An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM), an organization for which I have a tremendous amount of respect, sells a T-shirt with the phrase, “This is what a preacher looks like.” I love that slogan.

I teach religion majors at Campbell University in North Carolina. Many of the students that I teach are female and most of them have a sense that God has called them to ministry. As 18-year-olds, they do not know exactly what direction in ministry their calling will take. But they have a deep sense that God has done something in their lives, and following the call to ministry is their way of responding. I am supportive of women who have been called to ministry, whether it be to serve as a parish pastor, chaplain, youth minister, missionary or whatever form that call may take.

For almost the last two years, I have been engaged in a project to write the bicentennial history of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. I am currently working through the period from 1911-38. As I was reading old Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) minutes, I came across an amazing entry from Oct. 2, 1916. During the meeting on that day, Sallie Bailie Jones, one of the most important WMU leaders in the South in the early 20th century, spoke on the subject of “Women in Christianity.” Listen to these words:

“Woman was created man’s equal and a high standard for womanhood was given in the Old Testament. Miriam, the sister of Moses, who led her people was as divinely appointed as Moses, and Deborah, the prophetess was the first woman to rule a nation by divine appointment. With the coming of Christ there came a higher life for women and the gospel of a risen Christ was first heard by the disciples from Mary Magdalene.”

Now, this is not from the mouth of some wild-eyed radical feminist. This is from the WMU that was part of one of the most prominent churches in the Southern Baptist Convention at the time. So when some conservatives today say that it is God’s intention that the woman should be “submissive” to the man, I think they would have a hard time convincing Sallie Bailie Jones of that.

“This is what a preacher looks like!!”

Glenn Jonas is chair of the department of religion and philosophy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog.

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