

General minster and president is not simply an executive position, said Owens. The role is also one of lead pastor for the denomination. One of her greatest challenges, she believes is ensuring that all members of the denomination continue to feel as though they have a voice and what she calls a “place at the table.”

“As Disciples, we pride ourselves on being able to hold it together while wrestling with our differences. We are a theologically diverse denomination meaning our members are both theologically conservative and liberal,” she said.

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