Paradoxes, Paradigms and Baptists?

While we’re on the subject of paradigms and paradoxes (see prior posts), here’s another question:

Called to Serve, Too?

“Many conservative churches vehemently oppose allowing women to serve in positions of leadership because they think God blesses the church only under the leadership of men.  How ridiculous!  God does not want His church to be controlled by men or women.  He wants it to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.” (Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, p. 200)

Try making that fly in a “conservative evangelical church” – particularly Baptist churches.  Speaking of which,

Are Baptists Gender Neanderthals?

The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, insists that the Bible prescribes male pastoral leadership in church and the “gracious submission” of wives to their husbands.  As a result, writes Jane Lampman in All Equal Under God, But Submission for Women?:

– Teachers at their seminaries and missionaries around the world who refuse to sign a statement in agreement are being fired or forced to resign their posts.

– Hundreds of women pastors find their contributions no longer recognized.

– A former woman leader in the Baptist World Alliance speaks of a “rising tide of female suppression in U.S. Christian churches.”

Last  fall  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX recently adopted a policy statement asserting male headship.  The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was added to the seminary’s policy manual under “Guiding Documents and Statements.”  This statement declares men and women equal before God but created for specific roles of headship and submission in the church and home.

– SWBT Seminary president Paige Patterson recently dismissed a female professor of Old Testament, insisting that I Tim. 2:12-14 does not allow a woman to teach the Bible to male students in a seminary classroom.

– Are Baptist views of women  “mean-spirited”?

– See 30 People, 7 Boards, 2 Committees, and 1 News Service Who Screwed up the Southern Baptist Convention. (Note: The opinions expressed/persons included in this list do not necessarily reflect ours.  The lister does not define what “screwed up” means, nor is the criteria for inclusion explained.  However, some of the points are worth noting.)

– When ballots for elder and deacon nominees were passed out at one Baptist church, a few members dared to nominate qualified men and women.  The pastor’s response?  He tore up the ballots and threw them in the trash.

More examples:

–         Women prohibited from teaching adult Sunday school or Bible classes in a mixed gender context.

–         Pulpit supply that’s exclusively male.

–         Women barred from leading worship, assisting with Communion, preaching or serving in any substantive leadership position – regardless of gifting, calling, or capability.

“Recovering Baptist”

“Recovering Baptist” is how Judy* describes her “denominational affiliation.”  A “forty-something” advertising executive, Judy is a highly successful professional, “but when I walk through the door of the church on Sundays, my persona suddenly morphs into `June Cleaver'” she says, “or is expected to.”

Judy relates how ministry sign-up sheets were distributed in church one Sunday with instructions to indicate “in which area of service you feel gifted and called.”  She checked Church Leadership.  Later, the pastor starchily informed Judy that “we don’t do that here, but maybe you’d like to serve on the Kitchen Committee.  And the second grade Sunday school class needs a teacher.”

Judy says, “Nobody seemed to care that I don’t have any kids myself and am only a mediocre cook – or that my interests, skills and expertise don’t fall in either area.  All they saw was my gender.  My ‘ministry’ was based on – limited to – what They thought was gender-appropriate.”   She left her Baptist church soon after.

Death by Boredom?

An energetic, go-getter type personality, Suzanne* is in her last year of grad school.  When she inquired about “Women’s Ministries” at her Baptist church, she was provided an information packet, brochure and DVD telling her all about the glowing “faith and fellowship” opportunities available, “free childcare,”  Ladies Spring Tea, Proverbs 31 Bible studies, bulletin-board decorating, recipe swaps, cookie exchanges and “Mommy and Me” classes on “how to be the Mom God designed you to be.”   “We also have a monthly Rip n Sew where the ladies get together and roll bandages for hospitals in Africa” the perky Women Ministries Director said.

“Talk about death by boredom,” Suzanne commented.  “When I asked when they were going to tackle socio-political issues from a biblical viewpoint, do a compare/contrast survey of dominant worldviews, study themes of grace and repentance in the collected works of Dostoevsky, or look at gender roles from the whole counsel of Scripture – rather than a few selected ‘proof texts’ – she looked at me like I’d just flown in from Mars.”  Sue left the church and started her own “non-traditional” women’s ministry, which continues to thrive.

“I used to think it was just me,” began Caitlyn*, a thirty-something career woman with two small children.   She and her husband left a Baptist church last year, in part because of the church’s view of what constituted “Christian woman.”

“I couldn’t figure out where these people get their assumptions about women,” she said.  “Most of them assume that all `spiritual’ Christian women are stay-at-home-moms, so they schedule meetings and events for ten o’clock on weekday mornings – when I’m at work.  They  seem to think making macrame and picture frames and talking about fashion, kitchen decor and chocolate are high on my priority list and that my world revolves solely around hearth, home, and husband.”  Caitlyn sighed.  “That’s not me.  But I kept getting told – implicitly or otherwise – that it should be.'”

* Names changed to protect identities.

Discouraging & Deflating?

Do male pastors or exclusively male church leadership (Baptist or otherwise) ever consider how discouraging and deflating these practices and prejudices are to capable, gifted women?  Or how the church is missing out on  gifts, skills, talents and expertise due to gender bias?

For women who are content to staff the nursery, pour tea and crochet doilies, this may not be an issue.  But does it necessarily follow that all women have a burning desire to decorate, cook or crochet simply because they’re female? What about women who are gifted evangelists, preachers/teachers/shepherds, leaders, physicians, coaches, scientists, lawyers, small business owners and CEOs?  They’re typically told that their gifts can only be used within the female or children’s realm.

Oh, really? From Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality (Haddad has a Ph.D. in historical theology):

“To claim that men and women have equal access to salvation and equal access to the spiritual gifts is to suggest that the Holy Spirit may provide individuals with gifts not according to human prejudice, but according to God’s pleasure, as we clearly note throughout Scripture, especially in the New Testament.”

Baptists are famous for patriarchal church rule, claiming marching orders from Scripture.  But Baptists aren’t alone.  Researcher George Barna indicates that a growing number of women are turning away from the church in general due to burn-out or because the church has marginalized them.

Has this ever happened to you?


Recommended reading:

What Women Wish Pastors Knew, by Denise George.

In Church, Women Lead the Way by Gary Soulman.

Conquering Dandelions – Stress Management for Women in Ministry

Women Carrying Big Load at Church – Barna

Quitting Church – Why the Faithful are Fleeing – also  here – Julia Duin


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