A few years ago I went to a panel discussion at a large SBC missions conference. It was supposed to be about setting women free to be whatever they can be in the church. I know that the hosts of this discussion had noble intentions from the outset. They could see that women are sadly underrepresented on most of the committees and trustee boards in our convention, and they seemed keen on starting a discussion about how to change that.
I was amazed by how many hundreds of women (and a few brave men) packed themselves into the room, eager to get any biblical wisdom about what women should and shouldn’t be doing in our local churches. Yet, when the panel began, it was really just a forum for voicing complaints and talking about how we feel about our roles in the church. No real solutions were offered. No practical advice. The language was about how it’s our turn to shine, about how we ought to be on the platform and in the spotlight, about how husbands feel threatened by strong women, and so on. At one point the moderator opened the floor for questions, but added the caveat that she didn’t want to get into “picking apart scripture” because, she admitted, she was scared to do that.
As I sat there, I had a bit of a revelation. It dawned on me that here we were, a room filled with hundreds of women, honestly trying to figure out how to better elevate and glorify ourselves in the church. Not only that, but in the process of trying to figure out how to get what we must feel we deserve out of the Christian faith–prestige, honor, respect–we were driving the men in the room to feel shame for fulfilling their God-given roles in the body. We were even denigrating the extremely crucial and real calling that many of us have to work with children and babies in our churches. I don’t believe this is what the panelists intended to happen in the course of the discussion, but it happened nonetheless. And, when the conversation was stopped short at “let’s not get into scripture,” the whole framework of the session lost all meaning.
My concern at this juncture in Southern Baptist life is that we will lose sight of what we are really trying to accomplish, just like the panelists in that forum did. Women will always have to fight against the desire to be glorified and recognized, to have our place in the spotlight. I know we will because that is a problem of humanity. Pride is the sin at the root of so many wrong attitudes, bad thinking, and terrible decisions.
Let’s face it. Girls of my generation (Gen X) saw the rise of women taking on the workplace with their shoulder padded power suits and big hair. We were told that we needed educations so that we wouldn’t have to rely on a man. We were taught that women are just as good–actually, better–than men, and that we should have no mercy in our attempts to steamroll right over them, whether in the workplace or in the home. We were given the charge to stand in the spotlight as much as possible, to grab for ourselves as much as we wanted, and not to let anything stand in the way of our happiness.
Worldly wisdom. Yet, I sat in a room filled with Southern Baptist women and heard all of those attitudes and ideas coming through—all of the things we have been taught a million times over in a million different ways.
We are going to have to be very careful going forward in our convention. We must remember that our goal is building stronger and more effective churches by inviting more women to share their ideas and propose solutions to problems that we’re facing. Our aim is to allow women to use their gifts in varied ways, both in leadership positions and in supporting roles. We want to listen to women, to support them, to treat them as equals. But, there is a difference between the desire to see women valued and a preoccupation with dreams of a woman president. Am I opposed to the idea of a female president? I suppose it depends on who the woman is. But, I don’t want to see us scrambling to put a woman on the ticket just for the sake of having a woman on the ticket. Electing a woman just so that we can prove a point is wrong. We are electing a whole person, and choosing a woman because we want women “in the spotlight” would be disastrous. We can’t decide that electing a female president is the only way that the SBC can properly acknowledge women, yet that’s where I see our thought processes heading if we aren’t careful.
In the meantime, let’s begin the work together of bringing more godly and wise women into our boardrooms and committee meetings. Our convention will be better for it—God designed us to work together. But Southern Baptist women must guard against seeing this as an opportunity to elevate ourselves. Surely we can learn from the men we have watched topple from great heights because of their pride. The desire for glory is a humankind issue, and it will be difficult for many of us to separate our noble hopes that women will be truly valued from our age-old problem of wanting to grab for what we think we deserve. Humility is a strength, and pride is a weakness, but because of our lifetime of conditioning to believe the opposite, many well-meaning Southern Baptist women and men will see a female president as a trophy. This cannot be.
In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. A guest arrives and sits himself right down in the seat of honor at the table. Imagine the embarrassment for the whole assembly when his host comes and asks him to move so that the guest of honor can have his rightful place. We don’t want to be the wedding guest who is trying to be a big shot. Let’s sit on the floor. Let’s do the hard work. Let’s serve the least of these. Let’s show ourselves faithful in what God has given us to do. And, if God calls us to stand on platforms, let us do it with the reality in mind that He is the only one worthy of honor, and we are shaming ourselves and His name when we try to steal His glory.
Jesus finishes the parable by describing another type of guest. This one enters the feast and sits in the lowliest spot in the room. But, before long, the host comes by and ushers him to an honored position at the table. “Those who exalt themselves,” Jesus says, “will be humbled. But, those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
These are interesting times in the SBC. I’m glad to see our men recognizing and verbalizing the value of women in our denomination. I pray that we will all remember that we don’t need titles and spotlights in order to live our lives on mission for Christ. In truth, we all have the same role, whether we’re washing dishes or speaking to tens of thousands: glorifying God with every breath. I’m praying as we move toward the future we will do so with humble hearts, seeking His face instead of seeking position. We will need to prayerfully consider so many things in the coming days. Be on guard, brothers and sisters.