Jacki King, the minister for women at Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, first felt a call to ministry as a student.
She decided to follow him, giving up her pre-med major and her place on a varsity softball team for ministerial training at a small Bible school with a predominantly male student body. She chose Criswell College because that was where her pastor was dean. She wanted to teach the Bible like he did.
King believed at the time that she had only two options for ministry: marry a pastor or serve as a missionary abroad.
“I really didn’t want to be married to a senior pastor,” she said.
But God, as the saying goes, had other plans.
She met Josh King, an aspiring preacher in Criswell, fell in love and married him. They entered the ministry with his role of pastor opening doors for him. Today, King is both an author and a Bible teacher, and worries that too much of the conversation about the role of women in the church is focused on what they cannot do – to know, serve as a senior pastor in a Southern Baptist church – rather than on what they can do.
The Bible shows women and men as partners and portrays women leaders in the early church, King said, pointing to Phoebe, who is mentioned in the New Testament book of Romans, along with other women leaders.
“Women are part of the Great Commission,” she said, referring to Jesus’ command to spread his teaching around the world.
Few congregations could function without the work of female members. Yet there are tensions in the Southern Baptist Convention over the role of women, primarily over how to put into practice a section of the Baptist faith and message. This section, based on the SBC’s interpretation of Bible verses such as 1 Timothy 2:12 and Titus 1: 5-9, deals with leadership in churches.
“While both men and women are gifted for church service, the office of pastor is limited to scripturally qualified men,” the statement read. But the local Southern Baptist churches, because they are self-governed, are free to decide how to implement this teaching.
For some members of the largest Protestant denomination in the country, the declaration of faith means that the senior pastor must be male, but staff and other pastoral roles can be filled by women, including teaching the Bible. to men and women. For others, pastoral duties, especially preaching, are limited to men, and women are only allowed to teach the Bible to other women and children.
These two views clashed in the spring of 2019, when Beth Moore, then beloved Southern Baptist women’s Bible teacher, tweeted about speaking at a Mother’s Day church service. This led to a firestorm on social media and further criticism of the women preachers and teachers of the more conservative Southern Baptists. In the spring of 2021, Moore left the SBC, citing a number of concerns, including how the denomination handled allegations of sexual abuse, as well as sexism and racism within its ranks.
“At the end of the day, there comes a time when you have to say that’s not who I am,” she told Religion News Service at the time.
This ongoing struggle has left some women leaders who feel called to ministry at an impasse.
“Until we stop debating or demanding ever closer compliance, we will continue to circle a revolving door of unnecessary controversy,” said former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Katie McCoy, who is now the director of the women’s ministry for the Texas Baptists.
In 2019, King, McCoy, and other Southern Baptist devotees launched the SBC Women’s Leadership Network to encourage women leaders across the evangelical denomination.
“I have the opportunity to have tons of conversations with women through our convention about… how they serve and how their creativity and resilience is changing communities, schools and churches,” King said. “None of this is platform-based. None of this is shared with the world.
King cited the examples of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, legendary missionaries of Southern Baptist life. Two of the largest denomination-wide offerings are named after women.
Leadership is more than high-level ministries, McCoy said. It can be like women hosting students for the holidays, mentoring young moms, and organizing community service projects, she said.
“Leadership is an influence, not necessarily a position,” said McCoy.
Called to ministry at 22, McCoy, who holds a doctorate in systematic theology, said her parents, teachers and peers encouraged her to pursue leadership in Baptist life.
The Texas Baptist churches seemed to have figured out how to cooperate despite their differences over the role of women, and they are doing so “without the controversy – or the perpetual acrimony – of the SBC experiences,” McCoy said. It is a matter of the local church and not a question of testing to join the state convention, she said.
“Many of our 5,300 churches are just as conservative as the SBC, asserting the same denominational documents,” McCoy said, adding that others allow women to preach or teach, but limit the positions of pastor and teacher. ancient to men.
When McCoy previously worked at Southwestern, she said she felt valued by the administration and supported by President Adam Greenway, but felt limited as an employee of an SBC seminar.
“I felt that as a woman, I couldn’t grow beyond where I was,” McCoy said.
Despite his credentials, McCoy knew that teaching in the School of Theology was not an option. It would be, she said, “at best, food for the next scare documentary, and at worst, a call for inquiries and resignations” at the national SBC rally.
“If the SBC looks around and realizes that it has lost a generation of female leaders, it won’t be because these women have drifted towards liberalism. It will be because they are exhausted, ”she said.
Instead, McCoy was appointed assistant professor of applied theology and feminist studies, but in the School of Educational Ministries, which more concretely prepares students for the ministry of the Church. She doesn’t blame Greenway.
“I, however, blame a religious culture that caters so much to its fundamentalist fringe that it views women teaching theology classes as a more imminent threat to its doctrinal purity than decades of internal strife and grudge,” McCoy said. .
Ashley Allen, a professor in the women’s ministry and director of news and information at Southwest Seminary, doesn’t feel limited by the beliefs of the denomination.
“I respect what the scriptures say,” Allen said. “But at the same time, the scriptures give me opportunities as a woman.”
While in college, Allen knew she was called to a Christian calling, but she honed that calling through the example and guidance of the ladies in her church – many of whom did not have titles.
“They were what I define as leadership now, which influences,” Allen said. “When you influence someone else, you direct them – good or bad. “
Men, including a seminary dean, professor and state convention leader, have also stood up for Allen throughout his career path. Allen said they invested in her, interfered with and recommended her for different positions.
Today Allen is making an influence, and she would like to see more women in Southern Baptist life fostering leadership among their peers in “whatever it is, but really come alongside these ladies and give them the opportunity.” to be able to serve and use their gifts. “