Consistent with the proclamation of Jesus in his hometown sermon, Baptist Women in Ministry was founded 40 years ago as a “justice movement,” a seminary president told the opening worship service at BWIM’s 40th anniversary celebration in Louisville, Ky.
“Jesus names all of the justice issues evident to anyone paying attention — poverty, oppression, imprisonment and physical suffering — and addressing those issues was central to what his ministry would be about,” said Pam Durso, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan. She was referring to the account of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth found in Luke 4.
“In 1983, 33 Baptist women showed up here in Louisville to start their own justice movement, a movement that centered on the same principles outlined by Jesus” Durso said. BWIM, the organization that resulted from that meeting, celebrated 40 years of ministry at Broadway Baptist Church Oct. 2-4.
The movement, Durso contended, “centered on the same principles outlined by Jesus, the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, the assurance of freedom from oppression, the creation of places of welcome and possibility.”
Since its founding, BWIM has pursued justice that “focused on freeing women called and gifted by God to truly belong.”
“The earliest days of the BWIM movement were fueled by holy anger, justified anger at the exclusion of Baptist women for leadership, the silencing of Baptist women’s voices, the devaluing of women and their callings and their gifts,” Durso observed. “And that holy anger resulted in some name calling and some derisive labeling” by Southern Baptist leaders.
“Anger rightly harnessed is the centerpiece of all justice movements.”
“Holy righteous anger” is part of the BWIM story and “is not our enemy,” she emphasized. “Ephesians 4:26 tells us to be angry and do not sin. Anger rightly harnessed is the centerpiece of all justice movements.”
Durso recounted the history of the exclusion of women from full participation in the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination from which BWIM’s founders came. “But let’s be honest, Southern Baptist leaders have been historically consistent in their dismissive and devaluing stances on women,” she said. “They have told us over and over again who they are.”
Yet Durso said the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an SBC breakaway group formed in 1991, “does not have a spotless record either.”
CBF’s leaders “held onto many of the toxic patriarchal leadership patterns of the past,” Durso maintained. “They did not take the time to do some much-needed organizational therapy to recognize their own complicity in the oppression of women. They did not do the hard internal work necessary to address past sins.”
While CBF has professed openness to women serving as pastors since its founding, Durso pointed to a 2021 BWIM study that found only 7.4% of affiliated congregations were served by female pastors or co-pastors. She noted Paul Baxley, CBF’s executive coordinator, said in response to the study that “there is far too much space between the convictions we profess and the reality that exists” and pledged to be an advocate.
Baxley was present at the anniversary events, along with other key CBF staff.
At the conclusion of her address, Durso reminded those gathered that “we were created for belonging, for community and connection.” Referring to Atlas of the Heart, a book by Brené Brown, Durso said true belonging requires people not to betray who they are.
“And I would say for all of us today, true belonging calls us to join together as partners with Jesus in his radical ministry of reaching out to those who’ve been excluded because of race or gender or sexual orientation or economic or social status,” she stressed. “True belonging calls us to be active participants in the Jesus justice movement.”
At the conclusion of worship, Meredith Stone, BWIM executive director, announced BWIM had exceeded its $500,000 goal in a campaign to fund ministry expansion. She reported gifts totaling $519,000, which is the most money BWIM has ever raised in a single effort.