A prominent Black Baptist missions organization has appointed their first female president, a historic precedent for the denomination.
The Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society announced on Monday that it had appointed the Rev. Gina Stewart as their first female president. Stewart currently serves as the senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, a role she has held since 1995. Stewart also serves as a visiting professor at Samuel D. Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.
The Rev. Stewart is not a new addition to the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Society. The lead pastor has served there for six years as both its first and second vice president, overseeing many of the ministry's functions. She will now serve for three years as president.
"I'm honored, first of all, for the privilege to lead and to serve," Stewart told Religion News Service on Monday. "I think it's significant that this organization, that is Baptist by heritage but ecumenical in its practice and its commitment, is taking the step, a courageous step, to elect a woman to serve in a titular leadership position."
The Lott Carey Foreign Mission Society is named after Carey, an African American slave who would buy his freedom and become a missionary in Liberia in 1822. The organization is partnered with more than 2000 churches and has provided aid and evangelism in 20 different countries.
Stewart has already stated that she has plans for the church's next outreach, having already met with other leaders to talk about how to help Haiti, which is now recovering from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.
Historians have noted that female leadership on a denominational level is rare among Black Baptists. Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African American studies and sociology at Colby College, told RNS that Stewart's appointment is an "absolutely historic moment" and "represents the reaching of very high ground in the struggle for equity, justice, and inclusion for Baptist women."