“I am going to be a preacher,” she told me. “Wonderful,” I said. Of course, I knew that she was talking about her role in the upcoming youth Easter drama, but I was excited for her nonetheless. Then she asked, “Should I dress as a woman or a man?” I told her that she should dress as a woman and that she was going to be a great preacher. Yet, I was troubled by her question.
I was troubled because the question on her part represented an uncertainty as to whether or not a woman could be a preacher, so much so that she considered dressing as a man necessary to more accurately portray the role she had been given in the play. Her church ordains women as Deacons. There is no leadership position in her church from which women are excluded. From time to time, women fill the pulpit as guest preachers, though obviously not enough to give her a clear impression that she did not need to dress as a man in order to play a preacher in the Easter drama.
The uncertainty about women in pastoral roles, not just of a teen-aged girl but of the rest of us as well, demonstrates just how effective the cultural in which we live is undermining the teachings of a local church. The Bible we read gives us countless examples of women working for the Lord and leading young churches. Our scriptures are bold to say that “. . .in Christ, there is neither male nor female. . .,” and that in the last days God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh so that our “. . .sons and (y)our daughters shall prophesy.”
How then do we find ourselves, at times, uncertain and ambivalent about who God can call to do God’s work? Consider for a moment that women have been allowed to vote in our country for less than a hundred years. Generally speaking, the arguments against women voting sounded high-minded and moral. The Holy Scriptures were often invoked to undergird arguments against women voting. Of course, voting was not the only thing that women were not allowed to do. There were any number of professions and careers that were off limits to women simply because they were women. Preaching was high on the list of occupations unsuitable for women. Today, the list of careers that women cannot pursue is whittled down to one – preaching — and then only in certain pockets of the Christian faith. Of all the activities that society once deemed off limits to women, preaching remains.
Those opposed to women preaching unfailingly state their position with passages from the Bible that would seem to suggest that women should not have leadership roles in the church. I would grant that there are such passages of scripture, but there are also passages of scripture that would suggest just the opposite. So then, the question becomes not so much what the Bible says, but how do we read what the Bible says. Will we read it as people who long for the days when women were denied freedom and opportunity, or will we read it as a people who believe that the God who said God’s spirit would be poured out on all flesh is, in fact, doing that very thing even as we speak?
Today the pastor of Pingdu Christian Church in Pingdu, China is a woman. This church was started in 1885, when a tiny woman from Virginia ventured, on her own, 120 miles inland to share the Gospel in a city that had no Christian witness. That woman’s name was Lottie Moon. She was appointed as a missionary to China by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. No, she would not have been allowed to pastor a church in the United States at that time, but it was fine for her to go where no man was willing to and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, pastor Wang Xia, leads multiple congregations and meeting points, along with her pastoral associates, telling the same story that was told the residents of her city long ago by Miss Lottie Moon.
Baptists have had women preachers throughout our history. We have just not always appreciated them as such. Even today, as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prepares to reconstruct Miss Moon’s Pingdu house into an on-campus historical display, the living legacy of Miss Moon’s devotion to the cause of Christ is ignored and rejected by Southern Baptists. They have trademarked her name, but they have shackled her spirit. They are happy to use their fundamentalized version of Lottie Moon to raise money for their enterprise, even while they ignore and demean the gifts and callings of her spiritual descendants.
We honor the legacy of Lottie Moon, and others like her, when we help our children, our sons and our daughters, listen to whatever God is saying in their lives. We keep that legacy alive when in faith we, along with our children, say yes to God’s call in our lives.
No doubt Catherine B. Allen says it best in this months Baptists Today, “The stones in Fort Worth will cry out a message the seminary has officially rejected. Ye who have ears, listen to what the Spirit says!”