I was furious. I still am furious.
I had heard only the day before about a list compiled and being circulated among members of the Southern Baptist Convention detailing more than 170 churches where women serve as pastors. The list evidently was composed as a prelude to an attempt to force these churches out of the convention later this summer.
My congregation shook the dust of the SBC from our sandals long ago, so I am at best only marginally aware of the happenings within the convention, but I was not surprised such a thing might happen.
But then this morning a friend texted me the list. I opened it. I shouldn’t have, but I did.
I began scrolling, first with curiosity and a hint of trepidation. And then toward the beginning of the document I saw a face I recognized. A dear friend and colleague in ministry.
And then another.
My blood began to boil. I began furiously texting my friend: “How dare they?” I began to understand in a new and deeper way the anger Jesus must have felt in the temple right before he began flipping tables.
These faces in the document are the faces of women with whom I have worshiped. They are women who have preached in congregations while I and others have listened carefully to their deep wisdom. They have served me Communion. We have served alongside one another as coworkers and colleagues in ministry. Some of them sat in my courses at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
How dare someone say God has not called them to ministry? How dare someone claim God has not equipped them to serve faithfully in their congregations?
“Just scrolling through the list felt like a violation of privacy or something more.”
Just scrolling through the list felt like a violation of privacy or something more. It felt invasive, even malicious or predatorial. The list has names and faces of dozens of female friends and colleagues in ministry. It has church addresses, along with their names and faces ripped from the internet.
It feels like a witch hunt. A hit list. And an assault on their dignity as beloved children of God.
The people who compiled and are sharing this list seem to be trying so hard to cast themselves as the gatekeepers of the religious establishment whom Jesus fought so hard against. They are fighting so hard for rigid doctrinal (but not biblical) purity when Jesus keeps preaching a message of love and inclusion.
How dare they?
They have their list, so I want to offer an alternative list in response. A couple of years ago, I was invited to give the charge at the ordination of one of the women who appears on the SBC list. I offer an abbreviated form of that charge here as a reminder that God always has called women into partnership as preachers, teachers, schemers, prophets and otherwise.
May you always remember Junia, the prominent apostle of Jesus Christ and a leader in the early church. Like her, may you remember that Christ sends you into the world with purpose and with a message of love and hope and good news to share.
May you recall Deborah, a fiery woman, a prophet and the greatest of all of the biblical judges, who led the Israelites so faithfully in war and then in peace for 40 years.
May you never forget Mary and Martha, who both had a part to play in hosting Jesus in their home. May you remember at times to be like Martha, working hard to get things done, to be hospitable and create space for people in your life and in your church. But may you also remember to set apart time to emulate Mary, to sit and listen at the feet of Jesus, to spend time in prayer and contemplation. May you never work so hard that you neglect your own deep relationship with God, because it is in that space of contemplation that we foster our vital connection to God that is so important in ministry.
Like Moses’s sister Miriam, may you sing and dance and celebrate as you partner in God’s ongoing work of liberation in the world.
May you continually recall Huldah, the prophet whom King Josiah consulted when his officials discovered the book of the Law in the temple. May she inspire you with boldness, because she spoke hard words of truth to the king, opening a pathway to repentance and a return to true and meaningful worship for those who had lost their way.
“May you always trust in God’s providence, confident that God has called you — yes, you — to lead in such a time as this.”
May you, like Vashti, have the courage it takes to defy the powerful. And may you be bold enough to resist like the midwives Shiphrah and Puah.
Of course, may you always remember the Samaritan woman at the well, who had the courage not only to go toe-to-toe with Jesus himself in theological dialogue, but also to be open to new ideas about what God is up to in the world — and then to go and preach to all who would listen.
Like Esther, may you always trust in God’s providence, confident that God has called you — yes, you — to lead in such a time as this.
Finally, like Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, may you keep your eyes ever open to witness the miracle of the resurrection in your life, and in the lives of others. Amen.
How many more women could we mention in this biblical list? Tamar? Noa? Rahab? Hannah? Ruth? Priscilla? Chloe? Phoebe? Euodia and Syntyche? I can keep going.
I imagine the pastor who compiled the SBC list will need to take some time to look up some of these names of biblical women he seems to have forgotten. I hope when he does, he will remember how many of them dared to defy powerful men in order to further God’s divine plan in the world.
Moreover, I hope the churches and their faithful pastors who are included in the SBC list will either preemptively leave the convention or will joyfully be kicked out. When that happens, I hope they will take their resources and their passion for serving God elsewhere. When they have shaken the dust from their sandals, they will be liberated to continue serving God faithfully, and they will be better for it.
Arthur M. Wright Jr. is senior pastor of Williamsburg Baptist Church in historic Williamsburg, Va. He previously served as associate professor of spirituality and New Testament at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and as theologian in residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in biblical studies from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond.
Advocates for constitutional ban on female ‘pastors’ in SBC publish a list of 170 churches they deem in violation
I knew the truth about women in the Bible, and I stayed silent