Dear Brother Paige,
We now have something in common. We were both ousted. Mine happened so long ago that you may not remember me. It was 30 years ago. I was among the first casualties of the war against women in pastoral positions in the Southern Baptist Convention. The church that I was called to pastor was “disfellowshipped” in 1987 for “knowingly calling a woman as pastor.” You may recall that it was after the SBC resolution to exclude women from pastoring “to preserve a submission God requires because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”
My friend Will Campbell was fond of saying that if women were first to sin, then we should have some seniority rights. He was funny that way.
Being ousted is no fun. From experience I can tell you that I was both maligned and affirmed. Hatred was unleashed in the firestorm. I was called “an abomination from hell,” “a whore of Babylon,” and “a heretic.” I was surprised by so much meanness. Southern Baptists were my religious family. Being kicked out of your own family is a heartbreak that takes time to heal. It was troubling, not only because the Bible was used to discourage women pastors. We were already discouraged. Most troubling was how the Bible was used to support the subjugation of women, a belief that leads to the tragic consequences of the abuse of power by men. Interpretation matters. That season of conflict in Baptist life was called the “Battle for the Bible.” That was a war in which the Bible never asked to be a weapon.
I want you to know that I have more hope now than ever. I’m grateful to live in this apocalyptic time, a time of the “revealing,” as that word means. Even the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are hearing the strong voices of women. Uncovering the truth about the abuse of women opens the way for healing. Think about the divine possibilities. Men can be released of the ancient sin of patriarchy in order to practice the joy of mutuality. Women can live in peace and unafraid.
I have hope because Southern Baptists have publically called people to repentance in the past. In 1995 the SBC repented of the sin of racism. The denomination recognized that it had been formed in 1845 in a covenant of cruelty when our forebears in the faith condemned abolitionists and affirmed slavery. They further committed the sin of — yet again — using biblical verses to their own purpose, not to God’s, to support the horrors being perpetrated on other human beings.
It took 150 years, but the SBC finally acknowledged that sin, asking for forgiveness while calling people to work to eradicate racism. Now is the time for another act of repentance. The SBC can repent of the sin of sexism and misogyny, and call for a new day of eradicating the oppression of women.
Brother Paige, perhaps you are playing a role in this liberating movement of the Spirit. This could be a Damascus Road time for leaders like you. Like Paul, the scales can fall away, enabling the eyes to see the long history of persecution. The suffering of women is no longer hidden, dismissed or silenced. It is God’s reckoning time. If you are still preaching at the upcoming annual meeting, maybe the Spirit is giving you this opportunity to invite the whole convention to repentance. It could release the grace that compels the change to live in God’s just and healing ways.
My experience of being ousted changed me, as I’m sure this experience is changing you. Being cast out can help us see more clearly the wounded people of this world who know daily abuse and ostracism. We can see vividly that any religious, political or social power that oppresses, denigrates or enslaves people is not of God. And we can also see that Christ’s love is seeking to transform us still, and in such love we are saved.
Your sister in Christ,
Nancy Hastings Sehested
I have deep roots in Southern Baptist life. My middle name is Carol. I was named after my father, Carroll, who was named after B.H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.