I first met Sheryl about 3 years ago. She is the co-pastor of Christ Community Church. My father, Richard New, is the “other” co-pastor. I asked Sheryl to tell her story because I think it is one of hope, joy, and perseverance.
At its yearly convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America passed a statement opposing abortion, pornography, homosexuality — and female pastors. For Southern Baptist leaders, these issues hang together. They assume that on their side of the culture war, Christians must oppose these practices as a piece. It is only the liberal, secular, or religiously compromised people on the other side who think differently.
In his treatment of women as equals, Paul followed Jesus’ lead. Jesus defined servant-leadership in Matthew 20:28 (NRSV), “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Imagine my surprise after becoming a Christian to learn that God does not consider women to be equal with men!
I grew up in a non-Christian home. My mother and father were divorced when I was a year old. Mom remarried when I was three years old, and subsequently had four more children by my alcoholic stepfather. I didn’t realize until much later in life that my mother was also an alcoholic. To briefly describe my world as a child, I would tell you that I was hurt deeply by rejection, emotional abuse and favoritism.
In stark contrast to my early world, becoming a Christian in my early 20s set me free! I will never forget the overwhelming joy when I learned that God loved me unconditionally, that I was his special child, and that he had a plan for my life. I had a hunger and thirst for the Word, and I dug in.
A wise man once told me, “Chose carefully which hills you are willing to die on.” When I first heard that statement, I was not sure what it meant, but as years have passed, I now know well what that man intended to tell me.
My story began as a 9-year-old girl growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One day after school I was standing on top of the jungle gym at the school playground down the street from my house. (I always stood on the top because I thought I was closer to God there.) I was the only person there, and as I looked up at the sky, I sensed a deep longing from within me to be used in some way — in whatever way God wanted — to change people’s lives. I believe God heard the prayer that came from a small girl’s heart, and years later, when I was home for a weekend away from college, I returned to that playground. At that time, I began to feel God’s pull on my life to begin work in ministry.
“Delighted” would accurately describe my reaction to discovering Christians for Biblical Equality. I’m a man who knows something about marginalization and alienation — two themes central to CBE’s concerns.
“Let them come after me,” said Tiger Woods about his competitors when interviewed as to his strategy on holding his 12-point lead at the U.S. Open last summer. “I don’t plan on going to them.” That’s how I feel as a woman: confident in the scriptural knowledge of who I am.
When I reflect on my childhood and young adulthood, it’s not difficult to see why I struggled to understand God’s intent for gender roles. I was surrounded by mixed gender messages from my denomination, my family and my Christian college.
I’m not sure if I ever totally believed that the Bible mandated inequality between the sexes, but that’s just the way it was. I grew up in a church that didn’t necessarily preach such inequalities, but practiced them none the less. By their example I understood that there was a “man’s place” and a “woman’s place.” The men held positions of leadership and the women were in charge of the nursery and potluck dinners.