Posts Tagged woman

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.


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,



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International Woman’s Day

Today is International Woman’s Day. As far as I am concerned every day is Woman’s Day. My mother worked long hard hours in a cotton mill and then came home and took care of her family. She and my dad did everything together. In later years she had her own lawn mower. His was gas operated. Hers was electric. My maternal grandmother worked as dis most of my aunts. My sister has worked outside the home from as soon as she could and for as long as she could. She helped raise three wonderful sons. Mt late wife taught kindergarten, art classes, and painted. Carol, my current wife, taught in South Carolina Schools for twenty-eight years.

My daughter, Suzanne, has worked in the hotel industry since late high school. She got her degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management and has never looked back. She raised a terrific son. My granddaughter , Christina, teaches in child care after graduating from the College of Charleston. Her other grandmother also had a distinguished teaching career.

As an administrator I had many wonderful female employees who were paid on the same level as their male counterparts. It has been my great joy to work with many brilliant, talented, dedicated, hardworking women.

In religious circles, there are brilliant examples of women who lead the way: Dr. Molly Marshall, Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, and Dr. Linda Bridges to name only a few. My own congregation could not function without Lori Lethco, Emory Hiott, Beverly Bradley, Pat Ezell, Jane Hamrick, Ann Cheek, Susanne Jeter, Linda Lentz, Brandy Brown, Donna Parrish, Debbie Mack, Sue Murner and a host of others.

I have learned the hard way all of the things that my two wives, daughter and sister have done for me that I took for granted. No matter how hard I work, I can never repay their efforts great and small on my behalf. All I can do now is work for and vote for justice for all women everywhere..

*The picture is of my parents taken by my son, Michael.

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Will Gender Equality Prevail? – Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall*- Triniterian Soundings

Will Gender Equality Prevail?

Many of us are still sleep-deprived after two weeks of political conventions.  Part pageantry, part spectacle, and part the inevitable chaos of democracy, these quadrennial gatherings summon our collective hopes and fears and urge us to take the long view.  The tensions of nationalism and globalism were on display, and we must not shrink from this sobering epoch.

Not surprising, it was deeply moving to me, along with many others, to witness the nomination of the first woman candidate for president.  Pent-up aspirations flooded the arena as well as those get-togethers assembled for the purpose of celebrating this historic moment.  Old women cast votes for their states and young women made speeches.  The optics were grand, but will gender equality prevail?

Gaining the vote in 1920, women can now vote for a woman.  Men can too, if they choose.  Secretary Clinton is not the first to run, and she stands on the shoulders of women like Belva Lockwood and the audacious Shirley Chisholm.  She ought to be on a stamp or something; preserving her legacy matters.



Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm – In 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. (Wikipedia)


It has been a part of my life’s work to advocate for the God-given liberty of women to pursue any calling God sets before them.  Over these past nearly four decades in theological education, I have seen cracks in the stained-glass ceiling; however, the church has lost many good pastors because of stubborn resistance to the leadership of women.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argued for the big upside of shattered ceilings.  In other words, when women claim their rightful place, men will benefit as well.  I quote from his column:

So to those men who worry about being hurt by the shards from one more shattered glass ceiling, I’d say: Not only is this inevitable, not only is it a matter of fairness, but the evidence is also overwhelming that when women gain power and a seat at the table, we men benefit as well.  So let’s relax and join the celebration.

Thankfully, Baptists and other faith traditions are witnessing a new generation of competent female congregational leaders.  Bursting with imagination and new expressions of leadership, these pastors are bringing renewal to congregations and embodying an inclusive vision that attracts younger adults.  It also attracts some of us feisty older adults, too.

Gender equality is at the center of the Gospel, as Jesus so remarkably demonstrates.  Even the Apostle Paul offers a vision of “all being one in Christ Jesus.”  Dismantling patriarchal structures continues to be a key issue of justice.  I invite you to continue this important work.

*Dr. Marshall was a favorite speaker at the John A. Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston. This article is used with her permission. Dr. Marshall is President of Central Baptist /Seminary.


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“An Invitation to Becoming – Guest Post

“An Invitation to Becoming”  by Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson, Senior Pastor, Flat Rock Baptist Church, Mt. Airy, NC

There is nothing more difficult than realizing that you have been called to do something, or perhaps be something, that will most likely bring the disapproval of others.  As a young girl I loved visiting the community pool and playing with my friends, though I did prefer one game that might have seemed a bit unusual to other children.  While some kids played games of tag and water basketball in the deep end of the pool, I could be found in the shallow end.  You see, that was the only place where my feet would touch the bottom and allow me to stand up straight as I baptized each one of my friends.  Yes, I was the girl who spoke aloud the words she had heard her pastor speak so many times before, “I baptize you now in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in a new kind of life”.  I have to admit that my “candidates” were not always cooperative, or even willing, but I was preparing for what I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life.  I was certain that God had called me into ministry, though I did not yet have the language of pastor and preacher.  I only knew that I was meant to help people, love and care for them, and share the story of Jesus as it had been shared with me.  It was simple……but not for long. 

I have recently seen my calling come into full fruition, as I was called as Pastor of a small church in Mount Airy, NC (yes, the real Mayberry).  The road to Flat Rock Baptist Church was filled with great success and affirmation, as well as pain and rejection, as I struggled alongside sisters in the ministry to find my voice and place of service.  I was called every name in the book, and assured time and again that I must certainly be “misinterpreting God’s call”, so when I found myself standing in front of a congregation and with tears in my eyes accepting their invitation to serve them as their pastor, I once again felt the way I did in that swimming pool.  The spirit of God poured out on a daughter, knees shaking at the task before me, yet overwhelmed with joy at the thought that I was receiving an invitation….an invitation to become.  

Sadly, there are those that would seek to drown out the voice of the Holy beckoning to me, and replace it with the sounds of hate and oppression.  My church, for being willing to call a person and not a gender, was quickly ousted from the local Baptist association.  Signs proclaiming, “Women cannot be pastors, according to God’s Law”, went up at in town churches, while other pastors decided to preach sermons railing against my presence as a “devil sent distraction” meant only to destroy “biblical purity”.  With all this static, how could anyone expect to hear, much less interpret, the voice of God?  

Luckily for me, the voice of the God who calls came through loud and clear in the form of church members who proudly proclaimed me as a beloved friend and pastor, as well as countless e-mails and phone calls from clergy and laity around the world expressing support and affirmation.  Our church is not just surviving, it is thriving, and as for me…..well, I remain confident in the knowledge that I am called, and by the grace of God, still becoming.



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