June 23, 2016
By Blake Tommey
GREENSBORO, N.C. — During the 20 years when the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was mired in conflict, clergywomen were always treated as a contentious issues — a football to be thrown around and spiked, rather than active places in the game, said author Eileen Campbell-Reed. In her new book, Anatomy of a Schism, Campbell-Reed issues a call to finally claimed ordained clergywomen as active participants and vital contributors to fracturing the largest Protestant group in the United States.
At a workshop Thursday titled “Gender and Ministry in Baptist Life: A Conversation about 50 Years of Change,” this claim was not only the topic but the rally cry. With the framework of Campbell-Reed’s new recasting of the role of clergywomen in Baptist life, women across the Fellowship gave voice to a history of influence and future of dynamic ministry in the church.
“Women were casualities in the tension that biblicists and autonomists pulled on during the Baptist takeover,” Campbell-Reed said.
“The biblicists treated women like a football that you spike in victory, where women in ministry represents all that’s bad about the world. But the autonomists did the same, claiming victory for clergywomen as the way of the future, the thing we all love. But we’re still like footballs, being tossed around as an issue, instead of active players on the field. One of the central things I’m trying to do is move women into being players on the field.”
Among the influential voices that Campbell-Reed features in her book, we hear the voice of Rebecca, a young woman who received a firm grounding in the Baptist tradition, in the Bible and in God’s love, but also a grounding in women being inferior. We hear the voice of Anna, who finally received ordination after 12 years of ministry and yet could not be commissioned as a chaplain by the North American Mission Board.
We hear the voice of Joanna, who challenged a budget concern in her church and was referred to pastoral counseling by her male interim pastor for stepping out of line.
Other voices helping to reframe the Baptist schism during the workshop included Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., Emily Hull McGee, pastor of First Baptist Church on Fifth in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.
“One of the things Eileen does so beautifully in this book is to put women at the center of the conversation,” Durso said. “So often women in ministry have been at the side, or we’ve been the problem. But we haven’t been the center of the conversation. In this book, she helps put women at the center, and shifting the focus in that way helps us understand so much of what has happened in Baptist life over the past 40 years.
Marshall said that a recasting of the central role played by women in the Baptist schism brings her both the memory of pain and also the memory of pain and the clarity that can lead clergywomen into a much brighter future in Baptist life.
“I’m persuaded that the role of women in ministry became a test cause for the claim of biblical inerrancy,” Marshall said. “Campbell-Reed’s approach illuminates how prevalent patriarchy really was and is in the SBC’s ethos and it underscores how fearful men are with shared power with women as equals. Now, I think we’re better; but I don’t think we’re well. But the gendered reality of what was going on in the resurgence is clear and I think her analysis illumines some new dimensions of that.”
Emily Hull McGee, who grew up with parents and grandparents enmeshed in the conflict over clergywomen, said her story of ordained ministry as a woman is informed both by an inherited fight narrative and a more hopeful personal experience of affirmation in ministry. Hull McGee confessed that when she was young, she thought every church was in a war; however, as her own calling in ministry has unfolded, she has seen the fruits and gifts of so many clergywomen.
“In the end, you can’t argue with a story,” Hull McGee said.
“Nobody can suggest that God has not called a person for a task; we really don’t have a say in that. Since Mary Magdalene, women have been speaking to the power of resurrection, whether or not they’ve been heard. I’m not better than any of the women before me; I just happen to have had a stroke of luck and timing that enables me to get up and preach every Sunday and be a pastor. Yet, that is a gift and I must treasure and acknowledge it.”
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.