Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Women in Baptist Life

This has been a hard week for me.

I have been reminded as I have researched and written that the situation for women is a bleak one, both in the CCCU and at OBU.

And so sometimes I wonder, is there any hope for my people? Is it time to give up and join a mainline protestant church? Is it time to leave Baptist-land forever and go hang out with the people who seem to like me a lot better?

Let me share a bit more of my story.

Yesterday, I said that I was one of the lucky ones because I had found a community which had encouraged me and brought me back to life. Many may have assumed that the community to which I referred is the Disciples of Christ seminary which I now attend. And it is true that I have found such community there.

But I found it first at a Baptist church.

Immediately upon leaving OBU, I packed up my bags and moved my life to a church internship which I had landed for the summer. Granted, it was an internship in children's ministry-- which, if you know me at all, is hilarious. But in addition to playing with preschoolers and telling them that Jesus loves them, I was also there to continue to refine my calling to ministry. And there I served alongside women who are affirmed and ordained.

This particular church even has a well-regarded pastoral residency program which trains seminary graduates to be head pastors-- and specifically accepts both women and men.

I'm not saying that everyone needs to go to a church like that. Actually, as a Baptist I'm saying that's totally between you and God-- and however your church wants to run itself is completely up to that church. That's what freedom of conscience and priesthood of the believer is all about. Save OBU is not looking to crusade for women's right to be pastors.

But this story serves to illustrate what I am trying to say. The point is this: there is much diversity in Baptist life-- although you might not know it if you only look at the BGCO.

Our Baptist heritage is much more promising for women and for all who do not fit the skinny mold which characterizes the post-takeover SBC. In fact, it was not until the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message that a clause was specifically added qualifying the position of pastor to men only. Before the year 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message said zero things about gender differences. ZERO.

There is indeed hope for my people. These oppressive ideas which have become policies (albeit, often unspoken ones) are not faithful to our past, but relatively recent innovations.

There are certain things evangelicals bring to the table, specific ideals which I cannot give up, certain reasons I have not been able to jump ship and leave. Evangelicals take scripture more seriously than most. Evangelicals believe that the individual is of infinite value to God. As a Baptist university, OBU should highlight and embrace these parts of its identity-- as well as the distinctive, historic Baptist freedoms. At Save OBU we have tried to highlight over and over again the great heritage which is belongs to our Baptist alma mater.

But these are not the things which have characterized the SBC since the 1980's. Suddenly, to be a Baptist did not mean to stand for freedom, but to stand against women, to boycott disney, and to define more and more narrowly what it means to be a Christian.

And suddenly at OBU, it means to ask invasive questions when hiring professors. It means to fire those who deviate from the narrow road. It means to demand of mainline brothers and sisters an explanation for why they have not become just exactly like us. It means to hide away the powerful women and keep them quiet and out of the boy's club. It means that it doesn't matter how students are treated, just so long as OBU is becoming a place of doctrinal purity.

So is the new OBU Baptist? Or is it catering to BGCO politics? Is the new administration looking to make a great school greater? Or are they playing to the preferences of the big boys in the Baptist building?

For OBU to remain true to its heritage, it must break ties with the BGCO.

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