Imagine me standing at the podium on stage at the Southern Baptist Convention. I know it’s farfetched but do your best. Picture me standing there dressed in what I wear when I preach each week: probably black pants and shirt with a stole that matches the liturgical season.
Got the picture? Okay. Now I open my iPad to my notes, adjust the mic for my height, and begin.
Baptist born of baptists
Good evening SBC delegates and thank you for this opportunity to share my story with you.
I like to say, paraphrasing Paul’s testimony about his heritage, that I am a Baptist born of Baptists. My parents, both raised in SBC churches, met at Mercer University, a Baptist college in South Georgia. My father graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where my mother served as secretary to the registrar. Baptized by immersion at seven years old, I learned hymns from the Broadman [Baptist] Hymnal and studied my Sunday school lesson, published by the Baptist Bookstore, now Lifeway Media. As a young adult, I graduated from Campbell University, a good Southern Baptist college in North Carolina, and married a Baptist deacon’s son in an SBC church.
As a child, I attended Southern Baptist churches (albeit ones my father pastored) exclusively. I went to training union, sang “Pass it on” while roasting marshmallows over a bonfire, and rededicated my life with the worst of them. Vacation Bible School was a highlight of my summer—from the time I participated to the years I directed it. I went to Girls in Action on Wednesday nights while my parents were in prayer meeting and went to GA camp at Chowan University until I aged out. I attended camp at long revered Southern Baptist institutions in North Carolina: Fort Caswell and Ridgecrest. Truly, some of the very best memories of my childhood are laced with Baptist life.
Minister? No thank you
Still, I NEVER wanted to be a pastor. Hear me: N.E.V.E.R.
So, when I was 20 years old and had a dream in which God called me to proclaim the gospel, I had to get a few things straight with the Almighty. I explained to God that I would NOT under any circumstances be working in a church at all, much less preaching. Nope. Not going to happen.
Look, I love being Baptist, but you people eat your ministers. By the age of 20, I’d already seen too many people I love heartbroken by SBC churches. Not to say that it doesn’t happen in other denominations, I’m sure it does; but what I saw was of the SBC variety. Face it, y’all are brutal on your staff. So, no. I was not one bit interested in locking myself into that lifetime sentence.
From resistance to obedience
Time passed and I continued to refuse, despite the relentless repetition of God’s call. Finally, at the age of 42, I compromised with God. I went to divinity school. But I planned to work at a college, retirement community, or maybe a children’s home. Certainly not a church.
The (ahem) compromise was about as effective as you might imagine. There I was, determined NOT to believe what I had known for more than two decades, in a place devoted to guiding students through the process of sacred vocational discernment. Sure enough, by the end of the first semester of div school, I knew that if I were to follow God’s true calling for me, I must work in the local church. I won’t talk about the number of times God pointed to the pulpit and I turned my head. I’ll just say that ever since I answered the call to church ministry, I have felt the peace that surpasses human understanding. And when I am teaching a Bible study or preaching? That’s when I feel most connected to the Holy Spirit and most in sync with God’s will for my life.
The impact of your decision
Whether or not your convention recognizes my calling and my ordination as a minister of the Gospel is wholly irrelevant to me. You don’t have to affirm me as a minister. It will neither change God’s call, nor my response. Really: It doesn’t impact my work or my ministry in the least.
It just breaks my heart.
See, while the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision to further restrict the ministry of women in their churches doesn’t affect me personally, it does impact the Kingdom of God. And that’s the problem.
You are telling women and girls in your congregations that no matter what they hear God say, they are not being called to vocational ministry. You are telling men that if they are learning from women, they are outside of God’s will.
You say these things knowing that women have always been called by God to leadership roles. You know the stories of Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Huldah, and Esther. You know that Anna was among those at the temple prophesying about the coming of the Messiah. You’ve read in all four gospels about the women who remained at the foot of the cross even when the male disciples went AWOL. You know it was women who, following the direction of an angel of the Lord, were the first to proclaim Christ’s resurrection.
Yet despite your knowledge of the role of biblical women in leadership, you intentionally ignore the scriptural witness that is at odds with your opinion. That oversight is bad enough. But that’s not the only problem with your statement. You are also creating an anti-Christ distraction. By making the ordination of women out to be the worst thing since Jael’s tent peg, you are drawing attention away from the things that Jesus Christ recognized as actual opposition to the building of the Kingdom of God.
What Jesus said
When Jesus first speaks in the temple, he says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)
If women in ministry were as big a threat to righteousness as you propose, don’t you think Jesus would have said something about it at this very first opportunity or at least have mentioned it in the Sermon on the Mount? As you well know, it’s not there. Instead, Jesus prays for the vulnerable, praises the meek and merciful, and encourages followers to let their light shine that God might be glorified.
Let’s build the Kingdom
Do you see the problem? Have you finished bringing good news to the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, and the oppressed? Seriously, have you? Because you certainly are spending an awful lot of energy on something Christ never mentioned, throwing bushels over the beautiful lights of women doing their best to follow God’s will for their lives. (Matthew 5:15-16)
I cherish my SBC upbringing. A great deal of who I am is because of who you were. It grieves me to see you so intent on ignoring the priorities of Christ. Please, for the love of all that is holy, repent and let’s work together to build the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.