I knew I was called to be a preacher at six years old. While there were many signs, the clearest was my weekly Saturday night ritual of lining up an audience of stuffed animals so that I could do some preachin’ based on the Sunday school lesson for the next day.
The animals seemed to love it.
My Southern Baptist church home, however, did not.
One hot July day our Vacation Bible School teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I flung up my hand and quickly announced that I was going to be a preacher. The teacher sighed, looked over her reading glasses, and curtly spit out the message that literally changed the trajectory of my life: “Susan, God only calls men to preach.”
What do you do at six years old when you hear such words?
You change your dream.
So, I decided to become a lawyer (same job as a preacher, just different clients).
“There is something about the order of creation and Mohler’s words that makes me want to call the producers of ‘Game of Thrones’ and attempt to buy a dragon.”
I spent 10 years as a litigator, but the voice from that tiny preacher kept circling back and eventually became too strong to ignore. At age 38, I chose to cast my lot with American Baptist Churches USA, a denomination that ordains women, and entered seminary.
Yet here in the year of our Lord 2019, after 10 years as a trial lawyer, two graduate degrees, an honors thesis in seminary and 12 years as the senior pastor of a historic Baptist congregation, I am still not allowed to preach in that Southern Baptist church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I grew up.
Because I’m a woman.
As a lawyer, I can’t help but scratch my head at the logic. Southern Baptists seem to have no problem with women serving on the Supreme Court or flying fighter jets or traveling into space. Heck, they would have been happy to put Sarah Palin in the White House (bless their hearts, as we would say in the South).
But a woman in the pulpit? No way.
Albert Mohler, a seminary president and prominent voice for the “conservative resurgence” that took over the SBC in the 1980s, said recently, “I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.”
There is something about the order of creation and Mohler’s words that makes me want to call the producers of Game of Thrones and attempt to buy a dragon.
The common argument is that scripture excludes women from ordination and leadership. Of course, most of the Southern Baptist professors and preachers who interpret scripture are . . . men.
So, how does that work?
“Southern Baptists are burying the divine gifts borne by more than 50 percent of God’s children.”
Their position hangs on a literal interpretation of passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in which the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the women keep silent in church.” Of course, a literal interpretation of this passage would also mean that women may not sing or verbally praise God in worship. Anyone who has set foot in a Baptist congregation knows that is a manifest impossibility.
Paul makes a similar statement about the need for male authority and female silence in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Even if we set aside the historical context of this scripture (his words were directed at marital issues and not ministry), there is the larger problem of selective enforcement. This same passage forbids women to wear gold jewelry or pearls, but we don’t hear much about that section. I guess the Southern Baptists decided that would be too much to enforce on us bling-lovin’ Southern sisters.
We also don’t hear much about Romans 16:7 where Paul describes Andronicus and Junia (a woman) as “outstanding among the apostles.” (Not surprisingly, some later translations changed the female name “Junia” to the male “Junias.”)
If you want to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible, consider this: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18, KJV).
As I used to say in my prior legal career, “I rest my case.”
In one of his most famous parables, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who entrusted his three workers with certain talents (money). Two invested the talents, doubled their value and were rewarded. The third worker was punished, because he buried the money and barely returned what he had been given.
Southern Baptists are burying the divine gifts borne by more than 50 percent of God’s children. They are wasting these talents.
We can no longer afford this unjust denial of vocation.
We can no longer afford to stifle God’s call.
Given the broken nature of our world today, I say we need all the help we can get – Supreme Court justices, jet pilots, preachers and all.