Margaret Elwell and Stephanie Mota Thurston started their collaboration as interim co-directors of the Center for Theology, Women, and Gender (CTWG) with the goal of empowering student leaders.
Established to address issues that relate to the intersections of race, class, gender identity, and sexuality in church and society, the CWTG offers conferences, coursework, and events designed to help Christian leaders address issues of inequality in our world.
“Maggie and Stephanie both have a long record of advocacy for women and LGBTQ+ students on campus, and both have been involved in several Princeton Seminary initiatives focused on gender,” says Jacqueline Lapsley, Seminary dean and vice president of academic affairs and professor of Old Testament. “Both of them bring an intelligence and passion to their role.”
The center offers a graduate certificate for Master of Divinity and Master of Arts students and is home to two student groups, the Women’s Center and BGLASS (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Supporters), as well as the Seminary’s Women in Ministry Initiative.
As the Seminary engages in its larger conversation about what it means to be a covenant community, Elwell, says bringing issues of gender and sexuality to that conversation is important to the CWTG.
"We want the Seminary and students to provide a faithful witness to Christ to the world,” Elwell says. “For us, that is done specifically through reflecting on these issues theologically."
Thurston completed her Master of Arts in religion at Yale Divinity School and, like Elwell, is completing her PhD in the religion and society program. Both share a strong desire for their leadership to be focused on equipping student leaders.
Many CWTG events are planned, organized, and produced by students. Thurston and Elwell both approach their leadership with the primary goal of equipping student leaders. The CTWG wants to find student leaders who are passionate about an idea, meet with them, and offer funding, logistics, or other practical strategy and support to make their idea or event happen.
"There are incredible students here who have incredible ideas,” Thurston says. “We are blessed to be able to support their work.”
The Center was started, Lapsley says, to provide robust institutional support for the women and LGBTQ+ students at Princeton Seminary. It “celebrates, supports, and advocates for women and sexual and gender minorities in the church,” she says, by critically examining issues they face and drawing on the resources of the Christian tradition, as well as the best scholarship in other fields.
“Scripture testifies that God desires a world in which all persons are able to flourish and live the abundant life, a promise which stands at the heart of the gospel,” she says.
“There is a great deal of potential for the CTWG to both educate people, on campus and off, about the challenges facing those with nondominant gender and sexual identities, and also to advocate for transformation in church and society where barriers continue to exist,” Lapsley says.