Hi and welcome back! I want to show you a common Christianese word, stewardship. It’s an extremely useful word to know in that lexicon. In fact, this word relates to the recent downfall of a minor Christian leader, Molly T. Marshall. So today, I’ll show you what stewardship is all about!
In Christianese, stewardship can be a complex topic. It can mean a lot of things depending on the context in which it’s used.
Mostly, it means making good use of divinely-granted resources. Christian pastors talk about tithes like that. Take this bit from an Atlanta-area Baptist church:
We believe that good stewardship begins with giving tithes and paying offerings.
But stewardship involves a lot more than just paying tithes to one’s church, as this site tells us.
Stewardship mainly involves the management of one’s skills and household funds and goods.
It also means humanity’s general management of planetary resources like coal and wood (and fresh water, and air — except, I suppose, if it’s poor people or people of color needing it all). Evangelicals argue a lot about that point.
Christians call this resource-management stewardship because they literally think of themselves as stewards of their god, and the resources as stuff a master gives a
slave servant to deal with on his behalf. They’d have nothing at all if he hadn’t given it to them, they think, and they further think he gave all this stuff to them because he knew they’d manage it well for him.
So Jesus is trusting his stewards not to mess up with “his” stuff!
Another Rich Natural Vein of Guilt.
If Christians waste resources or misuse them, then they are being poor stewards.
When Jesus returns, he’ll reckon up everything he gave them, and then reckon up what they did with it. If the ledger doesn’t satisfy him then he’ll
cast them out of Valhalla and laugh at them for not knowing the riddle of steel probably send them to Hell.
So yes: stewardship works together with other Christian control-grab attempts like accountability. These doctrines create a scary environment for believers, because literally nothing they own is really theirs, and they don’t even own their own bodies. Either Jesus owns them physically, or (if the Christian in question is female, or young) another person does.
Consequently, they must second-guess all uses of their own resources to make sure “Jesus” won’t be upset with them afterward. If anything terrible happens to them, they retreat to begin the dreadful work of second-guessing where they went wrong with their stewardship.
(And if they actually must stop tithing for whatever reason, they worry about being struck with misfortune by their enraged god for mismanaging “his” resources. I’ve heard this exact story many times from different people. The fear is real.)
Now Then: Everyone, Meet Molly T. Marshall.
Molly T. Marshall represents that rarest of rare birds in fundagelicalism: a female leader.
For many years, she’s alarmed a lot of Southern Baptists. As far back as 1983, she seems to have been participating in Southern Baptist “women in leadership” functions. Also in 1983, this Baptist history of the Conservative Resurgence tells us (p. 78), she earned her M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) — despite the hostility of some of her male classmates. Undeterred, SBTS hired her in 1984 sa their first female faculty member. Despite “an outcry” raised by Southern Baptist sexists, she gained tenure there in 1988.
In 1993, of course, Al Mohler became president of SBTS as part of the Conservative Resurgence. Within a year, he and his cronies forced Marshall out of her job. She appears to have left the denomination at that point.She found another professor position at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in 1995. They’re part of the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA), not the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which is probably how they got away with hiring a woman.
She pops up in 2000 in a Baptist News piece that gave side-eye to her feminism and her position of inclusivism, a doctrine that says non-Christians aren’t doomed to Hell automatically. Oh, and she liked calling the Christian god by female pronouns and thought Southern Baptists were, shall we say, a bit behind the times regarding human sexuality.
Just wow. Get out the smelling salts!
The CBTS Saga.
Despite all that opposition, CBTS made her president of the school in 2004. She was the very first woman to hold that position in any Baptist seminary in North America.
When CBTS named her president, according to this 2019 Kansas story about her, the school was “broke, physically falling apart and down to 78 students.”
Somehow, Marshall turned the school around. That Kansas story declares, “Today Central has been resurrected.” It boasted 530 students across multiple sites, including a number of Korean students taking classes in Dallas. The school isn’t “broke” anymore.
She doesn’t sound too bad, does she? I kinda like her. She’s exactly the kind of evangelical that Al Mohler would do anything to remove from power — and then keep from power forever.
A Sad Ending.
On March 31, Religion News Service reported that Molly T. Marshall resigned her position at CBTS. Apparently, she’d already planned to retire this summer; the school’s board of trustees had even already hired their next president, Pamela R. Durso.
I offered my resignation effective March 1, 2020 to the Executive Committee because of an ethical lapse that betrayed my stewardship of office, which I voluntarily surfaced to governance because of my desire to protect the seminary.
That word “stewardship” is what caught my eye.
I’m not here to speculate on exactly what she did.
I just know what Christianese means.
And here, it means she misused resources that weren’t hers. Those resources could be money, power, or anything else her position brought her.
But more than that, it indicates that she’s disappointed Jesus himself by misusing resources that he gave to her and then trusted her to use for his ultimate benefit.
I don’t have a punchline here, just an observation: it’s definitely odd when a Christian leader talks like this. Part of me wonders if this resignation represents another setup like what seems to have happened with Al Mohler in 1993, or if she really did something improper with the books.
I know that fundagelical leaders do a lot of sneaky stuff behind the scenes. Skulking around corners and in the dark, making backroom deals to promote and protect their favorites, that’s all part of the leadership gig in that end of Christianity.
When I was Christian myself, learning about all this skulduggery going on behind the scenes would have wrecked me. That’s not what I thought Christians should be like.
To a large extent, it still isn’t.
I’m just glad to be out. There doesn’t seem to be a single thing Christians do that the secular world can’t make safer for everybody involved.
NEXT UP: Opportunistic Christians think they can use the pandemic to score more Jesus sales. Let’s get a look at their play card, shall we? See you tomorrow!
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