Prejudice in the Pulpit
I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention. The narrative of my leaving is quite long and boring. But one of the reasons I left, and a reason that I can never go back, is the denomination’s continued silencing of women whom God has called and equipped to preach the Gospel.
They always have an answer ready when they’re challenged on this issue, though. In fact, they have this answer published on their website:
Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers. Their role is crucial, their wisdom, grace and commitment exemplary. Women are an integral part of our Southern Baptist boards, faculties, mission teams, writer pools, and professional staffs. We affirm and celebrate their Great Commission impact.
While Scripture teaches that a woman’s role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men, it also teaches that women are equal in value to men.
Brothers and sisters, this statement is complete nonsense. It is another feeble copout crafted in exclusive meetings of denominational good old’ boys clubs, in which men in navy suits and cowboy boots sit down over bacon, grits, and coffee to figure out how to pacify all of us meddlin’ liberals who dare challenge their long-held, deeply revered, thoroughly unbiblical restrictions on the silenced majority known among them as the “weaker vessel.” It’s a short, abrupt, defensive, deeply patronizing sentiment written by men, who even thought they’d never admit it, view a woman’s aspiration to pastoral leadership an attack on their fragile male egos.
But still, the largest Protestant denomination continues to accept their flimsy explanations. And the women remain silent.
Second Verse, Same as the First
Just today, I read this article from Baptist News Global, detailing the efforts of seminarians who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being female and Southern Baptist. Hear the words of one such student, sentenced to an academic career of tightrope walking to stay within denominational boundaries:
“There is a systemic fear that women exercising certain gifts could undermine complementarianism and start us on a slippery slope to outright denial of gender roles,” co-founder Amber Bowen said in a blog discussion of gender and giftedness last October.
“Within the church, there is one limit for women: the office of the pastor/elder,” Bowen said. “Rather than being fixated on the one limit for women in the church, we should turn our efforts to exploring all the possibilities for women in the church.”
“Women are free to study and contribute to the body of scholarship in anything from missions to theology to dead languages if they are so inclined,” Bowen said. “As they pursue these endeavors, they bring their unique experience, perspective and voice as women to the table, greatly enriching the dialogue and body of scholarship as a whole.”
I hear in these words a profound sense of resignation and sadness. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings onto her statement, but as a male, I cannot fathom the cognitive dissonance required to parrot the SBC’s company line. To repeat statements that subjugate you, repress God’s calling in you, make you less than, not quite, equal but. To find a place in an academic atmosphere that would just as soon you study the respected theological discipline of “biblical homemaking.” To suppress the things your good God has put within you to say, because the largest Protestant denomination still provides fertile soil for old creation’s roots to thrive and grow.
Through the finished work of Christ, the cosmos is being redeemed, we ourselves are a new creation, and yet we fail to extend the full benefits of that redemption to women.
Systemic fear? Yes, Amber, there is systemic fear in the SBC that the pseudo-doctrine of “complementarianism” (a term concocted at one of those good ol’ boys meetings) will be shown for what it is: a sham, a farce, a contrived excuse for an injustice that defies any excuse.
Call to Repentance
It’s time for Southern Baptist leaders, professors, pastors, and congregants to repent for their stance on this issue.
- It’s time to repent for establishing and perpetuating a culture of gender discrimination in Baptist life.
- It’s time to repent for silencing the Spirit in generations of women and girls.
- It’s time to repent for raising generations of men and boys who cannot accept influence, teaching, or collaboration from women.
- It’s time to repent for shunning qualified, gifted women from pulpits and classrooms.
- It’s time to repent for claiming to believe in the priesthood of all believers while disqualifying more than half from leadership.
- It’s time to repent for fostering an atmosphere of hostility toward women in our local churches.
- It’s time to repent for baptizing women, but not ordaining them.
- It’s time to repent for misusing a few morsels of Holy Scripture to justify wholly unbiblical limits on women.
- It’s time to repent for thinking that biblical submission is a one-way street.
- It’s time to repent for not realizing the damage caused by telling women, “Look at all the things your can do! You just can’t teach or preach!”
- It’s time to repent for a damaging theology that has often fostered male violence against women.
In all honesty, there was a time when I spoke just as forcefully against gender equality in church and home. I grew up in a congregation that limited women, and demeaned and vilified those who dared to pursued their calling. “She must be some kind of feminist!” they’d say, with a look of haughty derision. I remember ashamedly how easily this disdain took root in me. So as I call for repentance from the Southern Baptist Convention, I do so knowing that I am complicit, as well. Though I can’t take back the regretful words and actions, I can point you toward what ultimately changed my mind.
The Cure for Inequality
Yes, that Bible. The same book that the Baptists I grew up with used to keep women in their place tells quite a different story.
It tells the story of a woman created to be a partner, not an assistant.
It tells the story of how patriarchy was a result of the curse, not a created order.
It tells the story of a Savior who involved women in his earthly ministry, against the conventions of the day.
It tells the story of a great commission given to men and women alike.
It tells the story of the women who first proclaimed the great and glorious news, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.“
It tells the story of Priscilla, Junia, and Phoebe, who most certainly did teach, preach, and lead.It’s too late to save face. In a few years, you’ll be embarrassed by this, just like you’re embarrassed for your former posture on civil rights. There is nothing left to do but admit the injustice, repent, and make it right.