Recently, the Gospel Coalition (TGC) published an article entitled, “21 Places Women Emerge Front and Center in Scripture’s Storyline.” While I often disagree with TGC, particularly their theology of women’s equality and leadership in the church and home, I really appreciated the piece.
I read it in its entirety and found myself, apart from the opening few paragraphs, nodding along. Yeah, I wish the author recognized women’s countercultural leadership and ministry in the Old and New Testament, and its relevance for how we treat women in the church today. But still, I’m grateful to the author for this simple truth: women mattered in Scripture and they matter now.
In such a time as this, it must be said, and said again.
Amen, brother. Thank you for that.
The tone of the article is light and positive. It names and celebrates the spiritual influence and the contributions of women in Scripture, and then draws on women’s centrality in Scripture to condemn abuse and poor treatment of women. That’s always nice to read. Unless you’re looking for something more radical than “women matter” and “abuse is wrong” (I’m summarizing).
The message that women matter is a great one! We should all be able to climb up and find a seat on that theological wagon. There should be no complaints or qualifications, no biblical elbow jabs, no ideological tussling—because it’s just not a very controversial statement.
It’s not prophetic or provocative to acknowledge that women are human. To admit that we deserve to be treated like it. Statements like these may sound pretty to the ears but they don’t really rouse any rabble. And that’s how I feel about the recent resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention concerning its treatment of women and the issue of abuse. They sound good, but what will they change, practically?
Southern Baptists, and evangelicals in general, have had a stormy year. #MeToo crashed over the church in 2017 and the tide hasn’t rolled back yet. We’re still gasping under the weight of untold stories and un-confronted pain. And the swell was just too big, too loud, too crushing, for Southern Baptist leaders to ignore.
They and the watching evangelical world learned fast that Southern Baptist women are a steely, persistent bunch. These women almost singlehandedly dethroned a decades-long evangelical darling. They also inspired the SBC to take up and then pass two resolutions related to abuse and women’s rights in the church.
The first resolution explicitly affirms the “dignity and worth of women.” The second condemns all forms of abuse and urges Southern Baptists to report abuse to authorities. They read nice, but will these resolutions ignite meaningful change in the SBC and in the evangelical church?
I think not.
The first resolution begins well enough with that same simple declaration from the TGC article: women matter. But unsurprisingly, it goes on to reiterate a commitment to the same theology that brought us these #MeToo stories. Women are to stick to serving their churches in “biblically appropriate ways.” They are not to seek senior pastor roles. They are to submit themselves to their husbands.
It’s true that many Southern Baptist women embrace traditional gender roles and aren’t advocating for a theological shift away from complementarianism. But the reach of these theological declarations stretches far beyond Southern Baptist women. As the largest evangelical denomination in the country, what the SBC says about women and abuse is relevant to all believers.
Reading between the lines of this first resolution on women’s dignity, it’s clear that women are to continue to trust men to know what is best for women and to act for their good. Women should submit and continue to look to men for protection from men. We should place our faith, once again, in a way of thinking and a way of doing church and relationships that continues to make women less safe.
A resolution on the “dignity and worth of women” sounds lovely. We’ve got the bones of something empowering here. But these words—women matter—have no purchase without a shift in theology. And if we choose to build—again—on crumbling foundation, then we shouldn’t be surprised when our sanctuaries fall to rubble and our numbers continue to recede.
And then we have the second resolution with its explicit condemnation of abuse. We’ll set aside for a moment that this resolution needed to be said in the first place in 2018, and that we still didn’t see clear advice for divorce in cases of abuse.
I’m glad that Southern Baptists are talking about abuse. I’m so glad they—and organizations like The Gospel Coalition—affirm the dignity and worth of women. But we need a lot more than words at this point.
We need action. We need you to build on better theological foundations. We need you to examine how what you believe about headship and submission enables abuse. We need you to know that barring women from the pulpit means many of you have become spiritually deaf to our pain.
We also need you to grasp how dangerous the message of one-way submission is to a woman being abused, even with some nuance to it. We need you to realize that the best way to protect women from abuse is to empower us to lead in the home and in the church. We need you to let go of old, cursed things. We need you, together with us, to—finally—construct a new thing.
I hope I’m wrong but, based on these resolutions, I expect that things in the SBC will go on much as they have. Because we’re still attacking the symptoms. The problems we face won't be solved by resolutions that say that women matter and shouldn’t be abused. We will see real change when our actions say that women are equal to men, in every sense and in every sphere.