By Lesley-Ann Hix
I was in elementary school when my church ordained one of our female ministers. We were excited. We even decorated her car. Someone painted, “Take that, Paige Patterson!” I asked my mom what it meant.
“She’s a woman,” she said. “And she just got ordained to be a minister.”
“So?” I asked. “Who’s Paige Patterson?”
She explained that Patterson didn’t believe women should be preachers. I remember thinking how ridiculous that was. I was sure I didn’t understand what was going on, but I did know that it seemed like the issue of women in ministry shouldn’t matter much. We were Baptists after all.
I came to seminary aware of my mom’s heartbreak. She graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1988, while her seminary was falling into the hands of people who did not believe she could be called into ministry. The experience was painful. I have seen some of the tears.
I am proud of my mother’s courage, but I didn’t intend on letting the fight she endured consume my story too. Just like other wide-eyed newbie ministers, I came to seminary hoping to find inspiration and conversation that would prepare me, along with my classmates, to solve the world’s problems. I wanted clarity for the progressive, creative identity I was looking to be a part of. What I found were lingering wounds.
While you as an organization are adamant about the affirmation of women in ministry, your churches show something different. I have classmates about to graduate who are interested in pastoring (or doing some ministry besides children’s ministry) who continue to hear, “Our congregation is just not ready for a female pastor.”
I want to yell, “Get over it!”
Right, CBF? If these congregations really are not ready to accept women as part of their ministerial leadership, then what are they doing as part of this Baptist group? This issue is one of which you are unapologetically certain. So my instinct is to challenge them to agree and accept or disagree and get out.
There is little else that identifies you. I’m not really sure what you think about biblical inerrancy. You don’t even approach the question of gay ministers. You are careful not to proclaim what you do actually believe.
But, CBF, I wish you would.
I love that my Baptist identity is all tied up in you, but this wishy-washiness is starting to get to me. I am just a few years older than you are, and I’m having a hard time pretending I care to focus anymore on that catastrophic event that pushed you into becoming your own movement.
The issue of female ministers gave you your definition 20 years ago, but it’s time to figure out who you are now, aside from those other Baptists. Tell me what you really think, and stop reacting against what you don’t like.
I grew up knowing that Paige Patterson was not like me: “I’m Baptist, but not that kind of Baptist.” But I could never say who was like me, so I had a hard time claiming a clear identity as a Christ-follower.
Progressive Baptists need to start giving the children growing up in our midst something to grab onto, something more than an identity crisis. So take a stand, CBF, on something more than just women in ministry.
Our generation is ready to have some different conversations. We want to embrace how God is moving in new ways, and we are hoping that you will lead us. I’m excited for when I can finally say, “I’m a CBF Baptist,” and have it mean something.
With love and hope,