Dear Beloved Community,
Baptists have been in the news this week; perhaps you’ve heard. The Southern Baptist Convention met for their annual gathering, and beyond any other headline to emerge when those nearly 13,000 Baptists got together was the new action taken with an overwhelming majority, insisting that any Southern Baptist church must have “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”
You can read more about the meeting in excellent commentary from Religion News Service and Baptist News Global, and hear thoughtful responses from our Baptist partners, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global, and Baptist Women in Ministry.
The Southern Baptists’ discouragement of senior pastors who are women isn’t new, but this absolutist posture against any woman serving in any pastoral role is. While our church left the Southern Baptist Convention decades ago, I can’t help but think of a number of our CBF sister churches who are dually-aligned with CBF and SBC, joyfully receiving care and leadership from their female associate pastors and ministers on their staff. Surely this decision from the SBC must cause them to reconsider that alliance. I know you’ll join me in praying for the moral leadership of these churches, but especially for the renewed courage in the pastors – women and men – who serve them well.
One of my kids overheard me talking to Josh about the SBC’s decision this week, and asked what it was about. After I explained, their first response offered with a stricken face was, “does that apply to our church?” When I assured them that no, our church isn’t bound by that missive (and, as I climb on my soapbox here, no church practicing the historic Baptist principle of local church autonomy should be bound by another’s creed, but I digress!), I heard a big sigh of relief.
Then a pause, their face lost in thought. “Mom, we should protest. We should get a big group of people together and march! This is so wrong!”
Heartened and so proud, I affirmed that impulse. “But, buddy, you know the best way I can protest?”
“No, what’s that?,” they asked.
As I pondered, I thought of the profound legacy of all the women who have served our church as pastors and ministers – of Amy, Abigail, Nikki, Mary, of June, Lori, Terri, of interns like Amelia, Kaylee, Jenna, Corinne, Alyssa, Lauren, Stephanie, and these are only the ones in the past two decades, not counting all the rest before them!
I thought of every woman who lived before their calling could be recognized as a vocation, without the dignity of the job they longed for.
I thought of every woman in our congregation who has taught a Sunday School class, cooked a Wednesday night meal, led a committee, hired a staff member, served as a Deacon, offered communion, prepared baptismal robes, visited those who are sick or home-centered, chaperoned a youth camp, hosted a funeral reception, mailed dozens of cards, spearheaded a missions trip or a food drive or a day of volunteering, prepared a budget, welcomed a new member, listened to one who is hurting and afraid.
I thought of Eve, of Sarah and Hagar, of Hannah and Leah, of Shiprah and Puah, of Miriam and Ruth and Esther, of Mary and Elizabeth, of women at wells and tables, of mothers and daughters and sisters and friends. I thought of the first to bear the news of resurrection, and how without the testimony and proclamation of Mary Magdalene, no one would know.
“Here’s what I’m going to do in protest,” I said. “This Sunday, I’m getting behind that pulpit and I’m going to preach. You know what I’m going to do next Sunday?”
“Yep,” I said. “And what about the Sunday after that?”
“Preach!,” getting louder.
“And what about the Sunday after that?,” I asked.
“And what about the Sunday after that?”
“Well actually that Sunday, I’m on vacation – because everyone needs a vacation, even in a job they love! – but then I’m preaching!”
I watched my child’s shoulders relax, a knowing smile on their face matched by a new fire in the belly.
There’s a time to protest with our feet pointed toward the oppressors, praying and walking for a change of heart. But then there’s a time to protest with feet and hands and heart and mind turned toward the vast, colorful world and all who fill it, believing that everyone deserves the good news and no one is without the possibility of redemption (not even the loudest, angriest Southern Baptist!), all the while trusting in the leadership of a joyful, defiant Holy Spirit whose calling knows no boundaries.
Together in God’s work of Love,