How do Women Preachers Dress?

“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!”

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20 thoughts on “How do Women Preachers Dress?

  1. As usual Ed you have written something well worth reading. My prayer is that my grandchildren will be as removed from this issue as I am from the Women’s Suffrage Movement. No longer struggling but heirs. No longer being questioned but accepted. I am eternally grateful for those who came before me both men and women who paved the road I now journey. I am also grateful to my peers who speak out for those whose voice is still not heard. Thank you Ed!

  2. Ed,
    My papaw called me in here to see a post you had written (he thought it was about me). It is so funny how you took our conversation last night into this blog! I knew women could be preachers, but I thought I could also get some laughs as a man ha ha. I still think it’s great how you made that a blog!! Thanks for thinking of me!

    Morgan Ray

  3. Brother Ed,

    Very well written and very well said. This was an ‘issue’ I had to face as a young adult – I had grown up with that ‘historical southern baptist’ teaching… while living in Richmond one of our friends was ordained as a pastor – I had to study and consider, but know it was God putting an opportunity for understanding in front of me.

    This POV needs to be stated more often, more loudly, and by more people…. And at the same time, I realize it took some guts to say this out loud – thanks for having guts.

    I had hoped to join ya’ll in Kentucky – but am not going to be able to make the trip. My spirit is with you – and my prayers follow you.

    Love ya Brother!
    Tim

    • Tim,

      Great to hear from you. I was so looking forward to your being with us on the mission trip to Ky. You will be missed. Maybe we could talk about do a 2-3 day trip this summer. let’s talk.

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Ed

  4. Ed – I wept as I read your blog. Oh, that young women everywhere will know that in Christ there is “no male or female” and that we all have the ability to be called by God into whatever vocation we choose.
    I remember being told “once upon a time” that I was mistake regarding my calling, because God doesn’t call women into ministry. What a horrible thing to tell a young 19 year-old girl who was anxious to use the gifts and talents God has bestowed her with for His glory and honor.
    As someone said earlier, I pray that this message will be played LOUD and OFTEN, so that the historical message will be replaced with the Biblical message that all God’s children can be His servants and ministers!

    • Tina, We are so blessed to have you with us at Ball Camp. Your commitment, maturity and willingness to share your gifts with the people of God add to the richness of our fellowship. I do not know if what you do in the church now is what you imagined yourself doing as a nineteen year-old, but I do know that when I see you doing what you do, I see a God-called woman doing it. Thank you!

  5. Congrats on a stellary written blog.
    I plan to kudo you and link it at Bl.com and take it to the “enemy” (insert smilie emoticon) at SBC Voices.
    Not to diminish the grand march of women at all but an honest question.
    What do you do when a male pastor who is main bread winner is before a pulpit committee alongside a female candidate whose married income takes care of her family substantially.
    Struggling male in circumstances that places him in circumstances with the hopes of a female seeking career fulfillment.
    How do you approach such a solomonic fix; or is it so rare as to warrant consideration.

    Do hope you can wade into the tomconoboy Suttree as a BArefoot Jesus blog to dig deeper into the mystery of Knoxville, Tn. Would love to see you blog on that.

    Again, very well done here. Whatever Paige says, I think Lottie and Toy both would be proud.
    Tell your bright young women there at Ball Camp, that whatever else is said about Toy and Lottie; when he first took notice of her at what was to become the U of Virginia, he said she had the greatest command of the English language of any female he had encountered to date.
    Get them to imagine Lottie in conversation with Pulitzer’s Marilynne Robinson; a rich vein indeed to explore. Google great thought on Robinson and original sin at One eternal day blog.

  6. Ed Sunday-Winters
    Stephen asked me to check out your post, so you can blame him :-). I think your post is very well written; I just disagree.

    Lottie Moon was a great missionary and occasionally spoke when men were present. That is no way means she was, or would be, for women pastors. There is a big difference between women pastors and women preachers. There are multitudes of Southern Baptist women that speak / teach / preach to men who would be against a woman serving as pastor.

    I find it strange that some say SBC conservatives would today be against Lottie Moon. She has been one of my heroes for many years. As you point out, Dr. Paige Patterson of SWBTS is obviously proud of her (see bpnews.net 12-22-2009). I see nothing in Lottie Moon’s life and ministry that would hinder her from serving today as an SBC missionary with the International Mission Board. It should be remembered that Southern Baptists were generally much more against women speaking to men in church back in Lottie Moon’s day, than they are today. In that sense, if she were accepted back then, she would easily be accepted today.

    Well, I know we will disagree on the issue of women pastors (not necessarily women preachers / teachers). Hope you have a great day and thanks for letting me have my say.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • David,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The words we use to describe the activities of those seeking to serve the Lord will always be open to evaluation and nuance. What do you call a person who tells the gospel story, lives that story alongside a group of people, prays with them and for them, nurtures their faith in such away that they pass it on to their descendants who still adhere to it generations later? Is that not what a good pastor aspires to do?

      Stop by anytime and God’s blessings upon you.

  7. “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.” (I Timothy 2:12, 13)

    Paul’s words are very clear, but as you said, “the cultural in which we live is undermining the teachings of a local church.” Our culture would love to make this an issue of women vs. men. Our culture says that it isn’t fair that women aren’t allowed to pastor churches. Our culture sees nothing wrong with women being the spiritual leaders in the home. But way back in the garden, God created the man first. It was God’s desire that in the home there would be a leader and a helper. He could have created them at the same time, giving us two leaders. He could have created the woman first, making the woman the leader (though technically she would still be called a man). But he didn’t do that. He created Adam first to serve as our example of how the home and the church should operate. We aren’t to take that to mean that women are inferior, but for unity to exist there must always be a defined leader. I suppose we could roll dice to see who should lead, but God made that decision long ago before any of us were born as male or female. To place women in the role of the spiritual leader of the man is to confuse God’s plan and deny his sovereignty.

    • Timothy,

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your feedback.

      Two things about culture. The culture in which we live increasingly does not care who pastors our churches because they are indifferent to our petty arguments over gender roles. Second, the culture that the church clings to is not the one of the gospels nor is the contemporary one in which we live, it is the culture of middle ages, Victorian times and of America prior to Women voting and Rosy the Riveter. That culture will always clash with Scripture.

      Here is the thing, the first Easter sermon is proclaim, taught, whatever you want to call it by a woman. If God did not want women preaching and teaching men, then why did God not put the most important message in the history of the church into the mouth of a man?

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