Around the time discussing Beth Moore’s Mother’s Day activities became controversial, my pastor husband and I began having regular – and sometimes heated – conversations about what women can’t do in service of the church. The question I started asking was, “What, then, can women do in the church?”
As complementarians, we are quick to make lists, and they vary from church to church: women cannot preach, women cannot teach mixed group classes, women cannot be ordained, women cannot baptize, women cannot be the worship leader, women cannot be deacons, women cannot be in authority over a man.
That last one gets me. Paul wrote it in 1 Timothy 2 and because the Bible is the inspired word of God, I respect it and want to obey it. But how?
In 1 Timothy 2:12, how literally are we to take, “she must be silent”?
Does it mean women shouldn’t serve on the personnel committee because that group has the authority to recommend to the church that a pastor be let go if need be? Does it mean women shouldn’t serve on the church finance committee because that group has the authority to say what the staff (mostly or all male) can and cannot spend money on? Does it mean that if a man comes into the church kitchen while a woman is washing dishes and tells her to wash the pots first, she has the responsibility to obey because if she doesn’t she’s asserting authority?
I admit, the last example seems ridiculous, but it demonstrates the vast range of expectations on women that exist under the umbrella of complementarianism. We need go no further than the recently released Amazon documentary Shiny, Happy People to see what possibilities for abuse go unchecked when we pretend that there aren’t levels of complementarianism that condone abusing women under the guise of male authority.
This issue is not one of choice A vs. choice B. Black vs. white. Night vs. day. Egalitarian vs. complementarian. Instead, there are thousands of places where the line could be drawn on this issue, and we would do well to acknowledge that fact. “Narrow is the way,” Matthew recorded, and if we are not careful, we will be so busy trying not to fall off the path on the left side, we’ll be practically jumping off it on the right.
And, still women are asking: what does the Bible say I can do in service of the church? The votes taken in last week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention don’t answer this question.
Last week, messengers voted multiple times overwhelmingly in favor of complementarianism. One of those votes included amending Article III with a sixth requirement. The exact wording of that section of Article III would read:
“The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work … which:
… 6.Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”
Is an undefined scale of complementarianism within our convention a doctrine worth the consequences? Enshrining it in Article III will send the message that it is.
Surely there is another action the convention could take? A path that would affirm the autonomy of local churches but also educate them on the fine differences between pastoring and ministering? A path that would also respect the obvious desire of our messengers to assert that our convention is complementarian? A path that would strengthen the value of the title of pastor, rather than diminish it? I don’t know what this path would look like, but we can surmise that it would be far more time-consuming, complex, and humbling than the path we’re on, the path of a motion and two votes.
If we continue down the path begun, and this amendment goes into effect in June 2024 with a second affirmative vote, how will the convention respond to the consequences of that choice? (I see four possible ways churches can respond, and three of them aren’t good for our convention.)
Most likely, the convention will move on to a new topic of contention, leaving the churches with the responsibility of responding to the fallout.
And women in the pews will still be left asking, so what can I do to serve my church?
Stephanie Jones is a native of Sherwood Arkansas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Ouachita Baptist University She is the wife of Voices contributor Tony Jones and mother of five weird but awesome children. She serves faithfully at First Baptist, Rich Hill, in a variety of different positions, and if she’s not serving at church or taking care of her family, she is probably reading a good book.