As the SBC winds up, I am, once again, reflecting on the fact that the SBC is my spiritual family of origin. I lived “at home” for 53 years; I still live right next door. And yes, I have thoughts, adapted from a post from 4 years ago (because some things never change).
I was a lifelong Southern Baptist. I was born on a Monday and in a Southern Baptist church on Sunday. I am a graduate of SWBTS. When I was a student there, women were both welcomed and marginalized. I was ordained by a Southern Baptist church not otherwise affiliated (I’ve never met another woman who can say the same). Unsurprisingly, I have a few thoughts about the things that are happening at the Southern Baptist Convention this week.
Some of the best people in the world are Southern Baptists. They raised me, loved me, instructed me in the ways of God, taught me to love the Bible and how to make a lemon meringue pie (thank you, GA leaders), supported my gifts and calling in ministry (up to a point) and provided the background music for my life for 53 years. Many Southern Baptist churches are quietly loving God and their neighbors in their communities and all over the world.
So what went wrong?
I think this is a starting place: Given what Southern Baptists explicitly teach about women, the recent revelations about sexual abuse and misconduct and the organized cover-ups make sense.
Complementarians say that they believe that men and women are equal but have different roles in the family, in society and in the church. Unfortunately for women, these different roles depend on the woman always being subjected to the man.
It’s hard for me to see how two people are equal if one of them always has the final say over the other one. When men have no experience relating to women as equal partners in family and ministry, when they are overtly told that women have nothing to teach them and when they are encouraged to see women as supporting characters in the lives of men, then it makes sense that they would have trouble seeing women and girls as equal in worth and credibility to the men they accuse.
In this system, girls and women like I was are offered a deal: turn over the authority over your own life to men in exchange for the promise of protection, security and the confidence that you are in the will of God. Recent revelations, the politics of the last 6 years and a lifetime of experience have taught me that this deal tends not to work out well for the women and girls who are conned into it.
Granted, in real life, away from the convention halls of power, a lot of complementarians have marriages in which they defer to each other and support each other equally. There are complementarian men who support women in ministry within careful parameters. There are many complementarian men who are disgusted by sexual abuse even when the accused is a pastor or a buddy or a president (although their willingness to risk their own positions and power to defend the victims can be a different story).
But the teaching is still the same: in every circumstance, men are to lead and women are to accommodate. When the husband and wife disagree, the wife must submit to the will of the husband. In this theology, the worst man is more qualified for leadership than the best woman.
So when women bring their gifts to the table, they are told to “go home.” When they try to talk about the abuse that is happening at home, they are told to “win him with gentleness,” to submit more graciously, to “avoid bad-mouthing him behind his back.” When they finally, often after years of intimidation, tell someone about the sexual abuse or misconduct of their pastor, they are often not believed or worse, told they are being divisive, warned “not to touch God’s anointed.”
I want to say this as gently and humbly as possible: The problem is not just unscrupulous men who abuse and misuse their power. The problem is also the system doubling down on the conviction that women are functionally inferior to men as the SBC did this week.
I wish that the leaders of the SBC were willing to experience what I experience on a weekly basis: a fellowship of Baptists that unapologetically affirms the worth and leadership of women and relies on a robust and consistent biblical hermeneutic to do so. It is so refreshing to be led and served by men and women together–together expressing the image of God and together honoring the gifts of the Holy Spirit.