GAs Gone Bad: Baptist women you should be reading

Nearly 60 years have passed since Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., ordained Addie Davis to ministry. Yet somehow, Southern Baptists are still fighting about women in ministry.

Saddleback Church in California recently set off a new round of controversy by ordaining three women on its staff. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, not surprisingly, thinks the ordination of women has led to the “feminization” of “liberal Protestantism.” He writes, “Put bluntly, there are just not that many males left. Actually, there are not many people left in those churches. Liberal theology is the kiss of death for any church or denomination. Little remains but social justice activism and deferred maintenance.”

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

Fortunately, white men like those running the Southern Baptist Convention don’t have the last word. In fact, for many years now, Baptist women have been narrating their own stories, and these counter-voices are ones you should hear because they offer other ways of looking at things, deeper, more complex and nuanced voices of diverse women who have a whole lot to say. Indeed, they’ve a story to tell.

Girls’ Auxiliary

Many Baptist women likely remember being a GA. For those of us old enough, GA stood for Girls’ Auxiliary. For those who are younger, it‘s Girls in Action, a program of Woman’s Missionary Union. (Just a note for WMU staffers: I know “GA” is already plural, but you and I also know that many of us still call ourselves “GAs,” and so that’s the term I’m going to use.)

In GAs, we learned about a bigger world as we heard the stories of missionaries at home and abroad. We made little toiletry kits to send to places far-away like Zimbabwe and Thailand. We prayed for missionaries on their birthdays. We practiced public speaking skills, and we listened intently when leaders told us, “You can be anything God calls you to be.”

For those of us of a certain age, we started GAs as “maidens” and worked our way through “Forward Steps” up to “ladies-in-waiting,” “princesses,” “queens,” and even “queens-in-service.” We wore white capes and crowns and carried scepters in a coronation service, and, as my friend Karen Massey, now an associate dean at McAfee School of Theology, who earned the highest level of “Service Aide” and appeared on the cover of Accent, the WMU magazine for teens, says, it was all a little like a Baptist beauty pageant.

“Little, however, did those GA leaders suspect that for many of us that call to ‘arise, shine’ would be to ordained ministry, the pastorate or the professoriate.”

Nonetheless, GAs was the place where we learned our responsibility to answer God’s call. Little, however, did those GA leaders suspect that for many of us that call to “arise, shine” would be to ordained ministry, the pastorate or the professoriate.

Claiming a voice

One of the early metaphors second wave feminists used to describe women’s experience of claiming agency was voice. In other words, in a patriarchal culture that has long silenced women, for women, a primary act of asserting self is to speak up.

As Baptist women began to speak up in the 1970s and ’80s, fundamentalists within the SBC tried to shut them up. The SBC passed a resolution calling for women’s exclusion from the pastorate; seminaries got rid of women professors; and local Baptist associations kicked out churches that called women as their pastors.

Nevertheless, these women persisted. Many of them earned Ph.D.s. They found positions in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or Alliance of Baptist churches, agencies or seminaries; some made their way in other denominations; a few stayed and continued the struggle in colleges with Southern Baptist ties; some, like me, found a place in the secular sphere. We were joined by new generations of Baptist women who grew up after the Baptist battles of the ’80s but still saw the ways patriarchy, white supremacy and heteronormativity (the ways society is shaped to reinforce the assumption that all people are heterosexual) are intertwined with the church.

Many of us started to use our voices to reshape the narratives of the Baptist past, biblical interpretation and theology. Some of us even started to write about Baptist women.

“Many of us started to use our voices to reshape the narratives of the Baptist past, biblical interpretation and theology.”

GAs gone bad

In 2011, Karen Seat, a religious studies professor at the University of Arizona and a missionary kid, got Eileen Campbell-Reed (Central Baptist Seminary), Betsy Flowers (Baylor University), and me together to present a session on Southern Baptist engagement with feminism at the January 2012 conference of the American Society of Church History. We had so much fun, we decided to keep working together.

We expanded and invited a small group of other women researching and writing about Baptists to join us for a meeting in Oregon.

We named ourselves GAs Gone Bad, a phrase first coined by Molly Marshall and Nancy Sehested. GAs Gone Bad are those Baptist women who claim their calling in the face of resistance. They preach, teach, write and work to transform the world.

GAs Gone Bad did more presentations about Baptists and feminism at the National Women’s Studies Association and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion meetings and various conferences. Courtney Pace (formerly of Memphis Theological Seminary) joined us at NABPR for a reading of the play Baptist Preacher Girl by Kryn Freehling-Burton, based on interviews I did with Baptist women in ministry for my book, God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church Home and Society. Lisa Thompson (Vanderbilt University Divinity School) then joined us for a meeting in rainy Arizona to plan a book that eventually became A Marginal Majority: Women, Gender, and a Reimagining of Southern Baptists, edited by Karen Seat and Betsy Flowers.

Many GAs Gone Bad contributed to the volume, which explores the SBC’s complicated and checkered past and present with women. Taken together, the essays provide an illuminating context for current controversies in the SBC.

For your edification

If you look at a lot of writing about Baptist history and theology, you’ll have to read between the lines to find much about women. Lottie Moon and the founding of WMU usually get a paragraph or two, but, on the whole, most of the scholarship by our Baptist brethren overlooks gender.

Fortunately, however, since scholars like Sarah Frances Anders started moving women to the center of academic research, a whole range of books, articles and now blogs and podcasts have made the contributions of Baptist women more widely available.

“Sure, you’ve heard about Martin Luther King Jr., but do you know Prathia Hall?”

Sure, you’ve heard about Martin Luther King Jr., but do you know Prathia Hall? You know about Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but do you know about the WMU Training School there? Do you know about the feminist literature coming out of the Baptist Sunday School Board in the 1970s or what Baptist women in ministry experienced during the controversy among Southern Baptists?

If not, you’re in luck. Complete your summer reading list with some of these recommendations. The Baptist women below (and more, I’m sure, and my apologies to any GAs Gone Bad writers whom I inadvertently left off my list) have produced significant scholarship to fill in the gaps. And don’t let the word “scholarship” make you think these are dense, boring academic tomes. These works are readable, engaging, informative, enlightening and often funny. I’m listing these GAs Gone Bad in alphabetical order, but jump into their works anywhere.

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, assistant professor of New Testament and Christian ministry, Campbell University, will publish Scapegoats: The Gospel through the Eyes of Victims with Fortress Press later this year or early next. @garciabashaw

Eileen Campbell-Reed, academic entrepreneur, Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen’s Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2016, University of Tennessee Press; Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life, 2021, Fortress Press. @ecampbellreed

Isabel Docampo, director, Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions and professor of supervised ministry, Perkins School of Theology, Immersion Bible Studies: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 2012, Abingdon Press. @idocampo1

Pamela Durso, president, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Courage and Hope: The Stories of Ten Baptist Women Ministers (with Keith Durso), 2006, Mercer University Press; The World Is Waiting for You: Celebrating the 50th Ordination Anniversary of Addie Davis (edited with LeAnn Gunter Johns), 2014, Smyth & Helwys; This is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry (editor), 2015, Smyth & Helwys.

Elizabeth Flowers, associate professor of history, Baylor University, Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power since World War II, 2014, University of North Carolina Press.

Kate Hanch, associate pastor of youth and families at First St. Charles United Methodist Church in Missouri, is currently writing a book on Zilpha Elaw, Sojourner Truth and Julia Foote with Fortress Press. She’s also a contributor for Baptist News Global and Good Faith Media. @katehanch

Carol Holcomb, Professor, College of Christian Studies, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Home without Walls: Southern Baptist Women and Social Reform in the Progressive Era, 2020, University of Alabama Press.

Lydia Hoyle, associate professor of church history and Baptist heritage, Campbell University, has written about 19th century women missionaries in journals such as Missiology and the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Laura Rodgers Levens, assistant professor of Christian mission, Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, is working on a Leaving Home and Finding Home: The Theology and Practice of Ann Hasseltine Judson and the American Baptist Mission to Burma, 1812-1826. She also writes for Baptist News Global. Her recent op-ed, “The debate over women pastors is a Southern Baptist smoke screen,” was picked up by the Washington Post. @LRLevens

Karen Massey, associate dean for master’s degree programs and associate professor of Christian education and faith development, McAfee School of Theology, And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: Sermons by Women in Baptist Life (editor), 2012, Mercer University Press.

Melody Maxwell, associate professor of church history, Acadia Divinity College, The Woman I Am: Southern Baptist Women’s Writings, 1906–2006, 2014, University of Alabama Press. She and Laine Scales co-wrote Doing the Word: Southern Baptists’ Carver School of Church Social Work and Its Predecessors, 1907–1997, 2019, University of Tennessee Press.

Mandy McMichael, assistant professor of religion and associate director of ministry guidance, Baylor University, Miss America’s God: Faith and Identity in America’s Oldest Pageant, 2019, Baylor University Press. She is currently working on a Louisville Institute funded project, Baptist Women in Ministry: In Their Own Words. @mandyemcmichael

Amy Mears, co-pastor, Glendale Baptist Church, Nashville, is co-editing a book as a companion piece to next year’s Alliance of Baptists annual gathering. The theme is “Taking on the Cross: Re-Learning the Love of God.”

Courtney Pace, Prathia Hall scholar in residence of social justice history, equity for women in the church, Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall, 2019, University of Georgia Press. The UGA Press also will publish her edited anthology of Hall’s sermons and essays, Beyond Eden, later this year or early next. @RevDrMom_Pace

Laine Scales, professor of social work, Baylor University, All That Fits a Woman: Training Southern Baptist Women for Charity and Mission, 1907-1926, 2000, Mercer University Press. She and Melody Maxwell co-wrote Doing the Word: Southern Baptists’ Carver School of Church Social Work and Its Predecessors, 1907–1997, 2019, University of Tennessee Press.

Karen Seat, director of the religious studies program, University of Arizona, “Providence Has Freed Our Hands”: Women’s Missions and the American Encounter with Japan, 2008, Syracuse University Press.

Anna Sieges Beal, assistant professor of religious studies, Gardner-Webb University, writes about the Hebrew Bible. She has contributed pieces on minor prophets in anthologies and Bible dictionaries.

Delane Tew, professor of history at Samford University, is working on a history of the welcoming and affirming movement coming out of the American Baptist Churches USA for the movement’s 50th anniversary.

Lisa Thompson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chancellor Faculty Fellow of Black homiletics and liturgics at the Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion of Vanderbilt University, Ingenuity: Preaching as the Outsider, 2018, Abingdon. Preaching the Headlines: Possibilities and Pitfalls will come out with Fortress in December 2021.

Carol Ann Vaughn Cross, assistant professor, department of geography and sociology, Samford University, has written a number of articles about historical figures such as Martha, Foster Crawford, Crawford Toy, Erasmus Darwin and Henry Drummond. @equipoisecology

This is what happens when you tell little girls they can be anything God calls them to be. They grow up to be women with powerful voices calling the church to be and do better. The church needs even more GAs Gone Bad, and, when God calls, there’s nothing the SBC or any other force can do to stop them.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

Losing my religion

Do we really wonder why so many people are leaving organized religion?

A new Gallup poll has found that for the first time, the proportion of Americans who say they are members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50%. Both mainline and evangelical Protestant membership is in decline. The religious “nones” are growing and now represent nearly a quarter of Americans — that’s about the same percentage as evangelicals and Catholics. Younger people are much more likely to be religiously unaffiliated than older folks.

I can’t say I blame them.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

The United States has long been an outlier among wealthier nations in continuing to be religious, and so perhaps some degree of secularization was inevitable. Significantly, however, we’ve also seen a growing sense of disillusionment with the church and a greater distrust of social institutions in general because of scandals, hypocrisy and failures to do the right thing, as in sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church and Southern Baptist Convention.

Many days I find myself standing on the threshold of the church door, looking out and considering joining the “nones” myself.

Monday, we learned that a jury in Minneapolis found Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd. Many rejoiced at that decision. And while that verdict brings some measure of accountability to that particular crime, the systems that led to this moment have not yet transformed, in the police precinct or the corner church.

University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler traces the rise of today’s conservative white evangelicalism to its racist roots in the enslavement of Africans. Anti-Black racism, she argues, is at the core of every facet of white evangelicalism. But the evangelicals are not alone in white dominant traditions. Recently, the Episcopal church released its report on racism within the church, identifying nine patterns of systemic racism.

The Atlanta spa shootings reflect a trifecta of controversial topics among Christians — gender, race and guns. A man steeped in purity culture, a member of a Southern Baptist church, targeted Asian women because they were a temptation to him. For the month of April thus far, a shooting with multiple victims has happened on all but three days. Despite the epidemic of gun violence, evangelicals are more likely to own a gun than other Christians, and they, on the whole, oppose gun control.

“For the month of April thus far, a shooting with multiple victims has happened on all but three days.”

We also learned this week that state legislatures already this year have broken the record for anti-transgender legislation with 33 states considering more than 100 bills that would restrict the rights of transgender people. As conservative evangelicals face losing the culture wars on other fronts, they’ve found a new target in transgender people and seem intent on demonizing them for political gain.

In particular, the Right has focused on trans girls’ and women’s participation in sports, claiming they are trying to protect girls and women from trans athletes’ unfair advantage. That the same people who advocate for women’s submission would suddenly take up the mantle of women’s rights invites skepticism. They are not interested in preserving women’s rights; they’re interested in preserving the boundaries of gender.

Finally, this month we learned that 45% of white evangelicals said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine. Distrust of government, embrace of conspiracy theories, scientific misinformation and illiteracy, news silos, and partisan politics have generated fear and hesitancy among white evangelicals that likely will extend the pandemic.

“They are not interested in preserving women’s rights; they’re interested in preserving the boundaries of gender.”

Being a “none” looks like a very rational decision to me.

When I was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, religious education professor Findley Edge talked about the process of institutionalization. He said that someone would have an innovative idea. They’d share, and others would get excited about it. Then they’d organize around it and build structures to sustain it. Eventually, the structures would overtake the idea, especially as the founding generation moved on or died out, and, sooner or later, maintaining the structures would become more important than the original idea.

By my estimation, the church is thoroughly institutionalized. In fact, I’d say, not only have we gotten far afield from the original idea, we’ve actually set ourselves in opposition to it. After all, it was so simple as Jesus expressed it: Love God and love your neighbor. How hard could that be? And if we’d done that, would we be looking at the ascendancy of the “nones”? Would I perpetually stand on the threshold, one foot out the door?

Something is terribly wrong when racism is an epidemic in the church, when women of color are murdered for being a temptation, when trans people become targets for discrimination and bigotry, and when emphasis on individual “liberties” puts public health at risk. None of this falls under “Love God and love your neighbor.” If this is the church, people are right to leave it.

“It was so simple as Jesus expressed it: Love God and love your neighbor. How hard could that be?”

Something’s amiss in the progressive church too. The decline in mainline Protestant churches suggests needs aren’t being met there either. Findley Edge said that once something is institutionalized, someone has to have a new idea. We have to stop hanging on to the structures of church for the sake of the structures. We have to ask that really hard question of what we need to do to love God and love our neighbors. Church as we know it may not be the answer.

I don’t know what the answer is, hence my place on the threshold. I only stay because I found a community of faith at Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland where a group of multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming, justice-seeking people are doing their best to love God and love their neighbors, although I’m still not sure the institutional structures we’ve inherited are best for that.

Probably if I had not been born into organized religion (I was, after all, on the cradle roll at Shorter Avenue Baptist Church in Rome, Ga.), I would not have gone there voluntarily, especially now. So maybe it’s time for the church to lose its religion and find itself born into something new that embodies in every way the guidance of Jesus: Love God and love your neighbor.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.


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It was a bad week for women, but it wasn’t unusual

In case you didn’t notice, women had a very bad week.

In Georgia, a Southern Baptist man shot and killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, because he wanted to eliminate temptation because of his sex addition. This incident is the very picture of the intersections of gender, race, class and religion that made these particular women socially and economically vulnerable to racialized gender violence by a white man who thought women of color were responsible for his sexual behavior.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

In New York, sexual harassment and assault allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to pile up, even as he refuses to resign.

Seven women now have accused Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault.

The U.S. House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that had expired under the previous administration. One hundred and seventy-two Republicans voted against it. Speaking of intersectionality — their opposition has to do with the bill’s inclusion of protections for transgender women, its expansion of gun restrictions, its inclusion of dating partners, and its expansion of jurisdiction for Indigenous authorities to prosecute non-Indigenous people who commit crimes on tribal lands. The bill may face a Republican filibuster in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes.

While the moniker, “March Madness,” applies only to the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, plenty of women are mad because of the association’s disparate treatment of the men’s and women’s tournaments. While the association provided the men with a state-of-the-art workout facility, primo swag bags, and top-quality snacks and meals, the women got a few free weights, a slim swag bag, and lower-quality food.

In London, protests erupted over the killing of British woman Sara Everard and the arrest of a British police officer for her murder. Police managed to make the situation worse by roughing up and arresting protesters.

Protests also raged in Australia as accusations of rape within the government’s halls of power came to light. More than 100,000 people took to the streets across 40 cities, proclaiming, “Enough is enough!”

“One in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.”

The head of U.N. Women said the COVID-19 pandemic is “the most discriminatory crisis” women and girls ever have experienced and pointed out the concurrent “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence resulting from the COVID pandemic. Just the week before, a new U.N. study found that “one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.”

Turkey pulled out of the 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding treaty that specifically requires governments to combat violence against women.

The Vatican said priests can’t bless same-sex unions.

The United States broke its own record for anti-transgender legislation proposed in a single year. Already this year, 82 anti-trans bills have been proposed in state legislatures around the country.

“The United States broke its own record for anti-transgender legislation.”

The high court in France ruled that sex with 13-year-old girls cannot be tried as rape, even as lawmakers were considering legislation to change the age of consent.

Demonstrators in Louisville, Ky., marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Breonna Taylor by police. So far, none of the officers involved in the shooting have faced criminal charges.

The week before all of this, popular evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore decided she has had enough of Southern Baptists. She announced she has left the denomination, primarily because of its leaders’ ongoing support of Donald Trump, despite his behavior toward women, and its mishandling of its sex abuse catastrophe.

On my own campus, we’ve been dealing with a crisis resulting from a report about a culture of sexual abuse at our president’s previous institution while he was there. All week, survivors have written and spoken about their own experiences, and many of us have spent hours in Zoom meetings, forums and special sessions trying to figure out how to respond to the crisis and support survivors. Unhappy with the president’s responses, our faculty senate voted no confidence in the president and the board of trustees on Thursday and called for their resignations.

Ironically enough, March is Women’s History Month. March 8 was International Women’s Day.

While making proclamations, highlighting outstanding women, and preaching a sermon on a text that features a woman are nice, they hardly begin to address the personal and structural violence this week alone has underlined. Despite limited progress, women, across all of their differences, are still subject to ongoing discrimination and misogynistic violence, ranging from ogling and inappropriate comments to sexual harassment, sexual assault and murder.

“I want to know when we’re going to take this seriously.”

I want to know when we’re going to take this seriously. Feminists have talked about these issues and offered solutions for decades, and yet the “angry feminist” trope persists as if we have nothing to be angry about.

Well, I am angry. And if you aren’t, I’d like to know why. These are things to be angry about.

These are not simply problems of the proverbial “bad apples.” These are deep structural problems that call for radical transformation of institutions, ideologies and people — including the church.

In theological language, this is the structural sin of sexism in which the church participates when it excludes women from leadership, teaches women’s submission and male headship, inherent LGBTQ sinfulness, purity culture and white Christian nationalism, and turns away from its responsibility to address gender violence within the church and the larger society.

This bad week for women isn’t an exception. It’s the rule.

What I wonder is what the church will do about it.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.


Related articles:

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Baptist men, it’s time to listen to Baptist women. Not Baptist? If the shoe fits… | Opinion by Susan Shaw

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Women and the call to lead | Opinion by Erich Bridges

What I learned by listening to women pastors during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a differential impact on women. In particular, working mothers have faced a greater burden of child care and home schooling than men and have ended up leaving the work force in significantly greater numbers than men.

Women perform three times the hours of unpaid care work that men do. Women in academia are falling behind their colleagues in research productivity, including submitting fewer articles to peer-reviewed journals. A majority of frontline health workers are women, and so they have been at greater risk for contracting the virus. Instances of domestic violence have increased as pressures on men have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and people have been locked down in their homes for extended periods of time.

Given the stark impact of the pandemic on women, I decided to ask women pastors what effects the pandemic is having on them. Their answers, unsurprisingly, to a great extent reflect the experiences of other professional women, and they are uniquely inflected by their role as pastors during this time of crisis.

Given the stark impact of the pandemic on women, I decided to ask women pastors what effects the pandemic is having on them.

While some of the concerns raised by the pandemic overlap with those of men pastors as well, gender still shapes congregational expectations and pastors’ behaviors. Because gender is so deeply ingrained in individual psyches and institutional structures, a crisis like a pandemic makes falling back into familiar patterns easy, even in progressive families and churches.

For example, congregations may expect women pastors to be more nurturing, especially during a pandemic, or men in the congregation may feel more empowered to challenge women pastors’ decision-making abilities. Home can be especially fraught, especially when suddenly children are at home all day every day.

Pastoral duties

Most of the women with whom I spoke felt the pandemic had intensified their pastoral work as congregants have needed more support and pastors have had to find new ways to do church.

A number noted how they have missed in-person contact.

Mimi Walker

Mimi Walker, pastor of the Church at Ponce and Highland in Atlanta, said: “The greatest struggle for me has been changing my style and focus of ministry. Pastoral ministry is where my spirit is fed, so not being able to visit church members, hold the new babies in our congregation, or meet with visitors over lunch has been a deep loss. … I miss the Sunday morning hugs that provide that desperately needed physical touch that sustains the human soul.”

Cheryl Kimble, pastor of the Church @ Highland Park in Austin, Texas, said: “I would say the biggest thing for me is that I’m a relational pastor, and not being able to see people who are hurting, going through illness, even suffering loss, and I can’t be there. I can’t lay my hands on people and pray for them. I can’t easily even have funeral services for those we’ve lost.”

Jen Stuart

Jen Stuart, pastor of Bend Church United Methodist in Bend, Ore., said that early on she and her staff of mostly women decided to keep a healthy pace rather than comparing themselves to busier churches that continued with more activities. She added: “I think what we’ve done really well is set up small groups and I have a Monday through Friday devotion time on our Facebook page where we name three things we are grateful for, and then read together Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. This work has been life changing for me, and at least 75 people tune in to it at some point during the day.”

Amy Mears

Amy Mears, co-pastor of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., worries about how pastors are thinking about providing “long-term trauma-related care for chaplains and physicians and nurses and respiratory therapists and other caregivers.” She explained: “EMTs being told to triage their calls and only transport those who look like they can be helped? Hospital personnel who are rationing ventilators and supplies? Watching people die alone in a glass cubicle when you are trained in the incarnational ministry of presence? How are those people going to regain their moral and spiritual and psychological and emotional and social footing when this shifts back to a more sustainable life? Maybe there are male pastors looking at their parishioners and having these conversations, but I haven’t been a part of any such conversations that included men.”

Danielle Bridgeforth

Danielle Bridgeforth, pastor of the Church at Clarendon in Arlington, Va., talked about her own struggles in dealing with the trauma of the pandemic. She explained: “One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been dealing with the brokenness, heartache and trauma that is being experienced by others. As a nurturer, it has been difficult for me to consistently decompress and turn off my mind. I am hurting along with my congregation and community. Nevertheless, I must learn to take breaks, step back and refocus on God, who is with us in the midst of everything we are experiencing.”

Some pastors noted the quickness of some of the men in their churches to challenge and criticize. One pastor explained: “The pandemic has frayed people’s nerves, and I have found that some people are really crabby, and, early on, fast to criticize and complain. Maybe I am paranoid, but it seemed those people who would complain, gripe or explode at me, would not so easily do it to a man.” She pointed out that her male associate pastor has not gotten the same kinds of responses. She continued, “It could be that it is because I am the pastor, but I think there is a feeling of ‘freedom’ to complain at a woman.”

Zoom church

For most of these women pastors, the switch to Zoom church and livestreaming has been a significant change.

Cheryl Kimble

Cheryl Kimble mentioned the “huge learning curve of trying to do services differently. Trying to figure out livestreaming, trying to come up with ways to make people feel connected when we’re apart.”

Mimi Walker reflected that her younger staff members were extremely helpful with “that steep learning curve of shifting everything online and dealing with the technical glitches every week.”

One pastor noted that some of the men in her congregation were quick to complain about the Zoom rollout. She said, “At first it was men who wanted perfection in the way we rolled out Zoom, etc., but they eventually were humbled and quit because they started making mistakes and found it wasn’t so easy. Now it seems to be other people — a few women, but not so direct.”

Both Kimble and Walker talked about the difficulties of preaching to a camera. “I enjoy the phone calls and Zoom meetings,” Walker said, “but it is not the same. And preaching to a camera has been an awkward adjustment. At first, I taped a picture on top of the camera to feel like I was talking to someone.”

Kimble added: “Preaching to a camera is just hard. It’s really hard to put time and energy into a sermon only to look at a camera and preach it. The desire to see faces, even to watch those that fall asleep each week, but also to see the smiles, the head shakes and even the laughter if I say something funny. I have to admit that when we started 10 months ago, I didn’t think we would be apart for Easter, and now we’re entering into another Lenten season, and I’m saddened that we might be apart for yet another Easter.”

Nonetheless, Walker pointed to some positive impacts of Zoom church: “The upside of these changes has been building new relationships with people who would not have driven to the church building, who now have found us online. And some seniors with health issues that had kept them from attending are able to participate again, having learned how to join us online.”

Linda Tucker

Linda Tucker, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Corvallis, Ore., explained how her church shifted its use of its facilities. She said the church “has responded to the pandemic by closing our worship space but opening our living space. We turned the temporary women’s shelter into a year-round, 24-7 shelter and added four micro shelters. We have beds, food and shelter for 25 women. As so many of our long-standing volunteers were in the most vulnerable age if exposed to COVID-19, we encouraged younger folks to volunteer. The pandemic put women on the street in even more stressful situations.”

Single women

Pastors who are single women noted the loneliness they’ve faced during the lockdown, and research suggests that isolation takes an especially high toll on single women.

Danielle Glaze

Danielle Glaze, pastor of First Baptist Church of Teachey, N.C., said: “The isolation and loneliness has been intense in addition to not having someone to support at home.” Similarly, Amy Mears said that because her children are now college-aged, she basically lives alone and faces loneliness during the pandemic.

Danielle Bridgeforth pointed out the temptation for single pastors to work all the time. She said: “I have realized that, especially as a single woman, I lacked a healthy work-life balance before the pandemic. I probably knew this already, but this season has made it more obvious to me. So, the pandemic has required me to put in place more boundaries and more accountability to help me stay aligned.”

Mothers with school-aged children

The most significant issue of gender for women pastors during the pandemic is parenting young children. A number reported that during the pandemic, heterosexual families had fallen into traditional gender roles.

One who is a co-pastor with her husband explained, “So I tend to carry more of the load of the domestic which in the pandemic turned up significantly working from home — and naturally pulled time away from pastoring. It has been hard to feel that constant pull between the two and feeling like I am constantly over-performing and yet underperforming at the same time with both of them.”

Two pastors explained that the perceived “flexibility” of their job as pastor meant they became more responsible for child care and work in the home during the pandemic.

Jen Butler

Jen Butler, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis, Ore., said that because her husband’s company never sent employees to work from home, she became the full-time parent while continuing her full-time work as pastor. She noted: “Once the initial couple of weeks had passed and the world transitioned to Zoom meetings and online school, I (along with the rest of working mothers around the world) was trying to do all the things. Get groceries delivered, lead meetings, do online school and keep my child alive at the same time.”

She said things have improved as time has passed. “My child now comes to work with me and has a tutor, which makes things better but still means I am parenting while working. I am still the person who does the grocery shopping and the doctor’s appointments and manages the household because my job is ‘flexible.’”

Another pastor said: “The ways in which this pandemic has affected my job are endless. The balance of work and home is a common struggle for women.” She said her three-person family is all online during the day, each in a different room in their home. “It was not evident at first how the isolation was affecting my son’s schoolwork. Eventually we became aware of how lost he was. He had been lying to us for months that he was on top of his work. We were too busy to double check. I changed my schedule to start work when he started online school so that I could make sure he was online.  Yes, my husband could have made changes to his schedule, but we decided I had more flexibility and therefore could do this more consistently.”

Aurelia Pratt

Aurelia Pratt, pastor of Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas, acknowledged that her primary challenge during the pandemic has been balancing being a pastor and being a parent. She said: “As is the case with many working women, I am the primary caregiver to my young daughter, and the pandemic totally upended my child care situation. I’m currently operating with less than half of my usual child care (and for the first five months of the quarantine I had no child care). I’ve been getting up at the break of dawn and using nap times to work, and I am busy most nights with meetings I had to push to evening hours. Because this is my current reality, I’ve had to be intentional about creating a rhythm that works for me and my family, despite the difficulties.”

The issue of child care during the pandemic, however, also has been a concern in LGBTQ families.

Meg Vail

Meg Vail, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Logan, Utah, noted: “My gendered experience of the pandemic has a lot to do with my motherhood, which is inherently a gendered experience, I guess you could say. We found out we were expecting in late November 2019, four months before the pandemic shutdown. After touring day cares in the early winter, we suddenly realized we were going to need to find a way to keep our child home safely. … In recent months, I’ve often felt I’ve had to choose between a desire for excellence as a pastor and excellence as a mother. I was asked to speak publicly on several occasions and, had I not been the mother of a vulnerable infant, I might have said yes. I found myself without child care one recent morning, unexpectedly, and decided I shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to meet with (and develop a ministry relationship with) a new leader in our region, so I spoke up about bringing my son with me.”

Amy Mears explained that in her Baptist women pastors’ group, participants worry about the members with young children at home. “They are trying to dredge up creativity to plan Lenten worship with a 2-year-old under the table eating Cheerios. There is no physical space and no break in time. In the case of my group, at least, none of them is in a situation where another parent is a stay-at-home, full-time caregiver for kids. The other parent is a hospital chaplain, out of the house all week, or pastor of another church doing their own worship planning and sermon writing and budget making. There is no vacation travel, no grandparents offering a parenting break, and if, you take a day off, it’s just another 24 hours of mother-pastor-schoolteacher.”

Libby Grammer

Libby Grammer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Martinsville, Va., was a new pastor and a new mom just before the pandemic struck. She had been busy upgrading the church website and acquiring a camera to record and post worship services in late 2019, and she’d been focusing her energy on the church’s early learning center, all of which have paid off. She’s been able to help church members stay connected, and the center has stayed open throughout the pandemic, caring from almost 100 children of essential personnel, including her own.

Other forms of gendered labor also appeared in these pastors’ comments. One noted the increased burdens for middle-aged women caring for aging parents. Another, who has no children, observed that even though her husband is retired, she still does more work in the home. “While I’ve been home,” she remarked, “it’s been hard to have boundaries. I went from doing church work, calls and Zooms to housework to church again, and worked on church a lot at night. It was really challenging at Christmas because I had all the shopping, mailing and decorating. It’s hard to shed those stereotypes and truly share the load.”

Professional women — and women pastors are no exception — face many gendered challenges in the workplace and home, and the pandemic has exacerbated these struggles. Nonetheless, these pastors continue the work of ministering to congregations, even while homeschooling, vacuuming and writing the next Zoom sermon.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

We need to call Trump Christians back to the faith they left

Joe Biden is the next president of the United States. Despite allegations, falsehoods and lies, no election fraud affected the outcome of the race. That’s simply a fact.

I’m not sure what will become of evangelical Trump supporters now that their expectation of God’s intervention to give Trump the election has not been fulfilled and now that we won’t have outrageous, false and divisive tweets emanating from the White House all through the day and night. I imagine some will continue down the rabbit hole of QAnon and apocalyptic fanaticism, but I am hoping many will decide to make their way back to the central tenets of Christian faith — love, truth, justice, peace, hope and welcome.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

As we move into the Biden-Harris era, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we invite Trump-supporting evangelicals back into the fold of the church.

Not so long ago, I was introduced to a song,Hymn for the 81%.” It’s a song for evangelical Trump supporters from someone raised by them in the church. These lyrics stopped me in my tracks: “You said to love the lost, so I’m loving you now.”

Much to my surprise, that image immediately evoked incredible compassion for Trump-supporting evangelicals: They are lost.

I felt the impact of that word. In a single moment, all the feelings of my evangelical upbringing rushed upon me. I felt the emotions of a little 6-year-old girl walking the aisle while the congregation sang “Just as I Am.” I recalled all those Sunday school teachers and GA leaders and pastors and ministers of music teaching me that we were to love the lost, and I remember the mix of relief and joy and release of knowing “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”

All those memories and emotions swept over me like an avalanche as I realized that Trump-supporting evangelicals got lost somewhere along the way. They are lost. And that changes my responsibility toward them.

Feminist activist Loretta Ross says that rather than calling people out, we should be calling them in. Calling in, Ross says, is “a call out done with love.” Calling in “means you always keep a seat at the table for them if they come back.”

We have to leave a light on for them.

“At the core of the Christian story is the possibility of redemption.”

At the core of the Christian story is the possibility of redemption. No matter what we do, the Gospels tell us, we can repent and change our ways. No one is too far gone for the love of God to reach, to convict, to receive, to transform.

I think about what we heard in all those invitation hymns:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home.

Just as I am without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

I’ve wandered far away from God.
Now I’m coming home.
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod.
Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home,
Never more to roam.
Open wide thine arms of love.
Lord, I’m coming home.

Come home. That is the invitation we must offer evangelicals who supported Trump and who became lost in the mixture of Christian nationalism, white supremacy and authoritarianism that promised them it would bring in God’s community through the exercise of raw power.

“Our evangelistic task is to call people home, to call them in.”

Our prophetic task is to speak truth, denounce injustice and advocate for justice for all people. And, at the same time, our evangelistic task is to call people home, to call them in.

This story gets passed around a lot. I can’t find any verification that it’s true, but I think, true or not, it points to something important about calling people in. As the story goes, in a people group in Africa, when someone commits an unjust or illegal act, the community brings the perpetrator to the center of the village, and then all the community members come and tell this person all the good things this person has done. The community believes, as the story goes, that people are good but makes mistakes and forget who they really are. By telling them all the good they’ve done, the community seeks to remind them of who they are and reconcile them to the group.

Let’s call evangelical Trump supporters in. I’ll start:

  • You taught me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.
  • You introduced me to a world that was much bigger than my hometown and told me to love them too.
  • You told me to love my enemies.
  • You taught me to love the Bible and read it because God could speak to me through its words.
  • You told me I could be anything God called me to be.
  • You taught me to give generously, without thought of return or reciprocation.
  • You taught me to tell the truth.
  • You found a way to accommodate difference when it was up close and personal and love people who were unlike you — the lesbian aunt, the agnostic friend, the weird kid, the deaf neighbor, the immigrant co-worker.
  • You stopped to change a tire for a stranger; you took a meal to a bereaved family; you volunteered at a local shelter; you drove an older person of a different political party to vote; you served as a conversation partner in a language program for refugees; you visited sick people in the hospital; you helped Habitat for Humanity build a house; you started a clothes closet in the church basement.

People are much more than the worst thing they ever did. We have to make a way back for evangelical Trump supporters who may want to come home. I know that’s hard after everything we’ve witnessed the past four years.

“We have to make a way back for evangelical Trump supporters who may want to come home.”

If nothing else, though, the gospel is a story of lavish grace and welcome, a banquet set for a prodigal son, workers who came late to the field, a thief on a cross, all of those in the highways and hedges. In fact, we ourselves are recipients of this lavish grace, this love without limit, and, as my friend Paula Sheridan once said, “We are not the maître d at God’s table. We don’t get to decide who gets seated and who doesn’t.”

My Southern Baptist church did indeed tell me to love the lost. Our Trump-supporting evangelical siblings are lost. They followed a demagogue and lost sight of Jesus. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to make a way back for them; we have to seek them out like a lost coin or a lost sheep and call them in, “out of shameful failure and loss, into the glorious gain of (the) cross; out of unrest and arrogant pride, into (Christ’s) blessed will to abide; out of the depths of ruin untold, into the peace of (Christ’s) sheltering fold.”

This must be our response to the past four years: Come home. Come home.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

Elections have consequences, and now my marriage may be at stake

Raise your hand if the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether or not you could marry.

I see you, folks in interracial marriages and you queer folks.

Now raise your hand if justices on the current Supreme Court want to invalidate your marriage.

I see you, my queer family.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito made news recently when they declared that the landmark case granting the right to marry to same sex couples (Obergefell v. Hodges) was wrongly decided. They wrote that the court chose “a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix.” They added, “Until then, Obergefell will continue to have ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

Now the addition of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the court puts Obergefell and other LGBTQ rights cases at risk. Barrett has a long history of relationship with anti-LGBTQ groups, and her refusal to answer questions about Obergefell and other LGBTQ cases has unnerved many in the LGBTQ community, myself included.

Barrett has given talks for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program for conservative Christian law students, sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, which is labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its virulent anti-LGBTQ agenda. She also served as a trustee for a private Christian school that barred children of LGBTQ parents and did not welcome LGBTQ staff. She is involved with People of Praise, a conservative Christian ministry that excludes LGBTQ people and opposes marriage equality. In her confirmation hearing, she referred to “sexual preference,” a term used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexuality is a choice. While she said she did not intend to offend by uttering the phrase, its usage indicates how she understands sexual identity. She claims she never has and never would discriminate against LGBTQ people, and yet in a 2016 speech she claimed Obergefell is about who gets to decide whether or not we have marriage equality.

“While she said she did not intend to offend by uttering the phrase, its usage indicates how she understands sexual identity.”

Who gets to decide. That’s the crux of it. Whether or not my marriage is valid, whether or not queer folks can marry, is a question that may be decided state by state, by legislatures or by popular votes or by courts. When Obergefell was decided, 37 states had fully legalized marriage equality. Thirteen had not.

What did this patchwork mean? It meant Catherine and I were married in Oregon with access to all the rights marriage confers (more on that in a moment), but when we traveled to Georgia to visit my mother, our marriage was not recognized by the state, meaning, for example, we also needed health care power of attorney paperwork should one of us fall ill in Georgia and the other need to make health care decisions.

By the way, we had to spend thousands of dollars to get all the paperwork we needed to protect our rights as a couple. I also note that we are fortunate enough that we could manage the fees for legal documents. Not all queer people can afford lawyers to sort out health and financial powers of attorney and living trusts or wills.

For queer people living in those 13 states prior to Obergefell, access to marriage meant traveling to a state that did provide legal marriage that would be recognized by the federal government, even though it was not recognized in the state where they lived. So, while that marriage meant they could file federal income tax jointly, they would have to file as single people for the purpose of state income tax (which would mean a higher rate of taxation for each of them than if they could have filed jointly).

What other rights does marriage confer?

  • Spouses can file taxes jointly.
  • A spouse can inherit an entire estate without having to pay an inheritance tax.
  • If there’s no will, a spouse still has inheritance rights.
  • A spouse can usually be on the other’s employer provided health insurance.
  • A spouse can take family leave if a spouse is sick or bereavement leave if someone in the other spouse’s family dies.
  • Spouses can receive Social Security, Medicare and disability benefits.
  • Spouses can visit in a hospital intensive care unit.
  • Spouses can apply for joint adoption.
  • Spouses can receive spousal or child support if they divorce.
  • Spouses can receive family rates for insurance.
  • Spouses can make medical and financial decisions in the case of disabling illness or injury.
  • Spouses can claim marital communications privilege.
  • Spouses can receive workers’ compensation or bring a wrongful death suit if a spouse dies on the job.
  • Spouses have the right to decide what happens to a body when a spouse dies.
  • Spouses fall under family laws related to separation, divorce, orders of protection and care of children.

“Marriage confers benefits. Many of them are financial.”

I could go on, but you get the point. Marriage confers benefits. Many of them are financial. Most are about security of the couple as a family unit. Until Obergefell, these rights were contested or denied in many states. If Obergefell is overturned, we will go back to a system that hands out these rights to some people in some places and denies them to others in other places.

Thomas and Alito pit marriage equality against religious liberty rights, but that is a false dichotomy. Providing marriage access to queer people does not abridge religious rights. People can still believe homosexuality is a sin; they can preach against homosexuality; they can protest at Pride parades. No minister is forced to perform a wedding for queer people; nor are churches required to allow a queer wedding in their facilities.

Thomas and Alito’s real concern seems to be that conservative Christians might have to treat queer people as full human beings. Their comments arose from the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to queer couples. They express similar concerns about bakers who refuse to sell wedding cakes to queer couples. Justice Elena Kagan disputes the claim that expecting businesses to provide services to queer people is an infringement on religious liberty. In the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, she explains that “a wedding cake does not become something different” simply because its vendor imbues its sale with religious significance. She continues, “A vendor can choose the products he sells, but not the customers he serves — no matter the reason.”

“Thomas and Alito’s real concern seems to be that conservative Christians might have to treat queer people as full human beings.”

Now that conservatives have a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court, the likelihood that LGBTQ rights will be rolled back is high, along with the rights of women and people of color.

This has been the Republican long game all along. They have compromised every principle of conservatism, used every mechanism of raw power, and sold themselves out to Donald Trump for this moment — a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that will last for generations.

And progressives bear some responsibility. Elections have consequences.

Again and again, research shows that most Americans support progressive policies. A new PRRI poll shows that 70% of Americans now support marriage equality. Yet we have a Supreme Court installed by a minority party that will impose conservative laws that will harm the most vulnerable people.

Republican senators represent 15 million fewer Americans than Democratic senators but control the Senate. The Supreme Court reflects not the majority of Americans, but the conservatives who organized and showed up to vote.

Most importantly, 90 million eligible voters did not vote in 2016. Imagine if every eligible voter had voted, given most voters support progressive policies. More voters turned out in 2018, but that number still represented only 47% of the eligible voters. Democrats narrowly lost several Senate contests that year, giving Senate Republicans a slim majority and thus the power to enact their will on Supreme Court nominations.

The new conservative Supreme Court majority likely means harm to many groups of people. That’s one consequence of elections over the past 40 years. Voting matters.

Elections have consequences, and now I sit here wondering if the Supreme Court of the United States will invalidate my marriage the first opportunity it gets.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.


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I was trolled by the Right, and here’s what I learned

I knew Campus Reform was going to write about my Baptist News piece on white Christians and climate change. Campus Reform is a conservative news site that uses students as reporters to target progressive professors, and a young writer had gotten in touch with me with a few questions I answered for him. Then I didn’t think too much more about it.

The first two emails arrived on a Friday. More came on Saturday and Sunday along with voicemails on my office phone. Many messages were from people who identified as Christian and yet felt calling me names and questioning my faith was an appropriate response to disliking my arguments.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

So Sunday night I wrote another piece for BNG about mean Christians.

Monday Breitbart picked up the Campus Reform report, and then the emails took a decidedly more vile turn, calling me every misogynistic, homophobic name in the book. Campus Reform and Breitbart readers emailed my university president, my dean and even the senators in the Oregon legislature.

Through Wednesday, the emails poured in; it seemed like a blitz attack by a pack of rabid dogs. It felt like an assault. Then by Wednesday afternoon, the emails slowed to a trickle. The trolls had moved on to the next outrage and targeted the next person with whom they disagreed.

I’m not sure what they hoped to accomplish. Did they want to hurt my feelings by calling me names and telling me I’m ugly? I thought about comedian Hannah Gadsby’s response to trolls: “I’m not ugly. I’m objectively OK.” I’m an almost-60-year-old lesbian feminist who lived through the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Seriously, name-calling by trolls who can’t even spell their insults correctly (I mean, “dike,” really?) does not hurt my feelings.

Did they hope to silence me? That’s certainly not going to happen at this stage in my career.

Did they think they would harm me? Well, that backfired. I had several of the most affirming days of my career as friends and strangers got in touch to offer me words of support and love. A 75-year-old grandmother from Georgia emailed to express her sorrow for my treatment at the hands of fellow believers. Her grandson is an OSU student, and she sent him my article with a note for him to come by and introduce himself to me when campus opens back up.

“Name-calling by trolls who can’t even spell their insults correctly does not hurt my feelings.”

In many ways, I was fortunate. I wasn’t threatened. I didn’t have to go into hiding as many women do when they are trolled. I felt loved and supported. Still, being targeted and trolled by the Right was difficult, and it could have all been much worse had I not had the support I did. So as I’ve reflected on what happened, I’ve learned a few things that may be helpful if you have a loved one, professor or pastor who is trolled.

First, the kindness of friends and strangers matters. When friends heard the trolls had come after me, they stepped in. Friends in Corvallis dropped everything to come over and sit (socially distanced) in the backyard to listen and give advice. Friends on Facebook wrote amazing affirmations. One high school friend I had not talked to in years found my email and sent a kind note.

The person who emailed the entire Oregon State Senate did not realize that one of my former students is a senator. She replied all and wrote the most beautiful, powerful defense of me you can imagine. Friends from different political persuasions got in touch to condemn the trolling and offer kind words.

And it all mattered. In the midst of a grievous verbal assault, their kindness overwhelmed and minimized any power vile words might have had.

I thought of the story of Joseph when his brothers discovered he’d become Pharaoh’s right-hand man after they had thrown him into a pit and sold him into slavery. Joseph told them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Now, I don’t think God intended any of this, but that’s a theological conversation for another day. I do think what the trolls intended for evil turned into good because friends and strangers responded with support, kindness, concern and love.

“When you know someone is being trolled, let them hear from you.”

When you know someone is being trolled, let them hear from you. Tell them you support them. Tell them good things about themselves. Offer whatever help you can. It makes a difference.

Second, institutional support matters. The week following my trolling, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay by another professor who was targeted by Campus Reform and then Fox News. The first part of her story could have been mine. The second part, however, was very different. Her institution threw her under the bus. As she explains, her administration treated her like a public relations problem to be solved not a respected colleague to be defended.

My experience with OSU was quite the opposite. My colleagues cleared the ugly comments on our WGSS Facebook page before I could even see them. My school director supported me. My dean and upper level administrators defended me. They sent words of appreciation to me for the public scholarship I do. The campus offices that deal with issues of inclusion and equity put me in touch with public safety who offered to read the emails and listen to the voicemails so I wouldn’t have to, assess the threat, send any potentially criminal contacts to the police, and block the senders.

Knowing my institution had my back made a difference. At no point did I have to worry about my job security or my standing at work.

People who are being trolled need institutional support. Supervisors, board members, colleagues, governing councils and trustees need to speak up to defend people who are being trolled. Trolls want to cost people their jobs. Workplaces need to assure workers — whether professors or pastors — that this won’t happen when they have spoken for what is true and right and just.

Third, gender matters. Some studies suggest more online hate is directed toward women than men, and that hate takes the form of misogyny and sexualized insult. While other studies suggest that men and women experience similar levels of online harassment, the finding is consistent that the kinds of harassment and hate women and men experience are different. Men are attacked for ideas and attitudes. Women are attacked for being women.

“Men are attacked for ideas and attitudes. Women are attacked for being women.”

Many of the messages I received specifically targeted gender and sexuality. For Black and brown women, trolling encompasses the intersections of gender and sexuality with race, complicating the nature of insult and harm even more.

The impact of trolling is also gendered. Women often have stronger and more fearful reactions to being trolled, and women may be more likely to refrain from expressing themselves subsequent to trolling. Even women who witness other women being trolled may be less likely to speak up because they recognize the gendered nature of trolling.

For women who are trolled, fears for personal safety are significant. I found myself asking our public safety officer if someone could escort me to my office if I needed to come on campus. I started researching doorbell cameras.

When a woman is trolled, supporters should not minimize the feelings of fear and the impact of gendered insults and online harassment. Understand that online harassment of women is gender violence and, for women who have spent a lifetime dealing with gender violence, being trolled may prove quite traumatic.

Fourth, personal safety matters. When the trolling began, I didn’t know how bad it would get. I did know what has happened to so many women online, and so I began to think about my own safety, both online and in real life.

A friend of a friend on Facebook went into my personal page and took a screenshot of my profile picture and personal information to share on his page along with his rant against me. My profile picture shows me with my partner, Catherine. I became aware of his post when Catherine came to me because she’d been notified on Facebook that someone had posted a photo that might be her. This was the worst moment of the entire experience for me because now the trolls had brought my family into the attack.

A former student who works in tech got in touch to advise me on safety issues. She talked me through increasing privacy measures online, and she gave me advice about the best home camera systems.

I realized the extent of my worry when I heard a knock at the front door and had a moment of anxiety. It was only a neighbor wanting to borrow a tool, but that moment underlined the sense of threat that comes with being trolled, even if the messages haven’t been overtly threatening. Another neighbor who heard about what was happening offered to keep a close watch on the house.

“When someone is trolled, help them feel safe.”

When someone is trolled, help them feel safe, whether it’s guiding them through deleting a Twitter account or offering to spend the night if they live alone. Trolling is a violation of a sense of personal safety, and anything that helps restore that is welcome.

Fifth, continuing to speak matters. I knew I had done my homework. My original piece was rooted in social science and climate research, and I knew I could stand by it as an accurate, evidence-based assessment of a problem.

Not surprisingly, the Right had misrepresented my argument. They reduced a nuanced exploration of how White Christians’ denial of climate science is a form of complicity with the intersecting systems of racism and global capitalism that underlie climate change to “Oregon professor says white Christians cause climate change.”

While many messages decried my embrace of climate science, the real problem was that I called out racism among white Christians. For that, these people wanted to silence me.

We cannot cede the public square to the loudest, most uninformed, angriest, vilest voices. Speaking out against white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia is imperative precisely because the Right wants to traffic in misinformation, bigotry and discrimination. In this moment of science denial, alternative facts, fake news and lies, speaking truths with reliable evidence and credible arguments is essential.

“In this moment of science denial, alternative facts, fake news and lies, speaking truths with reliable evidence and credible arguments is essential.”

When someone is trolled, support them if they continue to speak out. Out of concern, we might wonder, “Why keep speaking so publicly?” Recognize that for some writers and speakers continuing to speak is a way of taking power back from the trolls.

On the other hand, don’t judge people who decide not to speak out anymore. The emotional toll of being trolled can be too great, and the threat to safety can overwhelm. Those of us who can, however, must continue to speak, and we need support as we do.

The responses of other people matter when someone is being trolled. Personal and institutional support, affirmation and a sense of safety can help people make it through trolling with less emotional and spiritual damage.

At some point, you will likely know someone who is experiencing trolling. Some group of people won’t like your pastor’s sermon or your best friend’s tweet or your daughter’s Tik Tok video or your colleague’s BNG article. When the trolls come, you can make a huge difference to their targets by offering your vocal and visible support.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

I wrote about climate change; now I’m hearing from mean Christians

I’ve had an interesting weekend. People on the Christian right have been emailing me to take issue with my BNG piece about white Christians and climate change. Unfortunately, they haven’t really engaged my arguments. They’ve mostly just called me names.

In 2015, when I was brand new to social media and blogging, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post titled “Mean Christians in the Digital Age.” In that essay, I expressed my (naive) shock at the vitriol coming my way from people who called themselves Christian.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

Fast forward five years. I think it’s even worse.

I knew Christians could be mean. After all, I was at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. I witnessed Christian mean firsthand. And I taught religion at a Southern Baptist college where pastors and parents felt free to go directly to deans and presidents to accuse me of all kinds of things I didn’t say without even having the courtesy to talk to me directly. So I know mean Christians.

But social media and the Trump era have created a whole new level of immediate access, Fox News-misinformation, rightwing social media networks, and Christian mean.

In the past 24 hours, I have been called “ignorant fool, “moron,” “f**king stupid,” “brainless,” “loser” and “libtard idiot.” I also have been accused of “LGBT stupidity,” although I’m not sure if this is about the content I teach or the way some facet of being LGBT has made me stupid.

People have criticized my academic discipline of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, suggesting it doesn’t prepare students for the real world and won’t help them get a job and that I’d be better suited for pumping gas. I was told I “shouldn’t be allowed to teach a dog a trick, let alone teach young people in college” and that I had never had an original thought in my “pathetic life.”

Not surprisingly, a number of these writers have also questioned my Christian faith.

In an email with the subject line “Your Insane Racist Statement,” I was informed, “You just hate Christians and God obviously. With teachers like you, no wonder there are Antifa’s [sic] and others running around brainwashed burning and looting and attacking people.”

This made me think of something I saw on Facebook that another academic wrote: “I can’t brainwash students. I can’t even get them to read the syllabus.”

The email author went on: “People like you is [sic] what is causing the occasional church burning, and it will become more dangerous to go to church, some church services have had attacks in the last several years. Something should be done about teachers, professors that teach this racist hate against people of faith.”

And finally, perhaps the only true statement in her email: “None of this would have been allowed in the America I grew up in.”

To be clear, I’m not taking issue with difference of opinion rooted in arguments and evidence. These emails are nothing but ad hominem attacks, ranting, name-calling and meanness.

Further evidence: “You are the most most ignorant, idiotic, so called academic, bitch in the news today, and obviously incompetent to be associated with any university. You condemn Christians but teach the Bible. You are one confused a**hole.”

I’m really not sure what these writers hope to accomplish. Has anyone’s mind ever been changed by being called a “moron” or “stupid”? Do they want to hurt my feelings? Shame me? Make me stop writing?

“I think their motivation may arise from the same thing that drives many Trump supporters. They think ‘owning the libs’ makes them a winner.”

I think their motivation may arise from the same thing that drives many Trump supporters. They think “owning the libs” makes them a winner.

Taking the advice of Tibetan Buddhist Thich Nhat Han, I am trying to see their need to “own the libs” as a reflection of their suffering. He says if we recognize that hurtful behavior comes from suffering, we can maintain compassion for people who behave badly. Do their lives seem so small that they feel better, more powerful or smarter by insulting and belittling someone they don’t know? Do they feel such insecurity that they need to put a stranger in her place by criticizing her credentials, attacking her profession and discipline, questioning her students, and blaming her for a host of the world’s ill? How do they think being mean to me will alleviate their suffering? Do they find meaning in dashing off hateful words?

I remind myself that they, too, are beloved children of God, even though they are badly behaving ones.

These writers are strangers, and so to a great extent I can shrug off their vile words. Harder are the words of family and friends.

One Facebook friend posted a homophobic meme. I responded by explaining why it was hurtful to me, even as I suggested she had not intended to be hurtful. Did she apologize? No. She unfriended me.

My sister wrote a heartfelt and vulnerable post. A commenter told her she needed “professional help.”

Another Facebook friend told me I had drunk the liberal Kool Aid and needed to get right with God.

One Facebook friend, after watching the presidential debate, posted that Joe Biden is “too meek” to be president. Yet, the Bible tell us that the gifts of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness.” The meek, the Bible says, will inherit the earth. Moses was meek, above all men on the earth. Jesus referred to himself as meek. Yet I don’t think this Christian friend is alone in having come to believe meanness and cruelty, not meekness, are strength.

Yet he claims to follow someone who was crucified, someone who didn’t speak up in his own defense, someone who didn’t allow his disciples to fight back. (I know many Christians have embraced the “muscular Jesus” and a kind of Christian triumphalism that looks more like Trumpism than the faith of Jesus.)

Jesus’ strength was in his meekness, kindness and love, even in the face of unthinkable brutality. I am baffled that people who say they believe in the crucified Jesus embrace cruelty. They jump too quickly to the resurrection, but we can’t celebrate the resurrection without recognizing the barbarity of the cross. And if we take the cross seriously, we cannot claim to follow Jesus and participate in meanness and cruelty.

Yet we see so much cruelty among Christian Trump supporters. A Christian crowdfunding site raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the defense for the Kenosha, Wis., shooter who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and injured another.

“This dismissal of expertise, facts and truths by people who call themselves Christian reflects the past four years of this administration’s undermining of credibility.”

Another Facebook friend posted that she didn’t want anyone to fact check her. We all have our own opinions, she said, and we can find opinion pieces and facts to support whatever we think. We do all have our own opinions, but all opinions are not created equal.

This dismissal of expertise, facts and truths by people who call themselves Christian reflects the past four years of this administration’s undermining of credibility through “alternative facts,” “fake news” and outright lies. For people who claim commitment to Truth, many Christians are quick to dismiss facts and truths that don’t line up with their worldview. They want to be free to post their distortions, misinformation and cruelties without any accountability.

And I know I haven’t been on the receiving end of the worst of all of this cruelty by a long shot. People have been trolled online, hounded at their workplaces, threatened for writing things some people don’t like. Yet I believe my experience reflects the degree to which some people have debased Christian faith by embracing the lies and cruelties of Trumpism.

There is no place for meanness and cruelty in Christianity. Dialogue, disagreement, debate, yes; but meanness, no. You can’t say you love God and treat your neighbor or your enemy cruelly.

I stand by my 2015 conclusion: Christian mean is still just plain mean.

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.


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Baptists, of all people, should work for voter participation

Donald Trump has spent the past several months attacking vote-by-mail, going so far as to encourage North Carolina voters to vote twice (by mail and at the polls — which is illegal). Nonetheless, white evangelical support for Trump remains high, even as Republicans work to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.

Trump’s Baptist supporters who accept (and perhaps even share on social media) his false statements about vote-by-mail are by no means the first Baptists to be astoundingly hypocritical about democracy and the right to vote. Yet Baptists, of all people, should be working to enfranchise voters and ensure wide voter participation.

Susan M. Shaw

Susan Shaw

After all, Baptists profess belief in the priesthood of the believer and organize churches democratically, with each member having a vote on matters of church governance. Baptist theologian Bill Hendricks made this argument in 1984. He reasoned that the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer demands a democratic pattern both in the church and in the government. He noted that if Americans in general and Baptists in particular took this doctrine seriously, they would work so that more people had the opportunity to vote. He asserted:

It is a surprising thing to hear a voice raised on behalf of radical democracy. Yet it should not be an unexpected thing from a Baptist theologian. It is recognized that radical democracies which grant to all equal opportunities are grossly inefficient and very difficult to muster and maintain. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, if we are to talk responsibly about moving from the Bible to the ballot box, we have to return to a wider understanding and practice of the priesthood of all believers and of the rights of each individual within the democracy.

Yet we see too many Baptists among Trump’s evangelical supporters all too willing to accept Trump’s attempts to discourage voter participation by raising the specter of voter fraud.

Still, this is not the first generation of Baptists to suppress the vote, in U.S. elections and the church.

Baptists in England allowed women to vote on church matters from the beginning. I asked the Baptist Union of Great Britain about this. A historian there told me: “Women have always been church members. They signed the church covenants (or made their mark) and they were allowed to vote as church members on all of the things you have mentioned (matters of church discipline, calling of ministers and church leaders and accepting the testimony of people applying for membership). I can’t think of anything that they would not have been allowed to vote on.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention disallowed women as messengers and even had a man give the annual meeting’s report for Woman’s Missionary Union.”

On this side of the pond, however, Southern Baptists did not allow women equal participation in church decisions, and the Southern Baptist Convention disallowed women as messengers and even had a man give the annual meeting’s report for Woman’s Missionary Union. Enslaved Black members of Baptist churches also were denied a voice in governance. After enslaved people were freed, Baptist churches in the South chose segregation over Black participation in church governance. An 1867 article in the Biblical Recorder noted, “If our original code of discipline toward our brethren of African descent was right, then emancipation from slavery has not made it wrong.”

Since the SBC formed over the issue of slavery, Southern Baptists were not keen on Black suffrage. For example, Virginia Baptists claimed that Black men were unqualified for franchise and that Black suffrage was an attempt to force “social equality.” In 1901, Virginia Baptists’ Religious Herald argued that Black men should be disenfranchised.

In 1905 the Wingate school in North Carolina sponsored a debate: “Should the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States be repealed?” The debate focused almost entirely on Black suffrage.

The affirmative side argued the amendment had only been passed to allow Black men to dominate whites in the South; that Black men were “unfit morally and mentally to vote”; that Black men were not true men; that Black men do not appreciate the vote and will sell their votes; that based on the South’s experience, Black men should forever be disenfranchised. While the opposing side argued that Black men as citizens and tax payers should have the right to vote, the Baptist Messenger reported that the affirmative won.

Many in the denomination also opposed women’s suffrage. While some argued that suffrage would enfranchise Black women and reinfranchise Black men, more argued women voting would destroy white Southern women’s femininity and domesticity.

J.W. Porter, editor of the Kentucky Baptist newspaper, Western Recorder, wrote in 1916 that the National Suffrage Association originated “out of the brain of a semi-masculine Minerva” and “its ultimate ideal is to de-womanize the woman and make of her a female man.” He added, “The feminine demons, knowingly or otherwise, are pointing womankind to the path that leads to harlotry and to hell.”

One Texas Baptist man in 1913 wrote that voting and politics were “out of harmony with sweet, modest, home-loving female nature” and added that women’s involvement in voting might take them away from their domestic duties and tempt them to talk too much.

A Kentucky pastor in 1912 wrote, “How in striking contrast is the loud unwomanly clamor for recognition by the twentieth-century woman, demanding an evanescent crumb of comfort at the great cost of unsexing herself while apparently oblivious to the Divine benefactor.”

During the Civil Rights period, many Baptist segregationists joined in voter suppression tactics in the South. During Eugene Talmadge’s 1946 campaign for governor of Georgia, his supporters purged Black people from voter rolls. When the lone Black voter in Taylor County was shot to death and two Black women and two Black men were lynched in Walton County, the segregationist editor of The Christian Index denied that there was a connection between Talmadge’s racially charged white supremacist campaign and the lynching.

“In 2020, this legacy of voter suppression continues, even among Baptist folk who accept one of Trump’s most ludicrous lies — that vote-by-mail can’t be trusted.”

Now, in 2020, this legacy of voter suppression continues, even among Baptist folk who accept one of Trump’s most ludicrous lies — that vote-by-mail can’t be trusted.

I live in Oregon, where we have been voting only by mail for two decades.

In 1998, Oregonians overwhelmingly voted to switch to vote-by-mail for primary and general elections, and in 2000 we became the first state in the country to vote in a presidential election by mail-in voting. That year, we had a 79% voter turnout. For the 2016 presidential election, we had around 80% voter turnout. Compare this with an around 60% turnout nationally.

In Oregon, we receive our ballots two to three weeks before the election. We also receive a voter’s guide from the state. It has information about candidates and ballot initiatives, so we can educate ourselves at the breakfast table over a nice cup of coffee before marking our ballots, putting them into a security envelope, putting that envelope into the mailing envelope, and signing the back. That signature is checked against our signature on either a voter registration card or driver’s license. If the signatures don’t match, the clerk’s office mails a letter to the voter to sort it out.

We can also check online to make sure our ballots have been counted. In 2019, the governor signed a law adding prepaid postage to ballots. If we don’t want to mail our ballots, we can drop them off at one of the many ballot boxes conveniently located all over the state. And, just to make it even easier for everyone to be registered to vote, Oregon enacted “Motor Voter” registration in 2016. Now, when folks interact with the DMV, they are automatically registered to vote.

“While Oregon’s vote-by-mail has increased voter participation, it has not led to voter fraud.”

The results are conclusive: While Oregon’s vote-by-mail has increased voter participation, it has not led to voter fraud. In 2016, out of more than 2 million votes cast in Oregon, 56 cases of suspected fraud were forwarded to the Oregon Department of Justice by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. Ten people were convicted of voter fraud.

These were almost all cases of voting in two states — because voters did not remember casting ballots in both states. For example, a college student registered to vote on her campus in Colorado and received a Colorado ballot. Her parents also sent her the Oregon ballot that came to their home. She didn’t remember filling them both out. She paid a $225 fine and canceled her Colorado voter registration.

The conservative Heritage Foundation could only find 15 cases of voter fraud in Oregon from 2000 to 2019. Nationally, the foundation found only 143 cases of fraud using mail-in ballots over those 20 years. That’s 0.00006% of the total votes cast across that timespan.

If Baptists really do believe in the priesthood of the believer, they should be among the most outspoken advocates for enfranchising voters in every way possible. As people who claim to seek truth, they should refuse the lie that vote-by-mail leads to voter fraud.

While Baptists have not always acted in consonance with this basic Baptist belief, redemption is always possible. At this moment when the stakes are high, Baptists, of all people, should work tirelessly to ensure one person, one vote.

Thanks to Taffey Hall, Doug Weaver and Stephen Copson for assistance with research for this essay. 

Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She is also an ordained Baptist minister and holds master of arts and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.


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