Posts Tagged women

From her mouth to God’s ear? – Bill Leonard* – Baptistnewsglobal.com

From her mouth to God’s ear? Women’s voices, homiletical testosterone and radical redemption

 

First, the Bible: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:12-15, KJV).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV).

Then the question: Considering recent Baptist-related pontifications regarding “women in the pulpit,” one might ask: “Why should Christian women keep silent when in church?”

Answer: “Because if they speak, God might think they are preaching!”

“My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned.”

That revised standard question arises from certain dictums recently made public by the Reverend Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in response to an inquiry regarding women preachers during his “Ask Anything” podcast. In extended remarks on the subject, Mohler distinguishes between “egalitarian” approaches by which men and women share in the call to preach, and “complementarian” approaches that set divinely ordained “boundaries” regarding the role of men and women in home and church. He cites the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith and the evangelical-based Danvers Statement (1988) as advocating, indeed requiring, complementarian biblical interpretations.

The manifesto notes that:

  1. Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).
  2. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
    • In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
    • In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).

Mohler concludes: “If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving. I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.” In his view, 1 Timothy, chapter 2, means that since Mother Eve “was in the transgression” in the Garden, “biblical authority” for the church’s preaching office must be measured by homiletical testosterone, males only.

Mohler is therefore an unabashed complementarian who has every right to apply that specific biblical interpretation (hermeneutic) as he chooses. (Ironically, his assertion about declines in women-ordaining denominations came the week Southern Baptists acknowledged their own enduring statistical deteriorations in membership and baptisms, reflecting the loss of over a million members in the last decade.)

“God hears any voice that preaches Jesus.”

My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned, views Mohler might consider “hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts,” as the Danvers Statement calls them. Truth is, a variety of “hermeneutical oddities” have enlightened and divided the church from the beginning, dueling texts that demand decision of all of us.

My own homiletical egalitarianism rests with texts like Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus….” In those words, all curses die, even the one 1 Timothy lays on Mother Eve and her OB-GYN descendants. For if women are too cursed to be called, they may be too cursed to be redeemed. Paul applied that radical declaration to the first-century church, often in the face of similar arguments about keeping Gentiles from entering the church without their becoming part of “the circumcision,” a bio-theological assertion apparently expanded with Christ’s resurrection! (See Colossians 2:11.)

The last thing I want to do is reengage in theological disputes with Al Mohler, who, if memory serves, was a student in at least one of my church history courses at Southern Seminary during my professorial tenure there, 1975 – 1992. He and I have been there, done that. Instead, I’ll defer to Jarena Lee, (1783 – ca. 1864), one of the first recorded African American female preachers in United States history.

In her autobiography, The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of her Call to Preach the Gospel (1836), Lee asked:

O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? Seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as the man.

She continued:

Did not Mary [of Magdala] first preach the risen Saviour, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of Christianity – hangs not all our hope on this, as argued by St. Paul? Then did not Mary, a woman, preach the gospel? For she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son of God.

“It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.”

The spiritual descendants of Jarena Lee continue that homiletical tradition. On May 9, 2019, “Woman’s Day” at our Winston-Salem congregation, I heard Reverend Sherine Thomas-Spight preach on Luke 8:26-39, the story of the Gadarene demoniac whom Jesus healed. Citing the man’s demon-inspired query, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” Thomas-Spight declared:

You see, when Jesus shows up it makes some folks uncomfortable. You know, sisters, there are some folks who just don’t like you because you carry the presence of Jesus with you. It doesn’t matter what you do, what you wear, what you say, they will always take issue with you because you carry the power of Jesus with you and it makes people uncomfortable because the darkness doesn’t like the light. But I challenge you today to keep coming around anyway.

Sister Jarena preaches still!

Across the years, women in my family, in my classes and in the church have taught me this: Christ’s gospel isn’t measured by biology or hierarchy, but by radical redemption. Joel 2:28 said what Simon Peter echoed (Acts 2:17): “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons, and your daughters shall prophecy.”

God hears any voice that preaches Jesus. It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.

*Dr. Bill Leonard was one of the speakers at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

 

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Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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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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