Friday, June 29, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 1): A Tragic History
Part 4 in our series on missions - some brief follow-up thoughts on gender, the SBC, and missions. This post is more of an op-ed than the previous three have been. Taking that into consideration, I think this is an important, albeit somewhat tangential, facet of the story that may help direct us to see some specific effects on OBU.

Historically in Baptist life, the mission field has often been the place where women have gone to fulfill their gifts in ministry when they were not permitted to do so at home due in part to some strange mixture of tradition, misogyny, and imperialistic racism (e.g. man > woman; white woman > “heathen”).

For some reason, it was not (and still is not for fundamentalists) permissible for a woman to lead a church in the West, yet they’d send her around the world by herself to preach (if she’s single) to the “heathen and uncivilized.” I do not note these things to disparage devoted missionaries and their work, but merely to comment on the culture of the time and the social strictures and traditions surrounding the emergence of the global missions movement. The fact that women still in 2012 are not permitted in most SBC-affiliated churches to preach in, much less lead, congregations is also tragic and in my mind the reason there continue to be far more women on the mission field than men where they can realize their spiritual gifts and call to ministry.

            The impact of women’s work, however undervalued it continues to be, has in reality been invaluable.  Many of us have heard of the SBC-affiliated yet self-governing and -funded Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) - the namesake of a beloved freshman women’s dormitory on OBU’s Oval as well as of the WMU professorship in missions at OBU. It was founded by (Baptist) women for women and is now the largest Christian women’s missions group on the planet. It has also been somewhat successful in defying attempts at external control by the militant leadership of the SBC in recent decades.

            Probably the most well-known Baptist women were missionaries: Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon. Those of us who were raised in SBC-affiliated churches will likely recognize these names and the corresponding annual fundraising drives which occur during Easter and Christmas which bear their names.

            These women have made a huge impact in Southern Baptist life and in global missions. Since Lottie Moon, a 19th century missionary in China, appealed to stateside Southern Baptists to set up a Christmas offering for foreign missions, this offering has since raised over one billion dollars for foreign missions.
The effect of the fundamentalist take-over of the IMB and Rankin’s new policy -- that missionaries sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message and conduct their work according to it -- had consequences even beyond the tragic firing and early retirement of over 100 missionaries and missionary couples. One IMB missionary friend overseas told me that, in her training, it was suggested as an outreach strategy that the male head of family (i.e. her husband) meet with other national male family heads, who, when converted, would initiate a “trickle-down” effect for the rest of the family. The wife was of course still expected to stay at home, raise the kids, and leave much of the real missions work to her husband. Now some couples may choose such an arrangement on their own. But my friend scoffed at the idea as a strategy then and now. She knew that’s not the way things work in the field or with relationships to reach an entire community; and not being raised in the South she was baffled by corresponding attitudes toward gender roles that she encountered in Richmond. It seems like some militant leaders want to export more than simply the Gospel.

The question still remains, however: why is it that the SBC still cannot bring itself to recognize the full God-given value and rights of over half the people in its churches? The 2000 BF&M has made the fundamentalist agenda toward women abundantly clear. To have been included so prominently in such a short document, you’d think the subject of non-ordination of women and female submission was one of their 5 Pillars-Fundamentals or something… but I’m rambling.

            First of all, forget the Whitlock-era administration ever hiring a female professor for Herschel Hobbs the School of Theology and Ministry. (We already know Drs. Norman and McClellan prohibit the hiring of women to teach theology or Bible. Maybe they'd allow a woman to teach children's ministry or missions. How progressive of them!) Secondly, I doubt their new hires are as likely to encourage their female students to pursue God’s gifts of ministry and leadership in their lives if they’re called outside of children’s ministry or missions. I remember well the intellectual and spiritual encouragement I received from a professor who was wrongly dismissed the summer after my graduation.

            It makes me very sad indeed to consider that future classes of Bison won’t experience the same encouragement I and others received if the goals of Provost Norman and BGCO executive director Anthony Jordan are realized.  Gender discrimination in both theology and policy has been one of the primary galvanizing forces for the Save OBU movement.  Two of the blog's most widely circulated posts are about women at OBU (here and here).

Jordan, by the way, chaired the committee that created the “submissive woman” article (Article XVIII) of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.

            As militant fundamentalists’ politics were incompatible with missions, so the BGCO’s goals for OBU are incompatible with the academic freedom and rigor required of a Christian liberal arts education like the one OBU was founded to provide. It is difficult to see how these two institutions can be complimentary, much less beneficial for one another in their current relationship. OBU must be made independent from the BGCO, as this tragic story of SBC missions illustrates. 


  1. I highly recommend the new book about Lottie Moon by Regina D. Sullivan. She was ahead of her time in many ways, and ahead of some (do I need to say who?) in our time as well.

  2. Thank you for the recommendation! I certainly need to learn more about women like her than I currently know.

  3. Why is submission a bad word? Study the concept of submission in marriage; it is a beautiful thing that involves God/Christ, husband, and wife. We can all learn from it. I may be too conservative for this blog by suggesting that marriage is by design between a man and a woman, but has anyone here read Article XVIII of the BF&M? It paraphrases Ephesians 5 and puts it in a modern context. Don’t waste your energy to get upset about it. Article XVIII does not limit a woman’s abilities to the home (Nor does the Bible: Pr. 31:10-31); rather, it calls her to be a nurturing mother when she has children and to be a helper at home. What is a helper? Gary Chapman’s recent book on marriage preparation has a chapter titled “Toilets are not self cleaning.” Husband and wife must help each other at home, or else things get messy. Article XVIII doesn’t say that the woman must clean the toilet. I think one must read into it too far to say that article XVIII is misogynistic. A husband and wife are a team and must divide up the tasks of running a household. Hence, a wife is her husbands ‘helper' and he is called by God to be the leader (accountable). Ask any kid who grew up in daycare: most would say that having a mom at home is better. I’m one of a few who has experienced almost every family ‘configuration.’ A family with a mother and father submitted to one another and ultimately to God is the best, I promise. No it is not always possible for women to stay home with young children--I recognize this and have lived it too. Easy tiger.

    1. I have no problem with a woman staying at home to raise children or manage a household (or a man for that matter). I have a very serious problem with the directive that a woman should do so from the larger denomination or face termination if she cannot agree. This is where the 2000 BFM places particular cultural attitudes toward women over the precedents of historic Baptist theology and the freedom of the individual conscience to interpret Ephesians 5 and the many other passages of the Bible that deal with gender and equality in complex ways. This becomes particularly apparent as Caitlin pointed out when missionaries leave the U.S. and engage other cultures with very different assumptions about the role of men and women.

      The issue is not even that missionaries may or may not interpret the Bible according to the 2000 BFM but that they have the very Christian, very Baptist right to make their own minds up based upon their best reading of the texts and their relationship with God. Whether the marriage relationship is defined by mutual submission (Eph 5.21) or complementary roles (Eph. 5.22), that is between the couple and God alone. No one else. The SBC has no right to legislate the marriage relationship between its missionaries--especially after they have gone through a rigorous vetting process with the denomination in the first place.

      That is the difference between fundamentalism and historic Baptist theology. Southern Baptists have generally been conservative (often agreeing with the 2000 BFM), but they have also believed that it is up to the individual to interpret the Bible through the grace of God, and no one can tell them that they must believe or else. Fundamentalists fired the missionaries who couldn't sign the statement, took away their pensions, and left them without support in continuing their ministries or returning to the U.S. after years of dedicated service.

      Now, which one loves the church as Christ does?

    2. Does culture trump Scripture or Scripture trump culture?

    3. Kevin, in the case of the 2000 BFM and Article XVIII on the Family, it's very clear that it reads Southern culture into the Bible (please see above). But that's not the problem.

      The problem is that no group of believers should have the power to demand that a Christian agree with them or lose their jobs (especially Baptists). Christians have the responsibility to interpret the Bible according to their relationship with God and their best understanding of the text. They can read the Bible and believe complementary roles or egalitarian roles are best within a marriage. But they should never use their power to make another Christian agree with them on marriage or any other non-essential issue.

      No one should submit to the lordship of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, only to the lordship of Christ.

    4. Hey Derek,
      Glad to see you're still tracking. No I don't think you're too conservative for this blog. In fact, since the point of this blog is to advocate for freedom of OBU from the BGCO - and not, I hope we all realize, to advocate for specific interpretations of Scripture - then we are perfectly OK with disagreeing about interpretations of Ephesians 5 and still being able to agree on other things, such as the goal of the blog. I know you're smart enough to realize that that's the main issue.
      Have I read the 2000 BFM? Did you think I'd write a series over it and not have read it (multiple times)? I would hope you know me better than that, Derek.
      I realize this issue is very significant to you at this point in life - you and T are probably reading through materials for pre-marriage counseling and you're working to cement what you believe and figure out how you're going to do this relationship, structure your family, what's important to you, etc. So you can probably quote more arguments for the interpretations of different passages than I can, and I understand why you feel passionate about family structure.
      You say that I must be reading into XVIII and ignoring the apparent grounding in Scripture. But here's where I want to make a couple points:
      Firstly, gender and sexuality play a small role, proportionately speaking, in scripture and in orthodox Christian tradition. It's something that orthodox Christians have, over time, come to various conclusions about and have come to various interpretations of scriptures regarding gender roles, etc. Secondly. it's interesting to note that an article like the 2000 BFM Article XVIII was the first of its kind to appear in Baptist tradition: you don't see it in either of the first two BFMs, nor to you see it in the New Hampshire confession. You don't even see anything like it in traditional creeds of the church - Nicene Creed, etc.
      The point is, gender roles are not, and have never been, an essential doctrine of the church.
      Why, then, did the writers of the 2000 BFM decide it must be an essential, and then mandate that the IMB's missionaries conduct their ministries in accordance with it? That is the main issue.
      My argument is not, I think you'll realize, an argument for a certain structure of family or gender rolls. My argument is that gender roles is not an essential of the faith and the SBC as no reason to mandate it. The volume of the 2000 BFM taken up by this issue is completely out of proportion regarding scripture and disingenuous to historic Christian and Baptist doctrine. I do not believe the SBC or any other earthly entity has the prerogative to mandate what is or is not a biblical or Christian family structure.
      Our consciences are God's to interpret these passages and to implement them in our lives and family structure.
      I think the saying oft attributed to St Augustine applies in this issue:
      "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
      This issue is, I believe, a non-essential. I'm not saying it's not important or that the SBC has no right to weigh in on this issue today, but I think you'll agree with me that they do not have the authority to mandate their view on a non-essential. The issue isn't their interpretation, but their mandating of their interpretation.

      P.S. "Tiger"? Really? Could you be a little more patronizing? ;)


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