Egalitarian Journey

by J. Dwayne Howell | August 29, 2012

Life experiences affect our understanding of the world around us. As it pertains to egalitarian views, they are a part of my growing up experience. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in Shively, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville. Raised in a Christian home, church was a natural part of my life. I knew that Sunday mornings and evenings, as well as Wednesday evenings, were spent at church. This was never a burden for me. I always seemed to enjoy church. However, it was not my family’s church experience that led me to egalitarianism. My father worked and made the decisions, and my mother stayed at home and “raised the boys.” While my parents often discussed decisions, my father was always the final arbiter as head of the household. The same was true of my church—men served as the leaders, deacons, and even the ushers.

Actually, the experience that led me to begin considering women’s gifts in the church and in the home came from my pastor’s oldest daughter. We have known each other since we were eight years old. Early on we butted heads quite often. She was outspoken and had a strong personality, as did I. I felt I had to offer a rebuttal to everything she said. As we grew, so did our friendship, but still we would often disagree. One day, the discussion of women as pastors was raised. I had never seen a woman as pastor. Instead, in my culture, I had often seen women as subordinate to men in church and the home. I cannot remember what she said to me that day, but I do know that I began to think. Where did I see women serving in my church? They had cared for me in the nursery, taught me in Sunday school, and led my mission and music education. My whole journey of faith up to that time, for the most part, was influenced by the women of the church. Even in my denominational tradition, Southern Baptist, women had played a significant role (even though it is not emphasized as such by the denomination). If Southern Baptists have matron saints, they are Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, for whom our international missions and domestic missions offerings are named, respectively. Many Southern Baptist children have heard the story of Lottie Moon, missionary to China, who was so dedicated to the people of China that she allowed herself to succumb to malnutrition so that others could have food. Such sacrifice was held up to us as an example.

While the challenge from my pastor’s daughter led me to question my own understanding of the role of women in the church and the home, that was not the end of my egalitarian journey. Through college and seminary, I was constantly challenged to adjust my views on women in ministry by my professors and as I met more and more women who were seeking to follow God’s call on their lives. Today, as both a pastor and professor, I hope that I can aid others in their experience and understanding of the role of women in the church and in the home.