Women Preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention: Egalitarian Thought (Part 3)


Egalitarians base their argument for indifference with respect to gender in society, the home, and the pulpit on the idea that men and women are created equally. This post series has argued that when it comes to creation order and its implication for ‘gender roles’ in the church, Southern Baptists do not all differ from the world or from egalitarians. Recent rhetoric regarding women teaching, and even preaching, to men in the SBC, is of some concern. It seems like everywhere we turn, we find ourselves covered up in egalitarian patterns of thought.

Egalitarian Name-calling

So far in Part 1 and in Part 2 of this series we have seen Southern Baptist leadership platforming women who promote egalitarianism in society and the home, as well as being fine with women in the pulpit preaching on the Lord’s Day. Those who object to that practice have been compared to people who used the Bible to defend slavery and compared to those who carried out the Salem Witch Trials. If you do not believe women should be teaching men, you may not be seen as a compassionate person, and might be labeled a ‘hard-complementarian,’ ‘hyper-fundamentalist,’ or the ‘extreme-right.’ Much more nefarious, in my view, is the idea that abuse and the position that women should not teach men are always connected, or that this position causes abuse. Southern Baptist Pastor, Dwight McKissic, used a similar argument in his debate with Tom Ascol, claiming that prohibiting women from preaching on the Lord’s Day is similar to slavery and racism, devalues women, and tells men that it’s okay to abuse women:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEeSsmKrcwg?start=3699&w=560&h=315]

One way for complementarians to avoid these types of accusations spoken of in Part 2 is by taking misogyny, objectification of women, and abuse seriously. Some complain that complementarians haven’t addressed the issue enough, especially when it comes to domestic abuse. However, in his 2006 article, “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Gender Debate” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 49, no. 3, September 2006, pp. 569–76), Russell Moore attributes this complaint to a weakness in some holding to complementarian theology, claiming, “There is a growing trend among the weaker segment of complementarians to seek to indict complementarianism for not writing more on the issue of spousal abuse.” (576) Nevertheless, when Russ Moore recently addressed The Houston Chronicle’s article on sexual abuse in the SBC, he remarked, “At the moment we’re in right now, to suggest that the problem is that women are speaking too much seems crazy to me.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJJUr0ixWSA?start=1952&w=560&h=315]

Notice that the sexual abuse done to females and the question of women preaching, which was the original context, are mixed up with each other in that statement. The idea is those opposed to women preaching are supposedly part of the problem, adding to an oppressive structure and power dynamic where men always harm women. With these ideas in mind, it is no wonder the pendulum swings in the exact opposite direction as a sort of reactionary response and of course, more and more we see the Church aligning itself with responses given by the world, rather than Scripture. Another major problem with this is that abuse is not just a women’s issue, as boys and men are victimized as well. Moreover, sexual misconduct and abuse are also in churches that have female elders, such as we recently saw with Bill Hybels and Gilbert Bilezikian. In his older article, Moore seems to believe that complementarians are thinking like egalitarians on these various issues, but now he uses the same rhetoric.

Egalitarian Hermeneutic

Moore’s article doesn’t limit complementarians thinking like egalitarians to the issues already discussed. Complementarians also think like egalitarians when it comes to the issue of how we approach the Bible. Moore writes, “For too long, egalitarians have dismissed complementarian proof texts with the call to see the big picture ‘trajectory’ of the canon.” (575) Complementarians are doing the same thing now. They dismiss clear, didactic texts of Scripture that prohibit women preachers, and turn attention to the narrative of Scripture instead. (One helpful thing about Moore’s old article is that it shows the narrative of Scripture actually points to patriarchy, not egalitarianism, but that isn’t the point of this post.)

One obvious complementarian proof text is 1 Timothy 2:12, which states, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” In fact, in VI. “The Church,” in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, this verse is provided to support the view that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” And yet, one frequent response to this verse now within the SBC is to downplay its significance and even reposition the trajectory of questioning by focusing on women in the narrative of Scripture. For example, Beth Moore recently compared an emphasis on 1 Timothy 2:12 to deifying the apostle Paul. Certainly Paul is not our Savior, or God, but the words of Paul on the matter are not merely the words of Paul, they are the very word of God, and equally important.

As a self proclaimed feminist years ago, I recall remarking to my husband that I believed Paul hated women. Thankfully, God brought me out of that wicked mindset, but I see so much of those emotions I once had in these outbursts by women like Beth Moore. The problem for those women (and for me at the time) is that the word given to Paul directly hurts their feelings. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and nobody likes to be told what they can’t do, least of all a rebellious woman. What Paul writes is every bit as much the saving word of God as the words which Jesus, the Son of God, speaks. Additionally, these words should continually break down our flesh and do away with who we once were while simultaneously making us more like Christ. If that kind of refining doesn’t hurt, I don’t know what will.

If you’ve ever interacted with someone who believes women can be pastors, they will often appeal to Acts 2:17-18, which quotes from Joel 2:28-32.

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

We have more than one example from the Old Testament of a prophetess: Miriam, the sister of Aaron in Exodus, Huldah in 2 Kings 22, and of course every egalitarian’s favorite prophetess Deborah, a judge of Israel in Judges 4. We also have more than one example from the New Testament of a prophetess: Anna, the daughter of Phanuel in Luke 2:36-38. Philip’s four daughters are mentioned in Acts 21:9. And in 1 Corinthians 11:5 we read of women, or the, “wife who prays or prophesies.” It is clear that women do prophesy in Scripture but does that mean they also teach, and more specifically, does it mean they teach men as authority figures?

In Romans 16:3 Priscilla and Aquila are called fellow laborers and in 1 Corinthians 16:19 we see that the church meets in their house. In Acts 18:26 we read that “[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Finally, we have the announcement of the empty tomb, from women:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)

But we need to notice a number of things here. Yes, the women were the first to the tomb, and yes, the women were instructed to go and tell. However, they were not licensed to preach the empty tomb, rather, they were told to go and tell the male disciples of Jesus that he was headed to Galilee! And yet, the text explicitly says that “they said nothing to anyone,” for they were afraid. How can we read that “they said nothing to anyone” and get, “they preached the resurrection”? More than that, how can we claim that women were the first preachers? The text simply does not say that. Furthermore, these women were instructed to relay the information they learned to male disciples, and, interestingly, every other instance we saw of female prophetesses or teachers also mentioned these women in relation to men. Miriam, sister of Aaron; Huldah, wife of Shallum; Deborah, wife of Lappidoth; Anna, daughter of Phanuel; the four daughters of Philip, the wife who prophesies, and Priscilla and Aquila, who are listed as couple.

Furthermore, Deborah was the only judge, during an odd period of judgment in Israel’s history, who judged without a military function, as the male judges did. In fact, Deborah tried to hand over her authority to a man for battle, Barak, who to his shame emasculated himself by pleading with Deborah to accompany him while denying the authority that God had originally given him and allowing the glory to go to a woman. Moreover, Deborah and Huldah did not prophesy in public, but privately and on an individual basis. Additionally, Apollos wasn’t taught by a woman out in public, but was pulled to the side, by a couple, and was advised, encouraged, or urged in a better way. We should understand as well that prophecy is different from teaching. Prophecy is a spontaneous revelation from God, whereas teaching is exposition of that word. The role of the priests in the Old Testament was to exposit and apply God’s word. Significant is the fact that all through the Old Testament, there are female prophetesses, but never a female priestess.

So, many of the arguments we see for egalitarianism, or criticisms of the supposed Southern Baptist complementarian view, are wide of the mark. Why? Because we never denied that women are gifted in the areas of prophesy and teaching or that God can use women to accomplish His purposes. We see that plainly in Scripture. We even affirm women in ministry, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” But we don’t mean by “women in ministry” that women can function as pastors or carry that title, because it does not follow that women can teach men in the public worship gathering. We have no examples of that, and we have explicit Scriptural prohibitions of that practice. Ultimately for me, it came down to the Holy Spirit convicting me to question would I believe the authority of Scripture, or would I believe the world, and thus, my emotions?

In 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, the apostle Paul writes:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Later on, in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Paul writes:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

When Paul writes instructions for women who prophesy in church, and later writes that women are to remain silent in church, he is not contradicting his earlier instructions for women prophesying, he is saying, in the context of that passage, that women are not to weigh what is said, because they are not to carry the authority or teaching functions of an elder. Beyond that, the argument should never be, “Well, I haven’t crossed the line yet, so I’m not in sin.” We see clearly the implications of that line of thinking when following Jesus’ ministry and his interactions with the Pharisees. The religious leaders of that time kept the law so well that Jesus even acknowledged their righteousness and claimed unless we do better than they, we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. His constant criticism of the Pharisees had little to do with how well they kept the law, and instead focused much more on the desires of their hearts which proved to be rotten and self-centered. Will we do the same? Will we continue to find the boundary God has set before us and place our toes up to the line and claim safety from His wrath when our hardened hearts crossed over long ago?

So if Southern Baptists can’t agree on creation order and gender roles in society or the home and if they cannot even agree on how to read the Bible about this issue, how are they in agreement at all regarding the role of men and women in the church? What is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention is not just that we are “differently complementarian;” what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention is that some of our leadership and pastors and professors and members are actually egalitarian. Of course, we may still be in the stage of denial. We might be tempted to think that since Southern Baptists know that “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” is still written down then we still affirm it wholeheartedly. But the final post in this series will address that argument, and then explain the implications for our missions cooperation as Southern Baptists.


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2 thoughts on “Women Preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention: Egalitarian Thought (Part 3)

  1. Why are you trying to expound on scriptures as a woman? Are you assuming all your readers are women? I assure you they are not all women and you are therefore trying to teach and influence men. I hope you aren’t teaching anybody male because you know what the word says as you have most certainly studied it from every angle. You don’t have to prove yourself if you have peace in God so why are you sharing? To bring order to this disorder by getting out of order? What do you gain in doing this? Writing is still a form of teaching. I can’t understand what would make you teach men about a cause which regards you not teaching men. It seems like you want to do the right thing though. -James

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