In “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Chaucer creates a king who, as punishment for an evil deed, is sent on a quest to find out what it is that women really want. He travels the entire land, asking women everywhere, and much to his discouragement, every answer is different. He is beginning to believe he will never learn the truth of what it is that women truly desire. Finally, he comes across an old mystic who reveals that the ultimate wish of all women is to dominate and rule over their husbands and lovers. In the end the king is forced to marry the old woman and, once he finally concedes sovereignty to her, they live happily ever after.
It seems like the men of the SBC are on a bit of a quest themselves. To their credit, they are asking the questions and listening to the answers. They are considering what it really means to value women and what that should look like in our church families. But I can’t help but get a sense that in their hearts they are concerned that at the end of all the questioning and searching that they, like Chaucer’s doomed king, will find that all women are really after is domination.
So, as many Southern Baptist men scratch their heads and try their hardest to figure out what in the world will satisfy the women of our denomination, I would submit that asking what the women of the SBC want is asking the wrong question. “What do women want?” is not a question for the church. The only relevant question to be asking in these times or any time is this: What does Jesus want?
The issue of women in the SBC isn’t a matter of what women do or do not wish to see happen. It’s a matter of the church operating the way it is meant to—with input and direction from all of those church members who are made in God’s image. When God created men and women, He didn’t make Adam in His image and then throw Eve together from a few spare parts he had lying around. He tenderly crafted her using a rib taken straight from Adam’s side. He created both of them in His own likeness, and He gave both of them the command to subdue the earth and rule over it. (Genesis 1:28)
Together, men and women of the church show a clearer reflection of what God is like. The church needs both strength and sensitivity, both practicality and emotion, both tenderness and discipline. Men and women each display unique aspects of God’s image at different times in their spiritual lives, and in order for the church to operate at its best, it desperately needs both masculine and feminine viewpoints. Filling our committees and boards with men or, more recently, one or two women, limits our denomination in its understanding of and carrying out of the Great Commission. Men alone can try to comprehend how to best reach certain communities or cultures, but without women’s natural emotional intelligence, the SBC is missing large pieces of the evangelism puzzle.
In our SBC churches, women are serving who understand people and the sometimes delicate nuances of true relationship, who are prayer experts and humble helpers, who have special and sweet and awe-inspiring connections to the God of the Universe. The SBC needs these women in the important meetings. We need these women helping their brothers make the tough calls and navigate choppy cultural and spiritual seas. God designed these women to help men, not just in the home, but in the difficult discussions. In the vision casting and the vote casting. It’s in the thoughts, ideas, questions, and inspired input of both men and women that we present a church that is most truly and effectively the hands and feet of Christ.
When God looked at His precious Adam, He said that it is not good for man to be alone. It was true in the garden, and it’s true today, in our homes, in our churches, and in our denominational committee meetings. Men and women work best when they work together, as God designed it. It isn’t really a matter of what women want to see happen. Women, like all humans, can be blinded by our desire for approval and glory. But, as we each consider where we want the SBC to be in another twenty years, I pray that we will ask ourselves that all-important question: What does Jesus want? Not bitterness or backbiting or grabs for power and honor. Just humble men and women, serving together, helping each other, deferring to one another as we marvel in the great privilege of sharing the gospel with a lost and dying world.