Like the crippled woman in Luke 13, female clergy know what it means to be paralyzed by sexism, patriarchy and other forms of emotional and psychological abuse, Gina Stewart preached during Baptist Women in Ministry’s June 28 worship celebration in Dallas.
The sin and pain that derive from systemic prejudice “have created suffering and keep us in bondage and powerlessness,” said Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and president of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society. That latter post makes her the first woman to lead a major Black Baptist institution in America.
The service at Wilshire Baptist Church was part of BWIM’s annual gathering — its first in-person meeting since 2019 due to the pandemic — held in conjunction with this week’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. The assembly included a luncheon and awards ceremony before culminating in worship that included Communion.
It also featured a fiery sermon by Stewart that inspired numerous standing ovations amid her calls for women in ministry not to lose hope because they, like the crippled woman in Luke, are nothing less than “daughters of Abraham.”
That was the term Jesus used to describe the woman bent over with disease for 18 years before her encounter with him in the synagogue. While others saw her as a fixture to be ignored and whose healing could wait Jesus viewed her with compassion and healed her on the sabbath, which infuriated the religious authorities.
The woman in the story, like those gathered at Wilshire for worship, had been told all too often to wait for restoration and justice in their striving for freedom from disenfranchisement and marginalization, Stewart said. “‘One more day won’t kill you,’ they say. But Jesus saw her healing as critical. And he didn’t blame her or castigate her.”
In rebuking the synagogue leaders, Jesus referred to the woman as a daughter of Abraham, thus recognizing her and calling out her equal value to men in Jewish society and faith. Women are not to be considered inferior because they are created “in imago dei … to preach and to pastor and to use their gifts for the kingdom of God,” Stewart explained.
Stewart called on women not to tremble before hierarchy and those who doubt and disparage their callings. Ministering boldly, she said, is to be healed like the woman in the synagogue. “In God’s economy, any time is the right time to be free. Arise, O daughters of Abraham.”
BWIM Executive Director Meredith Stone echoed a similar theme during the preceding luncheon program: “We value women’s gifts and callings and freedoms and leadership. And we need more of it.”
But Stone also acknowledged the path for women in ministry continues to be a rocky one. She cited BWIM’s newly released State of Women in Baptist Life report. It says 86% of Baptist women in ministry report continuing to encounter obstacles to ministry, 72% saying they must provide more evidence of competence than male counterparts, and 25% reporting sexual assault or harassment in their ministry settings.
While there are causes for grief for women in ministry, Stone said, BWIM continues to work on their behalf. “We see you. We value you. We are for you.”
During the awards presentation, Cheri Mills received the 2022 Addie Davis Award for Outstanding Leadership in Pastoral Ministry. A student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, Mills is a church administrator, ecumenical leader and author.
Angela Zimmerman was awarded the 2022 Addie Davis Award for Excellence in Preaching. Zimmerman is a student at Central Baptist Seminary and minister of music and associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Danville, Va.
Sophia Steibel, professor of education and spiritual formation at Gardner-Webb Divinity School in Boiling Springs, N.C., was honored with the 2022 Frankie Huff Granger Distinguished Mentor Award.
Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., was the recipient of the 2022 BWIM Church of Excellence Award.