The headline grabbed me the moment I opened the paper as Southern Baptists ready themselves to bar women from pastoral roles and the title.
I opened the New York Times today and find, in this prime spot just above the fold, this headline: Baptists Push To Bar Women From Ministry. A few minutes later, the results of the vote came through: Yes, women remained barred from the pastoral title in Southern Baptist churches.
Several years ago, I read this story: Megachurch pastor, Andy Savage, finally admits he committed statutory rape 20 years ago when he was a youth pastor in a Houston church. Once he does so, his congregation rises and gives him a 20-second standing ovation. They are so proud of him and give zero thought to the woman whose life he destroyed.
I nearly threw up when I read about it. But I was not surprised. Unchecked and unquestioned male power will always result in things like this.
And so, now the Southern Baptists, already racked by sex scandals perpetuated by its male leadership, have made sure that unquestioned male power stays firmly in place. They will stay what they call “doctrinally pure.” And, as their population is rapidly declining anyway, I predict that they have just run their death bell, although it will take a while for this generation to die out completely.
Almost ten years ago, I was even then seeing what would happen to the United Methodist Church if the call for more doctrinal purity, spurred by a bunch of Baptists in UMC clothing, succeeded. As it turns out, they didn’t win, Instead, it appears they have created several new denominations in their quest for purity. Of course, they did do as much damage as possible on their way out. That’s what the drive to purity does: it wreaks havoc on any system upon which it is imposed. And it loves to split off.
Anyway, thinking about it then spurred on this little parable.
The Parable of the Spotted Sheep
The shepherd, wanting to present to the Landlord the best flock ever, took a hard look at the nearly 5000 sheep under his care. Most were fully white, and they looked elegant against the green hills, like pure white clouds on a bed of verdant green. However, something was just not quite right. The flock didn’t look as clean and pure as they should.
On close inspection, the shepherd noted a minority of sheep with black spots.
It made the flock look slightly dirty, and anything but uniform. So, the shepherd, again wanting to present to the Landlord nothing but the best, culled all the sheep with the black spots. He sent them away with some vague instructions as to where they might find other green pastures and went back to his much purer and cleaner flock of 4198 sheep.
As he busily fed them and washed them and harvested their wool and watched over them, he discovered something a bit worrisome. Some of the flock had developed brown spots near their noses and ears. It was especially noticeable right after they had given up their wool and were more exposed by their generosity.
Again, wanting to give the Landlord only the best, he sent those brown spots away, but with less direction as to where they might find another shepherd and care. He returned, pleased with the result, and went back to taking care of his 2633 sheep. He hadn’t heard anything about the fate of the black spots but assumed that no news was good news and they were fine. The brown spots should fare just as well.
Over the next few years, the shepherd’s skill at finding flaws grew. His eyes became sharper, more critical of any imperfections, any divergences from the pure white norm. He turned even greater energies on clearing out imperfections, raising his standards year by year.
It danced on the edge of his consciousness that the number of new lambs decreased each year Furthermore, the number of lambs that died upon birth increased, as many were born with birth defects. However, he felt that those problems would self-correct as soon as he was able to fully purify the flock.
And so, the pride in the purity of his flock increased. He waited eagerly for the day when the Landlord would show up. He felt assured of receiving a pat on the back as a good and faithful servant–and expected a bigger flock to manage as a result.
On one of those perfect spring days, right after the lambing had finished for the season, the Landlord walked up to the pasture. The pure flock, all 493 of them, were at their best–their white brightness set off perfectly by the green grass. The shepherd proudly handed over the bona-fides of each of the sheep as they grazed peacefully before them, nearly preening in their perfection.
After greeting the shepherd, the Landlord wandered through the sheep, looking more and more perturbed. Finally, he asked the shepherd, “What happened to the spotted sheep I gave you? I sent them so that you might have variety in genetics and far more vitality in your flocks. They offered balance, color and health to the entire enterprise. What have you done with them?
The shepherd, totally off balance, said, “But. . . I thought you’d be happy by the purity of the flock! I sent the others away.”
The Landlord said, “It’s my job to purify the flock–it was yours to nurture them, feed them, and protect them. And now I learn that you sent them away, defenseless, hungry and unprotected. Furthermore, you have brought me to the edge of bankruptcy. Depart from me, you unfaithful servant. Leave me to grieve over what I have lost.”
Do not think for a moment that God does not grieve now over yet one more move to “purify” the flock. It’s destructive, unhealthy, and antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus. And we wonder why the church has less and less influence on the world. It breaks my heart.