Growing up in the South, we were surrounded by Southern Baptists. They went to church a lot; Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night. They would typically ask if you would want to come with them. We did go to a few Vacation Bible Schools with neighborhood friends. It was a good way for mom to get us out of the house during the summer. The first time someone asked it I was saved, I told the story of falling out of a whitewater raft and the guide pulling me to safety. This was clearly not my scene
The practices and habits of Paige Patterson regarding the counsel he gave women are alarming. However, if we are surprised it’s only because we haven’t been paying attention. After all, he and other leaders of the SBC have been making similar proclamations in sermons for years. I’ve had several people come into my office, fleeing their Southern Baptist tradition because they were told either not to get divorced for any reason or that they were unworthy of God’s love because they were divorced. I’ve seen the revelation on a person’s face when they discover that women can be in leadership in our tradition and in fact, many of our churches have more women in leadership than men. I’m amazed that so many are just now becoming aware of this abuse of the scriptures and people’s lives so that the privileged males remain in power. After all, Patterson leads a school where women are not allowed to teach men and they must take homemaking classes, all in the name of following the teachings of Jesus. It’s not about Jesus, because these ethics are opposite the teachings of Jesus it’s about control and holding power over another, specifically women. It’s marginalization of one gender so that another may be lifted. “Women can’t preach or teach” is a gateway ethic that promotes the abusive ethic of toxic masculinity running rampant through the SBC.
Beth Moore writes, “I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world, because I choose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me.” There are countless others that have felt the same way. Let me be clear; there is nothing godly about the disregard, disrespect, or abuse of women or any other human being. The central themes of the Scriptures are the exact opposite. The Scriptures proclaim that all people are children of a loving God and all people have enormous value. We are equals, partners with God in the ongoing creation of the world.
I’m confronted by two realizations, First, we in the mainline church have got to learn to tell our stories and share our vision of the Gospel in a more effective, compelling way. If we are upset over how other faith traditions treat others, we cannot be bystanders. We have stood by while others have created a narrative of Christianity that is not faithful to the love of God. Inclusive churches where are all are valued are not a new phenomenon. We cannot be passive about sharing the good news.
Second, we must continue to examine our lives and our institutions. I know in my tradition it is often an advantage to be a male clergyperson when it comes to our call system. I imagine on average my male colleagues are paid more than female colleagues. I suspect many of our congregations do not have adequate family leave policies in place. You see where I’m going here; we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back while we are even the least bit complicit in implying that all people aren’t equally loved by God. Mainliners have work to do too and the urgency should be even greater now.
I do not know if leaders of the SBC are taking a longer look in the proverbial mirror. The God I know calls me to do so. It seems if you aren’t willing to be a part of the solution, you become complicit in perpetuating the problem.