This is a letter Ron Hankins wrote after the International Mission Board ordered missionaries to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
Over 27 years ago, I came to Japan with the International Mission Board as a journeyman. Here I met another journeyman — Lydia Barrows, the woman I would later marry. As God led us both into full-time Christian service, we returned to the United States, got married and headed for seminary. After graduation, we were both ordained in Lydia’s home church into the “full gospel ministry.” Each of us was appointed to Japan as a “general evangelist” to start and lead churches. There wasn’t a “church and home” designation for Lydia — she was called by God and trained by Southern Baptists to be a church starter and pastor.
Lydia finished language school quickly and was immediately called to lead a mission point that had been without a pastor for seven years. Over the next few years, the group became strong enough to incorporate as a church. I was in a different location starting a church from scratch. When we left these churches to begin a new church together, both locations were strong enough to call Japanese pastors. During that time Lydia had also been involved with two other church starts, although she was not the primary leader in those cases.
Before the next church start, we took a short furlough. Upon our return, the Tokyo office asked me to do some administrative work. We decided that Lydia would serve as senior pastor, and I would stay on as assistant pastor. When the administrative assignment was completed, I went to work in another young church plant that needed help.
As her husband and co-worker, I have seen God work mightily through the Lydia’s ministry. I have seen two men and two women accept a call to ministry under her pastoral leadership. In a country where the Christian population is less than 1 percent, many Japanese have come to a saving knowledge of Christ through her ministry.
She and I have spent all of our professional lives in ministry in Japan — starting and leading churches. God has called us to Japan to preach the gospel to those who have not heard.
We should be building on the past and looking forward to what God will do through us in the years until retirement. However, after over 20 years of starting and pastoring churches — what Southern Baptists sent both of us here to do — our support from the International Mission Board (IMB) is in jeopardy. Not because Lydia has done a bad job, but because she is a woman. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 rejects the role of women as pastors. This was not the case 25 years ago. The present leadership at the IMB has known of Lydia’s ministry for at least 15 years. They never questioned us about it until now. They are demanding that we sign a creed that states that women cannot be ministers, and that men cannot, in our ministries, recognize women who have been called by God to be pastors.
Christian women, although fully capable of defending themselves and their call, should never have to; they have Christian brothers to stand with them. I stand as a brother — and as a husband — and I cannot and will not sign any statement of faith that undercuts the ministry of godly women.