For the last 40 years, Southern Baptists of varying “stripes” have fought about women in ministry. Now that one of the SBC’s shining stars has ordained several, we all get to take another spin—even if it makes us sick.
Remember the good ‘ole days of the metal merry-go-round in the community park?
You know, back when an arm cast caused by a piece of playground equipment was a badge of honor?
That merry-go-round came in a variety of sizes and degrees of difficulty. The old Cleveland Park in Greenville, SC had small ones that could spin at something just short of the speed of sound. If you were lucky the worst that happened is losing your grip and flying across the dusty Carolina clay.
Then we had the bigger ones—not as fast but equally dangerous. Especially when we tried jumping on and off of them while they were spinning. If you did not crack some ribs on the “safety” bar, likely you threw up after the ride stopped.
I am getting a bit of that sick feeling tonight as I write yet another post about women in ministry, particularly pastoral ministry. Baptists who have traditional or current ties to the Convention are spinning back to this issue because of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church. Long a shining star in the SBC crown, Saddleback ordained three women as ministers on Saturday night.
And Southern Baptist leaders let their cheese slide right off their cracker.
Back in the day, we made the choice to ride the merry-go-round until we could not hold our PB&J. I am getting on the ride again here out of necessity. I cannot just stay silent while others drag my fellow ministers–women ministers—through the mud.
I will give the SBC leadership credit for sticking to their convictions. I just wish those convictions leaned towards a more critical issue than keeping half of God’s creation away from a microphone at church.
I do not understand this and never have. I will likely never understand this perspective. God can exercise the power of the Holy Spirit to call and choose anyone. And it has nothing to with whether or not you can effectively use a urinal.
Let us spin this in the other direction. Rather than drag SBC leaders for their view (easy to do), we can take a look at some reasons to believe that God clearly calls women to ministry, including pastoral ministry, preaching, and ministry of Word and Sacrament.
1. God is not restricted by human interpretations of the Bible. It is not that God would do something outside of the biblical witness. However, God is author and finisher of our faith and is not “boxed in” by Scripture, much less by our particular interpretation of Scripture.
Traditions are important. But they must remain consistent with an ever-growing understanding of God’s Word and work in the world. It is high time that we grow up in our understanding of God’s call on the lives of women.
2. History should inform us, but not define us. It is fairly easy to argue that, historically, many faith leaders, authors, and those considered spiritual giants in Baptist life opposed the idea of women in ministry. This was partially based on Scripture; however, it was also based on social, cultural, historical, and even scientific factors (based on the science of the day).
Please recognize that these men, such as John Broadus and B.H. Carroll, taught that women should not even be seated as messengers at Convention meetings. They taught segregation as God’s law, even for the church. They believed that slavery was supported by the Bible. They likely believed that women should always have head coverings in church.
We have changed our views on these things (I HOPE) based on better understanding and interpretation of the Bible and common sense leading of the Holy Spirit. And we should do the same regarding women in ministry. Why are some clinging to history rather than letting it guide us to the full personhood of women, all the way to the pulpit?
3. Our understanding of God can—and should—change.
Many may argue that God did not call for the ordination of women in the New Testament church, so why would he suddenly call for that now?
What if believers simply did not—or could not—recognize that call in the NT era? What if they missed it?
Does that make it okay for us to miss the boat as well?
Greater understanding and expansion of the Spirit’s work should always be our goal. We need to look towards who God invites rather than who God excludes.
4. The Bible—particularly the New Testament—pushes towards greater equity for all.
Several New Testament passages, if taken as singular verses/sections, seem to point to the subordination of women in the church. That is undeniable.
As both a pastor and professor, I argue that the New Testament overall pushes towards greater equity for all. For now, we will focus on women. This will be brief so that you will not have to read for hours on end.
Jesus interacts with women in ways that went beyond the comprehension of the people of his day, disciples included (Matthew 15; Mark 5; Luke 7; Luke 10; John 4; and John 8). Women were the first to preach the good news on Easter Sunday, faithful and willing disciples.
In spite of how he is interpreted, Paul interacts with women in similar ways (Acts 16, Romans 16). Women are identified as his partners and equals in ministry (Acts 18, Philippians 4). Despite his lengthy instructions, he does acknowledge women speaking in the assemblies at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11).
His writings include the most simple and direct word on this matter: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Did Paul get to full equity? Surely not during his time. But that should not prevent us from getting there in the present time.
If you choose to focus on the verses that silence women as authoritative, then you should not ignore the verses that acknowledge and empower their vital role in God’s story of love and redemption for all of creation.
5. Women have always been among the great “cloud of witnesses” in ministry.
Allow me to name some examples from scripture, from history, and from the modern context. These are a few among the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12) who show us God’s work through women as spiritual mentors, pastors, leaders, and preachers.
Deborah. Ruth. Naomi. Esther. Mary the Mom. Elizabeth. Anna the Prophetess. Mary Magdalene. The woman at the well. The woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears. The women at the empty tomb. Lydia. Priscilla. Phoebe. Euodia. Syntyche. Timothy’s mother and grandmother. All led, spoke, taught, worked, and faithfully followed the power of the Spirit in some capacity.
Catherine Scott. Sojourner Truth. Ida B. Wells. Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Fannie Lou Hamer. Aimee Semple McPherson. I do not know if these women were saints or great pastors, because I know very little about them (what does that say about me/us?). But they were preachers and pastors long before 2021.
What about today? I know of a few names. Kelli Kirksey. Stacey Simpson Duke. Anita Roper. Jennifer McClung Rygg. Helen Lee Turner. Debbie Roper. Ashley Twitchell. Ka’thy Gore Chappell. Alexandra Mauney. Kheresa Harmon. Anita Killebrew Herbert. Paula Qualls. Anna Sieges-Beal. All called or formally ordained to ministry in some form or fashion. Many great speakers, preachers, or teachers. (And I apologize for anyone I missed—running out of room!).
This is not to mention the scores of women who personally led me in my life and towards a call to ministry. I am not even worthy to wash the feet of these giants of faith.
And at last check, none led to the downfall of a single person or congregation.
If these women caused God tremendous angst by violating some prohibition against their work, it is hard to see. Their work gives us greater faith and hope that God always has and still does move—with or without male permission.
6. It is the Baptist way.
Do Baptist churches ordain many women or call them as pastors? Certainly not. However, true Baptist practice should defend the soul freedom of any church to do so, no matter what is written in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
I grew up knowing and believing in three central principles on which Baptist church practice should stand.
The priesthood of ALL believers – The Holy Spirit can work in and through anyone. We do not need a pastor or denominational guru to be present to judge whether or not the Spirit is moving in or through someone. We can also read and interpret Scripture of our own accord and through our local community of believers.
Soul Competency – God works in and through people, and people are responsible to God for following the movement of God in their lives. It is not up to a denominational body or even a pastor to judge that movement.
Autonomy of the Local Church – The Southern Baptist Convention does not ordain people. ORDINATION is a LOCAL church matter. Each congregation, possibly in work with other churches or a local association, determine the fitness of someone to be ordained to ministry.
Saddleback did exactly that, as has every other church to ordain or call a woman to ministry. Their action is not authoritative or declarative for any other Baptist church or organization.
Take all of this as you will. Through years of study, research, reason, and prayer, this is why I believe that God calls women to all form of ministry, wherever the Holy Spirit leads. It is the very core of Baptist belief that confirms for me the spiritual right of a church to ordain and call those that they deem worthy.
This is 2021. We cannot assume that God suddenly changed his mind about ordaining women because of the year. But perhaps God expected us to grow past the 1st century C.E. in our understanding of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of those God created.
The more churches recognize this, the better we will become at building the Kingdom of God.