As newsfeeds are abuzz with the proposed amendment to the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention to ban women from serving as “pastors” in its membership churches, Baptist women are rightfully calling for churches and male colleagues to fill pulpits with women.
Do not misunderstand me. The church needs the voices of women. I couldn’t agree more. But if history has taught us anything, it is that we cis white women have the tendency to naval gaze, focused solely on our own exclusion. Two problems emerge.
First, cis white women aren’t the only ones excluded from the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches. Many institutionalized forms of exclusion and oppression exist within the walls of our churches, such as racism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, nativism and transphobia, to name only a few. Calls for inclusion must extend beyond the call for female voices in the pulpit. Our work shouldn’t begin or end with women. God’s call for justice knows no bounds.
Womanist voices. Deaf voices. Migrant voices. Young voices. Trans voices. Imprisoned voices. This is only the beginning of what it might look like to expand our pulpits beyond the entrappings of hegemonic masculinity.
Second, we need to look around and take note of what is happening in the world outside our churches. Trans teens are taking their lives at alarming rates as laws targeting their personhood and limiting their access to health care are debated and instituted throughout our nation.
While Baptist women bemoan a limited number of open pulpits, our trans siblings mourn their friends and fear their futures. The loss of a select number of pulpits seems miniscule in comparison. We must not drown out their laments with our calls for more representation. We must raise cries of injustice on the part of trans siblings and other oppressed persons, not only ourselves.
So, yes, on the heels of the proposed amendment, I have a message for Baptist women: Let’s be better.
It seems we Baptist women have resurrected a familiar habit — narcissism at the expense of God’s ever-expanding, justice-seeking vision of the world. In the days ahead, I can only hope we remember to lift our heads, look around and join God in the good work of dismantling oppression in all its forms, not just our own.
Anna M.V. Bowden serves as assistant professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.