Women Preachers, Southern Baptists & Silencing Jesus
Several years ago, I was at a preaching conference, and one of the speakers was Priscilla Shirer, a popular speaker, and teacher within the evangelical wing of the Christian church in America.
Shirer grew up in the Black Church in America, the daughter of a minister who has become successful because of the power of her preaching and teaching and her practical insights into living the Christian life.
When I saw her speak, I couldn't help but think of the irony that within her own faith tradition, she wasn't really "allowed" to teach men or even preach, for that matter.
Despite her apparent gifts for doing both, she needed to declare to the crowd of primarily male church leaders gathered there that day that she was coming to preach to us "under the covering" of her husband and father.
That's shorthand for "Don't worry, guys. Even though I'm a woman about to preach, you don't have to be threatened."
This week the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., voted to expel Saddleback Church (one of the largest churches in the SBC) from their denomination because Saddleback ordained three women pastors.
Saddleback's founding pastor Rick Warren (who wrote "The Purpose Driven Life"), made an impassioned argument against the expulsion, citing evidence in Scripture where women were leaders, teachers, and preachers in the early Church.
It was to no avail. The SBC not only voted to expel Saddleback (and other churches who had done the same) from their fold, but they also began working on constitutional amendments to ensure such a thing would never happen again.
For a denomination like the SBC to double down on poor biblical interpretation, misogynistic and patriarchal beliefs, and to deny the gifts and voices of over half of the millions of people within their churches is, in my opinion, to reject Jesus himself.
Not only did Jesus appear to women first after he was resurrected, but he also charged a woman to preach the first sermon after the Resurrection when he told Mary to go and tell the disciples all she saw.
And don't get me started on all the ways that the Apostle Paul has been misinterpreted---despite all the evidence that Paul affirmed women's leadership in the Church.
I remember one of the many things I heard Priscilla Shirer say at that preaching conference I attended. It made its way into my notes, and I've read it many times since then.
She talked about the moment you begin to "behold" God and God's purposes for your life. Shirer said that this was the kind of moment that changes you forever:
" [Beholding is] when you take what you learn in the pew of your church and apply it to the pavement of your circumstances."
As a pastor and preacher, I love that line. It's the kind of transformative experience I want for all my church members. What you hear and experience within your faith community should help you navigate your everyday life.
When I sat listening to Shirer preach that day, I could have cared less who she was, and I sure as hell didn't care about the notion of her being under some man's "covering." She straight up preached to me.
And what I learned from her is that the church matters. It matters what we do in our faith communities, what we teach and preach. And if what we're saying doesn't have any real-world implications, we need to change our tune.
But what if what you learn "in the pew of your church" denies others equality and dehumanizes and dismisses those whom God has called to teach and lead, no matter who they are?
What if the things you are being taught veer so sharply from the witness, example, and teachings of Jesus that they cannot be reconciled with him?
If so, you need to find a new faith community.
I'm not kidding, and I am not mincing words. That kind of teaching isn't biblical. It might use the Bible, but it isn't biblical.
And if we want to be the kind of people genuinely seeking to follow Jesus, we shouldn't stand for any kind of teaching that marginalizes or creates an "other" out of anyone.
Grace, love, acceptance, and inclusion are the hallmarks of the actual Good News of Jesus Christ. Let's do our best to live into those hallmarks and become the emissaries of the Way, Truth, and Life as we were meant to.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.