Preach Like a Girl – Susan Sparks – Madison Avenue Baptist Church

I knew I was called to be a preacher at six years old. While there were many signs, the clearest was my weekly Saturday night ritual of lining up an audience of stuffed animals so that I could do some preachin’ based on the Sunday School lesson for the next day. The animals seemed to love it.  My Southern Baptist Church home, however, did not.

It all came to a head one hot July day when our Vacation Bible School teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I flung up my hand and quickly announced that I was going to be a preacher. The teacher sighed, looked over her reading glasses, and curtly spit out the message that literally changed the trajectory of my life: “Susan, God only calls men to preach.”

What else can you do at six years old when you hear such words?

You change your dream.

So, I decided to become a lawyer (same job as a preacher, just different clients).

I spent ten years as a litigator, but the voice from that tiny preacher kept circling back and eventually became too strong to ignore. At age 38, I joined the American Baptist Church, a denomination that ordains women, and entered seminary.

Yet here in 2018, after ten years as a trial lawyer, two graduate degrees, an honors thesis in seminary and twelve years as the Senior Pastor of a historic Baptist congregation, I am still not allowed to preach in that Southern Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I grew up.

Why?

Because I’m a woman.

As a lawyer, I can’t help but scratch my head at the logic. The Southern Baptists have no problem with women on the U.S. Supreme Court. They are happy to send a woman into space as an astronaut. Heck, they would have put Sarah Palin in the White House (bless their hearts, as we would say in the South).

But a woman preacher—in a pulpit?

No. Way.

Their argument is that scripture excludes women from ordination and leadership. Of course, all those who interpret that scripture within the Southern Baptist Church are . . . men. So, how does that work?

Their position hangs on a literal interpretation of passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in which the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the women keep silent in church.” Of course, a literal interpretation of this passage would also mean that women may not sing or verbally praise God in worship. Anyone who has attended a Baptist service knows that is a manifest impossibility.

Paul makes a similar statement about the need for male authority and female silence in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Even if we set aside the historical context of this scripture (his words were directed at marital issues and not ministry), there is the larger problem of selective enforcement. This same passage forbids women to wear gold jewelry or pearls, but we don’t hear much about that section. I guess the Southern Baptists decided that would be too much to enforce on us bling-lovin’ Southern sisters.

We also don’t hear much about Romans 16:7 where Paul describes Andronicus and Junia (a woman) as “outstanding among the apostles.” (Not surprisingly, some later translations changed the female name “Junia” to the male “Junias.”)

If you want to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible, consider Acts 2:17-18: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”

As I used to say in my prior legal career, “I rest my case.”

In one of his most famous parables, Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who entrusted his three workers with certain talents (money). Two invested the talents, doubled their value, and were rewarded. The third worker was punished, because he buried the money and barely returned what was given.

The Southern Baptist Church is burying the divine gifts borne by over fifty percent of God’s children. It is wasting these talents.

We can no longer afford this unjust denial of vocation.

We can no longer afford to stifle God’s call.

Given the broken nature of our world today, I say we need all the help we can get—Supreme Court Justices, jet pilots, preachers, and all.

Postscript: This week, thanks to multiple revelations of abuse, including sexual misconduct conduct, by leaders of the Southern Baptist Church, the denomination is meeting to discuss a resolution acknowledging that, throughout the church’s history, male leaders and members of the church “wronged women, abused women, silenced women, objectified women.” While acknowledgement of this horrendous conduct is long overdue, shockingly, there is no inclusion in this resolution for the women who are “wronged and silenced” by being forbidden ordination, leadership, and/or the right to preach. This column is dedicated to them.

— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and ordained minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. To find out more, visit her website, www.SusanSparks.com

 

 

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Complementarianism: A Separate-But-Equal Knockoff – ethicsdaily.com

A

n article I read recently extoling the virtues of complementarianism nagged at me. It would not let me rest.

Complementarianism is a religious construct that deals with the roles of gender. The message is evil at its center.

“The SBC has affirmed complementarianism – the belief that the Bible reveals that men and women are equally made in God’s image, but that men and women were also created to be complements to each other, men and women bearing distinct and different roles,” Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated in a recent column. “This means obeying the Bible’s very clear teachings on male leadership in the home and in the church.”

To me, it is nothing more than the old argument of “separate but equal” applied to gender roles and dressed in a type of theological clothing. This is the same argument earlier generations used to justify segregation of the races.

The whole idea is to downgrade the role of women and to promote the superiority of men. Proponents dress it up and clothe it in statements of love. In most cases, this is window dressing.

For many, it is the excuse they need to keep women in their place.

We have been through this before: “Blacks are fine as long as they stay in their place.” It stank then and it stinks now. Separate but equal was never equal, and no one pretended that it was.

The black schools in the town of my youth got hand-me-down textbooks, hand-me-down desks and chairs and rundown buildings.

We took our money to church for missionaries to win the lost in Africa, but the black children two blocks away could not come to church with us.

Under complementarianism, in many churches women can’t teach men because that is not their God-prescribed role.

The inconsistency of the position is seen in the fact that female teachers teach male students in public and private schools, including religious ones, every day.

The goal is to keep women in lower paying jobs and deny them authority. The males who promote this travesty are in control and have no intention of relinquishing any of their control.

“The same Bible that reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church also reveals God’s steadfast and unyielding concern for the abused, the threatened, the suffering and the fearful,” Mohler stated. “There is no excuse whatsoever for abuse of any form, verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual.”

And yet, the nation is finally seeing some of the harmful results of this philosophy, which plays into the hands of those who abuse women around the world: “The church says that you are to obey me.”

Jesus set the example for another and better way. He made it very clear that there is no artificial ranking of male and female roles in his kingdom. “Mary, go and tell my disciples.”

Paul emphasized this in Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Growing up Southern Baptist, my experience with women pastors is limited, but I have been blessed by hearing some of the best: Linda McKinnish Bridges, Amy Butler, Molly Marshall, Joan Brown Campbell, Cynthia Campbell, Julie Pennington-Russell, Susan Sparks and Martha Brown Taylor, to name only a few.

Not only have I been blessed by hearing these women, I have gained so much insight from them.

I regularly listen to and read Sparks, pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

She places God in the center of our every action and has a sense of humor and such an awareness of God’s presence in the ordinary that you are compelled to listen and take notice.

McKinnish Bridges, president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Virginia, preached her sermon, “Grace upon Grace,” 27 years ago. Yet it is as fresh today as it was the first day I heard it because it expresses God’s work in my life.

Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas, awakened my interest in the influence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

Cynthia Campbell, president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, preached the most inspirational sermon on the resurrection I have ever heard.

God’s love for all of humanity oozes from every word from the sermons of Joan Brown Campbell, an ordained Disciples of Christ and American Baptist Church minister who was the first woman to lead the National Council of Churches.

How can you say that God rejects the work of these ambassadors of hope because they dare preach to men?

I have experienced outstanding female Bible teachers in my years in the church. You want me to disregard the teachings of these gifted women because I am a male and should not have been listening to them?

Should I have not have listened to my mother when she spoke of God’s love for me? Should I have not listened to my wife when she assured me that God would watch over me and our children?

All of these women were gifted by God with talents far greater than the ones given to me. I think God brought me into contact with them because they had been given a message I was intended to hear.

I ask myself, “Where would I be in my spiritual journey if these women were not a part of my life?”

Complementarianism belongs on the ash heap of history along with separate but equal.

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They believed in complementarian theology- Peggy Wehmeyer –

Baptistnewsglobal.com

First came sexual harassment scandals in powerful evangelical pulpits. Then the movement’s best-known female Bible teacher, Beth Moore, charged church leaders across the country with widespread misogyny. And now the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has been fired for religious chauvinism that pressed abused women to stay with their husbands and a rape victim to forgive and drop charges against her perpetrator.

“The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance,” warned one powerful church leader, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler. He added that the story’s not over.

I should have seen it coming. I’m one of millions of American women who converted to evangelical Christianity because of its life-changing promise of hope and healing. The problem is that some of the men in leadership have used the Bible to mask a patriarchal misogyny. That’s what’s driving today’s #MeToo church movement. A whole host of leaders, like fired seminary president Paige Patterson, have silenced and marginalized the voices of women for decades. And that leaves my faith family morally compromised.

I had wanted to dedicate my life to full-time ministry since becoming a Christian in college. The Jesus I met at the University of Texas was a revolutionary who inspired his followers to usher in the kingdom of God, fight for justice and give up your life to save it — whether or not you were a woman.

I thought I could learn how to do that at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). The people closest to me didn’t understand. The dean of my journalism school shook his head in bewilderment, my sorority sisters whispered, “She’s joining a convent,” and my parents, who unsuccessfully hired a psychiatrist to have me “deprogrammed,” cut me off financially.

I reached Dallas in my tattered Toyota station wagon, broke, alone but unafraid. Each morning when I woke up in this new place, I knelt in the dark, closed my eyes and cranked up Handel’s Messiah, singing along, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

At 21, all I knew about DTS was that it produced great Bible teachers and had a job opening for a writer. I grabbed it. Too broke to enroll, I slipped into any class I could audit, attended chapel whenever I could, and begged for audiences with theologians whose teaching I devoured.

When at last I earned enough money  to enroll as a student, I discovered something troubling: The master of theology program, the one that prepared students for leadership in the church, was off-limits to women. That came home to me one day after a New Testament class. A few men approached me outside the room.

“You don’t plan to preach to a mixed audience, do you?” they asked.

My answer: “I just want to study the Bible,” I said. “I don’t know how I’ll use it yet.”

I learned at seminary that many biblical texts could only be understood in the context of ancient Hebrew culture, and that made sense to me. What confused me was that the harsh passages prohibiting women from leadership — in church and at home — were the ones taken literally.

The limitations of my future in a church led by men should have become apparent early on. My female hero of the faith, Elisabeth Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, had been invited to campus. When she rose to the chapel pulpit to speak to the students, almost all male, a group of them walked out in protest. Preaching to men presumably gave her authority over them, and that was forbidden.

Did I challenge the system? Hardly. As a young Christian, I accepted the teachings of seasoned theologians. I agreed that the Bible was inspired by God and that its truths transcend culture. What I struggled to understand was which Bible passages were to be taken literally. After all, no one was suggesting we should have slaves and make them obey their masters, a command listed in the same place where women are told to submit to their husbands. What if the seminary leaders had it wrong? What if Jesus and his apostles actually elevatedwomen who were treated deplorably in their day?

When I asked about the heroic women of the Bible, like the prophet Deborah, who led her people into battle, or Queen Esther, who stood up to a king and saved the Jews, I was told that God used women to lead only when men failed to step up to the plate. We were God’s backup plan for weak-willed men. And to quote Paige Patterson, our role in church and at home was “to be submissive in every way.”

Almost all of the seminary students and professors treated me with respect and kindness, so I didn’t resent the limits placed on my role as a woman. I trusted the intentions of church leaders. They believed in complementarian theology, which gave men primary leadership in the church and home.

That affected the shape of my life. By my fourth year at DTS, I was doubting my own instincts about what career path to take. My only brush with leadership in the church came when two outlying professors offered to train me, on the condition that our meetings stayed under wraps. After hours, I slipped into their offices to learn how to interpret Scripture, outline a sermon, and deliver it with flair. Larry Moyers and Mike Cocoris were traveling evangelists. When they took me on a preaching circuit to East Texas, only they could teach in the sanctuaries. My sermons were restricted to women who met on the peripheries of the church.

At seminary, I felt like a racehorse lunging at the starting gate, waiting for the bell to sound, with no track ahead of me. And then I stumbled into wide open space: a job opening at a local TV station, where career restrictions had everything to do with skill and nothing to do with gender.

Before I could take the job and clear my seminary desk, a prominent professor called me to his office. I remember standing with him outside the pastoral ministries department when he asked me the ultimate question for a follower of Jesus: “What is God’s will for your life?”

By now I knew the answer he wanted. “To get married and have children,” I said. “But God hasn’t led me to marry yet. Until he does, I’m going to go out and make a difference in the world.”

What he said next felt like a curse, and it would haunt me for years. “Peggy, if you leave Christian work for a career in the secular media, two things will happen: You’ll lose your faith, and it’s unlikely any Christian man will want to marry you.”

I was speechless. To lose my faith was to lose my life compass. To miss marriage and children would be to miss God’s highest calling for a woman.

I took the risk and I left seminary to be a copywriter for WFAA-TV in Dallas. Within a year I was named the first television religion reporter in the nation. I covered the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco and the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. We tracked the rise of the Mormon church in Texas and reported on all the major Southern Baptist Conventions, including the ones where the embattled Patterson led the conservative takeover of the denomination. I interviewed Patterson countless times in the ’80s and ’90s.

Like many women my age, I managed all of it while married and raising two children, but it wasn’t my church that supported me in the herculean task of juggling family and work.

For support later in my career, I pulled together my own small community of women from both coasts. We met each week for a decade by speakerphone, talking and praying about everything from how to integrate our faith at work, to raising our children, to discerning the will of God.

Rarely did I seek out my pastor for counsel, but once, during a rough patch in my marriage, I did. He urged me to follow the Bible verse that tells women to be “like Sarah, who obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her lord.”

So why did I remain an evangelical? This community had introduced me to Jesus and helped me build a relationship with a personal, loving God whom I could trust.

I held onto my faith and my evangelical family even as my secular career ramped up. When the call came from New York, my 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, was click-clacking her Big-Wheel across our kitchen’s hardwood floors. The voice on the other end sounded uncannily like that of my broadcasting hero.

“Hello, Ms. Wehmeyer? This is Peter Jennings at ABC News, and I have two questions for you,” he said. “Is it true that you cover religion? And are you willing to make a major life change?”

“Yes. And maybe,” I answered.

Months later, Jennings and ABC received a rush of publicity for hiring me as the first religion correspondent in the history of network news.

Soon Christian leaders wanted me on the covers of their magazines and speaking in their college chapels. But I was careful about when and where I spoke personally about my own faith. For me, the highest calling of a journalist was to separate my personal bias from the stories I covered. It was because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I could distance my personal beliefs from my reporting.

But Christian colleges were having a serious problem. More than half their student bodies were made up of women, and this generation of evangelical women wanted futures that included robust professional careers. Who would mentor and lead them? Wheaton College, the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” pressed me to be that person. The school chaplain called to tell me the president of the college was proud of my work and struggling to find female role models for their students. Wouldn’t I please reconsider their request to speak in chapel?

“Who’s your president?” I asked.

It was the same theologian, who 20 years earlier, as a professor at DTS, had told me to throttle back and find a husband.

I agreed to speak in the Wheaton chapel, only after I was no longer reporting on religion. I stepped into the pulpit where Billy Graham and countless high-profile male ministers had preached and looked out at a sea of young female faces. I purposely singled out the Wheaton women:

Young women: Hear me now.

Trust your own deepest convictions and let no one else overwhelm the quiet pull of God on your life. You’re the one who will come home every day to your choices.

And do not limit what God wants to do with your life. Why would you narrow his plan to include only marriage and family? These are high callings, but for both men and women.

The student body responded with a standing ovation, but the president promptly accused me of fueling a feminist fire. The discussion it roused on campus led one Wheaton student to call me several years later.

Like me, this young woman had committed her life to following Jesus. It had led her to the South Side of Chicago, to four years in some of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods with Teach for America. Now she was frustrated because her time in the classroom had taught her that education held only part of the answer for children and families whose lives were riddled with poverty, violence and drugs. She wanted to tackle spiritual poverty too.

“The church is the best place to address both the economic and spiritual vacuum in people’s lives,” she told me. “I want to study theology and become a minister so I’m better equipped to help people who struggle.”

If this had been just any young evangelical woman, I might have counseled her, “Go for it, but it’s going to be tough.”

But the words came from my own daughter, Hannah, the one who was in kindergarten the day Peter Jennings called. The one whose crib I had knelt at in the dark, asking God to give her strength for whatever challenges she would face as a woman.

“Hannah!” I said, “What are you thinking? Women can’t be leaders in the church. You’ll be beating your head against the wall.”

Painful memories — many stories I had never told Hannah — rushed to the surface. I tried every way I could to shut down my daughter’s dream, but she wouldn’t have it.

“You got to be a pioneer in television, Mom. Why can’t I be one in the church?” she argued. “You’re the only one discouraging me from taking this path. My own mother!”

I’ve heard it said that dreams and visions blocked in one generation can surface in the next. I had spoken harsh words to spare my daughter from the pain I knew by heart. What I failed to account for were the changes she already was a part of.

In recent years, a few evangelical seminaries have reconsidered their interpretation of Scripture on women. Now some of them allow for women’s ordination. A groundswell of leading evangelical churches, where women now serve as pastors and elders, reflect that shift. The theology on women’s roles at places like DTS hasn’t changed, but more than four times the number of women are enrolled there than when I was a student.

Last year, I was worshipping at the church I now attend in Dallas, where former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are members. As worshippers walked to the altar to receive communion, I watched the Bushes kneel at the rail. A young minister in robes approached the table with a chalice of wine and bread in her hand.

The same world leader I’d once peppered with tough questions about faith was now being led in his faith by my daughter, Hannah.

This fall, the story comes full circle. Hannah will begin seminary, one that prepares women for every facet of ministry. She’ll learn, as I did, that Jesus was a revolutionary, not just in the ways he taught us to love but in the ways he liberated and dignified women in a culture that treated them like second-class citizens. While Hannah works and studies, I’ll help care for her 1-year-old daughter, Eliza, a name that translated from the Hebrew means “God is faithful.”

Peggy Wehmeyer is a writer in Dallas and a former news correspondent for WFAA and ABC News. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. 

 

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Honest Questions to Ask About Some Christians’ Vitriol – Nick Lear

June 4, 2018
Section: EthicsDaily.com’s Latest Articles
My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior, Lear writes.

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said, and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behavior based on what I read in my Bible.

Now, I realize that in writing this column I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgments about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do.

So, I am writing this in the form of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians; the rest of you can relax.

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else, and if I am being honest, I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers. As always, I am not suggesting that I live a fully sorted life as a follower of Jesus, but I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree?

Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus is by the way that we love one another?

How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow believers and some behavior between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate?

And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?

Where does it say that it’s OK to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as “unbiblical,” which presumably means the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely “biblical” and there’s no chance they could be wrong?

Wasn’t Jesus regarded as “unbiblical” in his day?

Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong, and we are right?

Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict?

Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine, didn’t he?

Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologize to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness?

Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realize this is rather an incendiary post, and it really isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular.

My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.

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