Thank You, First Baptist Church of Jefferson City.

Today the messengers to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention voted to not seat the messengers sent to the meeting by the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee. The overwhelming majority of TBC messengers voted to not seat the messengers from Jefferson City because their church recently called a woman to serve as their pastor.  My personal interest is that I could very well still be opposed to the idea of women pastors if it had not been for the life and witness of a Tennessee Baptist Convention employee.

I enrolled at Roane State Community College for my sophomore year of College. My dad had passed away that summer and staying close to home seemed like a good idea. Before classes started, I had already been introduced to Windie Wilson. She was the BSU Director at the Baptist Student Union at Roane State, a ministry of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. My home church, First Baptist Church of Rockwood, was without a pastor during this time. Somewhere between December and May of that academic year, I realized that the way I thought and felt about women being ministers had changed. I never had any sense that changing my views on women in ministry was Windie’s intention. She was just doing what God had given her to do in that season of her life. She was leading the BSU, doing Bible studies, organizing events, planning mission trips, listening to and loving students. By the time we were packing our bags to head out to our various summer mission assignments, I realized that what Windie had been doing was being my pastor.  Looking back, I am really glad my mind was changed. If it had not been, I might never have married Reverend Patti Sunday-Winters.

Today, I give thanks for all the Tennessee Baptists who had a hand shaping and enriching my journey. At the same time, I pray for the day when all Tennessee Baptists come to understand that God really does mean for our “. . .sons and daughters to prophesy,” and that there really is “. . .no longer male or female: for all of (us) are one in Christ Jesus.” In the meantime, I celebrate the life and witness of First Baptist Church of Jefferson City. The Kingdom of God and all of God’s creation will be better when more of us know what you know. Yes, God does call women to preach and lead churches. Yes, women can tell the story of Jesus in a way that is edifying and formative for those seeking to follow Christ. Yes, women have a voice that ought to be heard, believed and followed. First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, for having the courage and the wisdom to demonstrate the depth, the height and breadth of God’s love, thank you.


How do Women Preachers Dress? part 2

I was wrong last week.  When the young woman who is playing the role of the preacher in our youth Easter drama asked the question as to whether she should dress like a man or woman for her part, I just assumed that she was raising a theological question.  She was not.  Her concerns were theatrical, not theological.  She was looking for comedic impact, not ecclesiastical permission.  There was no question in her mind as to whether or not women could preach. She had seen them do it.

I am grateful that there are Baptist churches where boys and girls can grow up to be women and men who understand that God does gift and call women to be preachers.  What troubles me is that God seems to call so many Baptist young women to be pastors in Methodists, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ churches. When I meet a woman who is pastoring a church in one of those denominations, there seems to be at least a one-in-ten chance that she used to be Baptist. The ratio may not be accurate, but nonetheless there are a good number of women who have had to seek places of service outside of Baptist life in order to fulfill their callings.

What that means is that our practice has not yet caught up with our beliefs.  Yes, God does gift women; and yes, God does call women. Yet, in the context of our particular locality there are pragmatic issues that must be considered.  Will she be accepted by the church, by the community, by her peers?  What impact will calling a woman pastor have on the life of the church?  Since most Baptist churches have not called a woman to be their pastor, these kinds of questions are answered with speculation and uncertainty.  Faith is the crucial element if more Baptist young women are going to serve the Lord in the spiritual tradition that birthed them.  To call a woman to be the pastor, a Baptist church has to have enough faith to believe that God will make it work.

When I look at the children and youth growing up in our church, male and female, my first thought, my first hope for each of them is that they grow up to live lives wholly and completely yielded to God.  My hopes for each of them is that in their growing up years, as they experience the presence of Christ in their lives and consider the abilities and interests that God has given to them, that they would always consider first how they can best use those abilities and interests in serving the cause of Christ.  What I pray for is that whatever any one of our girls or boys, young men or young women, concludes is the best way that he or she can serve the cause of Christ, that none of them would have to stop being Baptist in order to be their best for Jesus.

No Ears to Hear a Preaching Woman

The Georgia Baptist Convention has officially severed ties with the First Baptist Church of Decatur. Why? They have a female Senior Pastor.

A hundred years from now, someone will look back at our time and be shocked at the way Southern Baptist discriminated against women. My belief in God is such that I would not be half surprised if that person looking back happened to be a Southern Baptist. I believe such a scenario is possible because the Holy Spirit is at work in the world announcing the reign of God. In the Kingdom of God, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.  Justice will prevail, eventually.

But not today, today we are reminded that fear still binds the hearts and minds of those that God would set free. Yet freedom is a risky endeavor. Sometimes the chains of prejudice and the shackles of culturally-bond misreadings of scripture are preferable to the freedom God intends for those who follow Christ.  Even still, God will keep calling little girls and little boys to proclaim the good news of God’s grace whether we listen or not.

Stormy Weather, Dry Ground and Preaching Women

The headline in Tuesday’s News-Sentinel stated that we needed the rain, but that it might be too much, too fast.  Monday’s rain was the first we had seen in 25 days, according to the paper.  It was brought to us courtesy of Tropical Storm Fay, a storm that left 11 people dead in Florida.  A storm that had brought death and destruction a few days ago in Florida, now fell gently on dry and dusty hills in East Tennessee.  What we desperately needed, they would have surely done without.  Seems odd in a way — someone else’s storm becoming our gift. 


We passed the 80 year mark on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.  In the years leading up to the passage of this amendment, quite a storm was created by the very idea of allowing women to vote.  At the time, they were thought to be too frail to endure the rigors of going to the polls.  Mark Twain may have gotten more to the point in his 1867 letter to a St. Louis newspaper. 


“Women, go your ways!  Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges.  Content yourself with your little feminine trifles —  your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting — and let your natural bosses do the voting.  Stand back — you will be wanting to go to war next.  We will let you teach us as much school as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware!  We don’t want you to crowd us too much.” 


Not much changed for women as a result of the passage of the 19th Amendment.  They could vote.  So what.  The passage of the amendment took from them the cause that had served as their rallying cry.  Not until Rosie the Riveter made her way into the factories would women be appreciated for their abilities beyond the domestic sphere.  Rosie, and perhaps even the ladies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, caused at least some people to see women in a different light.  Perhaps most importantly, some women saw themselves in a different way as a result of the opportunities that necessity had brought their way. 


I wonder if any of those women who marched so long ago for women’s suffrage ever dreamed of a day when over 18 million of their fellow citizens would vote for a woman in a presidential primary?  One might think that women have finally arrived.  That would be a mistake.  There are a number of indicators that say women still have a ways to go: 


* Real annual earnings for women have fallen the last four years. 

* Progress continues to slow in narrowing the wage gap between men and women.

* A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year made it even more difficult for women to gain pay discrimination relief in the courts. 

* Congress recently cut child support enforcement by 20 percent.  Women and their children will pay for that cost-cutting measure. 

* Of course, this list could be much longer. 


No, justice is still denied women in all sorts of ways in our country and in our world.  We in the church are in many ways the chief culprits in denying opportunities to women.  There was a big buzz in Texas last weekend because the Irving Bible Church decided to let a woman preach.  The church’s elders spent 18 months studying the issue that resulted in a 24-page position paper and invitation to Ms. Jackie Reese to fill the pulpit on Sunday morning. 


A woman in the pulpit of a Bible church is no small thing.  Churches with Bible in their name tend to be conservative both theologically and socially.  Irving Bible Church is to be commended for listening to the Scriptures and acting on what they heard. 


Unfortunately, they are the exception, rather than the rule.  How many times has someone, opposed the idea of a woman preaching, defended his or her opposition simply by saying the Bible is against it?  The truth of the matter is that one of, if not the most important sermon in scriptures, was delivered by a woman.  Mary Magdalene, following Jesus’ instructions no less, proclaimed the good news of the resurrection with the words, “I have seen the Lord,” in John’s Gospel.  The most important event in the history of the church is proclaimed by a woman.  Without the resurrection, there is no church, there are no preachers, there are no sermons.  In one way or the other, every Christian sermon preached since then has been indebted to Mary’s simple proclamation, “I have seen the Lord.” 


That a woman preaching in a pulpit in Texas is a newsworthy matter for the Dallas papers, serves to indicate how much the church has allowed cultural stereotypes and societal norms to determine how we read and understand Scripture.  All too often we go to Scripture with our preconceived notions and, not surprisingly, we find support for our ideas.  This is not letting the Bible guide the way we live our lives.  It is our opinions of how life ought to be that guide our reading of the Bible. 


Ironically, I know of few people who have not had a woman teach them something about the Bible that they did not already know.  In the same way, I do not know many folks who have not heard a word spoken by a woman that did not add to their wisdom or did not give them encouragement for living.  God has used women in all of our lives to speak God’s truth and to show us God’s love. 


So what will come of this rain falling now as the storms of bygone days are finally spent?  Will it fall too fast and quickly run off, unable to penetrate the drought hardened ground?  Even now, at this late hour, will it be too much too fast?  Or will the thirsty ground soak up what it has been without for too long? 


Will we recognize that God has poured out God’s spirit upon all flesh so that our sons and our daughters shall prophesy (preach)?