Thursday, September 01, 2016

Where Have All the Evangelical Southern Baptist Women Gone?

Last month, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention posted an article by Laura Thigpen that they had gotten from from her post on the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Women Life webpage. The difference in the separate postings is in the title. The original post on the SEBTS website is titled "The Voice of Evangelical Women." The ERLC's title is "Where are the Voices of Evangelical Women?"

I'm not going to address the article for the SEBTS Women's Life page. I understand why they need an article like this because of what happened in the conservative take-overs of the seminary 20 years ago.

But why would the ERLC even decide to post this article? Isn't their leadership the ones that were responsible for these very voices being silenced?

I will tell you that there are more evangelical women speaking out now than ever before. Thanks to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other internet sources, evangelical women have a voice--even if their churches will not allow them to step behind a pulpit or teach men. We are talking. It is just that no one listens. And if they do listen, we tend to get mansplained.

However, for those in the Southern Baptist Convention who are perplexed, here is what happened:

Once in Southern Baptist life, there were strong women leaders. They were in Southern Baptist Churches all over the world. They taught the Sunday School classes; the mission classes; they stood up and prayed during worship; and, yes, they sometimes preached (though it may have been called a speech or something).

In my own life, I was a Southern Baptist girl from the time I was born. I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I was inspired by both the men and women in my church to seek out what God was calling me to do with my life. I went through Mission Friends, GAs, Acteens, and came to the realization that I was called to ministry--though it would be another decade before that ministry gift would be revealed. I did everything that I was supposed to do, but because I was female the SBC cut me out.

On the very Sunday after the "Baptist Faith & Message" was adopted in 2000. I left my SBC church and joined one that was affiliated with the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This was due to the one statement, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

And many other women left the SBC because of that very reason. There was no place for them. These are women poised to preach and prophesy, but there was no room for them at the SBC table. They were told to be silent or get out.

One day, I believe that the SBC leaders of that time will have to answer for what they did in silencing the voices of women.

So the ERLC is now asking where the evangelical women are. Did it ever occur to them that there is a reason that SBC evangelical women don't speak out? That there a reason that SBC membership continues to decline? It is selective amnesia at its best: they did it to themselves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Highest Calling

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." ~Catherine of Siena

Once upon a time, I interviewed for ministry jobs. That's no big deal really. I have a Masters of Divinity degree. And no task ever feels so right as when I am standing in front of a congregation and preaching. I was a youth minister for a summer--just before I got pregnant with my last baby. But that didn't fit quite right.

When people came up to me after I preached a few weeks ago and told me that they enjoyed it, my mouth said thank you but my heart was saying that I was born to do this.

I finished divinity school 14 years ago. I was four months pregnant with my first child when I walked across the stage. It seemed pointless to look for a ministry job when I had a baby on the way. But I did send out a lot of resumes then and in the years that followed. I had a few interviews, never for a pastor position--still waiting on that interview, my own deep calling. But the interviews always ended up with someone telling me that I shouldn't be looking for ministry work. My children were too young; I should be home with them.

Those words still cut me today, and my youngest is now 8. When they were first said to me, they seemed so benign, yet they "tasted" wrong in my mind and in my heart. It took me a long time to realize that not living up to my highest calling was setting a bad example for my sons. So many Christians believe that the highest calling of a woman is to be a wife and mother. The progressive churches I interviewed with--ones that are not on the conservative end of baptist life--still believed that myth: that a woman's highest calling was to be a wife and mother. Why else would they write me off so quick.

However, I am here to say: my highest calling is so. much. more.

Seasons come and go in a woman's life--indeed in anyone's life, male or female. Maybe it was too difficult for a church to see past my babies. Maybe they thought the logistics of running a household would be too much for me (though marriage is a team, right?). Maybe they didn't think of what they were saying at all--at least in a theological sense. But those words have stayed in my mind, replayed every so often, making me feel less than adequate--even though my youngest is 8 now.

So...I reject the attempt to put me in a theological box. I am called to preach the gospel. I am called to be prophetic and thoughtful, to bring theological meaning into this world gone mad. Even if I don't have a church to preach in, I will still prepare as if I do. I will learn even more about my craft; I will read and listen and think.

To the churches that wrote me off, you were wrong.

To the world that says that I should settle, you lose.

To Christians that say motherhood is my highest calling, you don't know my God.

What prompted this post? Jenny Rae Armstrong posted a quote to a Facebook Group I belong to: Biblical Christian Egalitarians. The quote says:

Since last Friday when it was posted, I have been praying about my life and how to be a bit more courageous with my calling. Today, I post this because it is time to shatter non-biblical notions of what I am called to be. I will not bow down to the idols anymore.