The week after I finished a two-part teaching series in which, in honor of Women’s History Month, we “Focused on Females,” I saw a news article about a website’s post from my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Ft. Worth. The timing was ironic. The seminary, on its BiblicalWoman.com website, released a statement by women for women clarifying their position on “biblical womanhood.” You can see the seminary’s statement here.
Speaking for the folks at the seminary, Katie McCoy, editor of BiblicalWoman.com, said, “…we’re excited to share the ‘Biblical Woman Statement’ with you!”
“Biblical Woman statement”
The word “biblical” makes me nervous. When it is used, it comes across as one-dimensional; like there is only one right way to look at something, which just so happens to be the way that the user of the term looks at it.
So. What exactly is a “biblical woman”? Is she Deborah – a woman who held the highest position of spiritual authority in Israel. She was “President” of Israel, a prophet who heard from God and spoke for God to the people (even men). She was a judge making rulings over matters concerning all people – even men. She was a General, leading men into battle (Judges 4:4-9). Or, is a “biblical woman” one that follows Paul’s counsel to Timothy and does not “teach or hold authority over men” (1 Timothy 2:11)?
The bw.com website seems to come down on the latter. Under the “ministry” section of the statement, we read, “We believe…that women are exhorted to instruct and mentor other women.” Not men, but “other women.”
Interesting. There are some other interesting records showing how Southern Baptists viewed and treated women. Interesting and instructive.
At the 1885 meeting of the SBC, a total of seven messengers came from Arkansas. Two of them were women. Uh oh. For two days the convention scratched their heads trying to figure out how to handle the women. “I got it. Let’s change the constitution!” So they amended Article III which stated that the convention was composed of “members who contribute funds,” to, “brethern who contribute funds.” In the middle of the deliberations one man said, “I love the ladies, but I dread them worse.” Hmmm. I wonder what he was afraid of? I wonder if that fear still exists.
After the Women’s Missionary Union was formed in 1888, the WMU prepared an annual report to the convention. Women wrote the report, but weren’t allowed to read the report – to the men. For 42 years the report was read to the convention by a man. The first time the president of the WMU, a woman, gave her own report, several men walked out rather than have a woman stand in a position of “authority” over them. Slowly, things changed. Men quit running out in protest when the WMU report was given by a woman, but for several years, when the WMU report was given, the convention moved from the church sanctuary to a Sunday School assembly room so that a woman would not stand in the pulpit! I know. It sounds too crazy to be true. You gotta love history.
Is the seminary’s statement an accurate expression of what the Bible tells us concerning women in ministry? Before you answer check out 2 Kings 22:11-16, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 18:26, Acts 21:8-9.
Women today cut their hair, wear jewelry and expensive clothes, and pray in a church gathering without a hat, all of which seem to be forbidden by some passages in the New Testament. Are these ladies “unbiblical”? At times in Christian history, many Christians interpreted the Bible to justify slavery. We no longer understand the Bible that way. Are we “unbiblical”?
My dad, a Southern Baptist pastor since he was 18, had on his staff at First Baptist, Little Rock, a woman worship pastor!! She stood in authority over men. Was she “unbiblical”? Was dad “unbiblical” for empowering a woman to use her gifts to lead women and men?
My dad invited to speak in the churches he pastored in Joplin, MO and Little Rock, Bertha Smith, a Southern Baptist missionary. Wait. Miss Bertha didn’t just speak. She preached! To men. Standing very much in authority over them. She even shook her finger at them.
I’ve always respected my dad for getting out of the box on this issue.
Jesus loving, Jesus committed people disagree on this topic. So, instead of claiming that we have the final word on the definition and description, of a “biblical woman,” let’s be willing to talk with each other, to wrestle with those passages. Talking, questioning, wrestling. That’s good church.