Although not as common as it was for generations in Baptist life, one can still hear church members refer to one another as sister or brother, such as “Sister Smith” or “Brother Jones.” These titles, indicators of respect, esteem and mutuality, also reflect our identity as members of the household of God.
A public conflict between a “brother” and “sister” in the Christian community recently garnered headlines in national religious media. I was not shocked when I heard that popular conservative preacher and author John MacArthur, speaking at a Southern Baptist conference, did not affirm women in the pulpit.
I was shocked, however, when he was asked during a question-and-answer session to comment on Beth Moore’s ministry of teaching and preaching. He responded with two words directed to Moore: “Go home.”
MacArthur’s comment was an insult to Moore and to the impact of her ministry through the years. But it was more than that. It was an insult to every female preacher, teacher and pastor living out God’s calling to ministry. Even in a denomination known for its defense of a biblical order that relegates a woman’s role to that of wife and mother, submissive as keeper of the house to her husband as master of the house, it is degrading to say to a woman “go home.”
Indeed, telling Moore to “go home” is an insult to the women of scripture. It is an affront to the Old Testament judge Deborah. It is an insult to Paul’s co-workers of the Gospel: Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Julia, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. It is an insult to Mary Magdalene. It was Jesus who told Mary Magdalene at the tomb of his resurrection in John 20, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary became the first preacher of the Good News. Jesus did not tell her to go home and be silent.
So, I say to our sister preachers and pastors, don’t go home! Do not be silent! Go and tell! Tell the world the Good News. Preach on! Sister preachers, you stand in good company. We need to hear from you. We need to listen to the Gospel from you!
Furthermore, in the climate of the #MeToo movement and the revelations of abuse of women in business, government, the entertainment industry and the church, we need to listen to you. We need to hear how patriarchy and misogyny have harmed women.
“Telling Moore to ‘go home’ is an insult to the women of scripture.”
Sister preachers, do not be silent. Yes, Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2 that he does not permit women to speak or have authority; but because Paul spoke so highly of female ministry leaders Priscilla, Junia and Phoebe as co-workers in ministry, we are left to conclude Paul was giving cultural advice to Timothy through standard ancient household codes. As Paul declares, “There is no male and female…. we are all one in Christ.” Discoveries of artifacts from the 5th and 6th centuries also indicate that women served equally with men in leadership of the early church.
To my brothers, out of our oneness in Jesus Christ, let’s step aside and listen. Listen to women who tell their stories of their call to ministry, their gifts and their vision for the church. Being created in the image of God, to which the Genesis creation accounts attest, requires us to see one another as equals. If Paul worked alongside female leaders in the church, we should neither ignore or discount the important impact women had on the early church.
Nor should we be silent when female leaders in the 21st-century church are insulted and their calling and contributions are degraded by fellow Christians.