Ironically, we find ourselves in the midst of two pivotal, transforming moments in the life of our denomination in regard to women.
The first is the significant centennial anniversary of the SBC Constitution being amended in 1918 by the necessary two-thirds majority to seat the first ever female messengers at the annual meeting. This event occurred two years before our country granted women the right to vote. It was a powerful, pivotal moment.
The second is the present moment in time. Conditions are rising for a monumental shift in the way women are valued, treated, and welcomed into places of service and leadership in the collaborative effort of pursuing Great Commission work in the SBC. Many things have occurred to get us here, and the ride has been bumpy—but this could be a window that can change the landscape as we have known it.
I have had many years of history in this denomination that I love. I have been married to two SBC pastors, served on the staff of a thriving SBC church, and am now employed by one of our entities. I have lived through the Conservative Resurgence and have watched our tribe at its best and at its worst. While we are a flawed bunch I have deep respect for the men and women in our denominational family.
I have been richly blessed by the SBC and am heavily invested in it. But I have no delusions about its realities–realities regarding the need to treat women with dignity and to robustly recognize women as indispensable in the Great Commission mandate.
So where do we go from here?
- We apply the gospel
We have been saying this and we need NOT to forget it now: We all are in desperate need of the gospel—this includes each and every one of us in spiritual leadership. When any of us fail as leaders, it reminds us “we need the gospel.” God is working with sinners. Martin Luther said, “God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.” Our sin is not fiction. Not only do we RECEIVE pure grace from Jesus as the result of His death on the cross–we EXTEND grace to fellow sinners.
- We stay winsome
Winsome women look for the best in people, are upbeat, quick to forgive, and quick to love. We want to bear others’ burdens with grace and sensitivity, to be authentic in our faith, and always be grateful for God’s blessings and provision. We want to graciously work hand in hand with our brothers in Christ as co-laborers in the kingdom, anticipating the future with joy.
- We anticipate change
We are hopeful that transformational change can come to our Southern Baptist world. That women will be respected, highly valued, and increasingly included in roles, responsibilities, and leadership in our denomination. Opportunities to help shape the SBC have been too few for women. Women have much to contribute as leaders, strategists, administrators, creatives, missiologists, communicators, and theologians. We’ve been left out of many conversations and meetings. Yes, we have made token appearances in places along the way, but we can do better. Tokenism says, “We see you.” Inclusion says, “We need you.” As we are truly valued and recognized as indispensable in the mission of the gospel, we will find ourselves more included.
- We can gather
We have had little formal space in which to network and engage one another as leaders in the various domains in which we serve and lead. This can be remedied easily. If women are anything we are innate gatherers, we can leverage that bent to create multi-generational conversations in order to encourage, equip and mentor female leadership. With initiative, creativity, and helpful technology we can create space for conversations and relationships we desperately need.
- We carry on, sisters
Today all across the globe women from our tribe are all about gospel proclamation, discipleship, advocacy and justice, and leadership. This is happening on a daily basis globally. Church planters’ wives are preparing for mission teams to arrive in their vastly lost cities. We are teachers and professors in colleges and seminaries. Women in countless churches are preparing for VBS. We are packing our bags to lead and serve in student camps. Mothers are teaching the Word to their children. We are writing, editing and publishing spiritual resources. In Malaysia, IMB women are discipling women and training leaders. Women are pouring into internationals in the boroughs of New York, Las Vegas, and Clarkston, Georgia, just to name a few. Female collegiates are readying for summer projects to take the gospel to hard places. Countless others are advocating for the unborn, providing foster care, fighting for women in the sex trade industry, and working with the homeless. As the sun rises in Turkey, SBC women are prayer walking.
We simply carry on what women have done in gospel ministry for centuries. And we deeply desire to help advance the gospel on this globe.
We are thankful for the SBC messengers of 1918. It is important that we honor the contributions of those who have gone before us and paved the way for us that have come behind them. Could 2018 be recognized as the year women were given voices in shaping our denomination and welcomed to the table? That question is yet to be answered—yet we can be hopefully optimistic.
So, we carry on, sisters—and let those behind us find us faithful.
Kathy Litton works for the North American Mission Board and is married to Dr. Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, AL.