Editor’s note: This article was written prior to Molly T. Marshall’s resignation announcement. Its publication was delayed, along with the “Brother Molly” podcast, due to the circumstances. The author revised the original article to include reference to, and comment on, Marshall’s resignation. “Brother Molly” is now available here.
Molly Truman Marshall has directly and indirectly impacted students, congregations, pastors and church networks in various ways throughout her career.
Women and men have learned from her. A large number of women pastors and teachers have been particularly inspired and encouraged by her.
I suspect this is especially true for those who have been part of religious systems that do not affirm the full humanity and capabilities of women in the life of the family, church and world.
She has been my teacher, advisor, colleague and friend during the last 30-plus years.
An astounding number of men (and maybe some women) who have been socialized to undervalue the image of God in women are intimidated by her intellect and confidence.
Their vitriol amazes me. One wonders what issues they have suppressed that fuel their obsessions. Their animus grieves and embarrasses me, and it cannot help unbelievers to know that we are known as disciples of Jesus by our love for one another.
Molly’s admirers have not caused her to think more of herself than she ought, and her haters have not caused her to shrink from using the gifts that the Spirit has generously given to her as a follower of Christ, a minister of the gospel, a teacher for the church and a child of God.
My testimony briefly speaks of knowing Molly Marshall, the leader, in terms of one who has enabled students to widen their horizons, equipped future scholars to deepen their insights and empowered an institution to be born again.
I first encountered Molly T. Marshall in a formation for Christian ministry class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1980s.
My National Baptist Convention, USA background (I am a Black American) had not exposed me to her work and witness. Therefore, I had no expectations one way or another.
Given the racist history of the Southern Baptist Convention and iconic historic leaders of Southern Seminary, I did not expect professors there to love and affirm me.
Its reputation throughout the years gave me no reason for this aspiration. I was not white, and I was not a Southern Baptist.
I only wanted professors to give me the same information as their white Southern Baptist students. I was ready, following the advice of my African-American elders, to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”
Molly gave me much more than I expected.
First, she cared about students – all students – as people.
After the birth of a son to my wife and me, Molly often asked about the well-being of our family, and our son in particular.
As I would occasionally see her across the years (which was rarely more than once every several years), she never failed to ask about my wife and son by name. No other professor ever did so.
Second, she cared enough about students as ministers in the making to expand our intellectual horizons.
This was the first time, for example, I had been assigned a text from a Roman Catholic scholar.
I still remember the author’s insights that God can use you wherever you find yourself ministering. There is not only one place where you can be faithful and flourishing in ministry.
This was news to me. I had been socialized, implicitly or explicitly, to assume that one could only flourish in the place that God assigned. I learned that I did not have to worry about finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Third, Molly did not “bleed” on her students when she suffered vicious attacks on her character and her Christian faith by people who chose to be her enemies.
She had to feel embarrassment, anger, betrayal and more. But she kept on teaching the subject of the day and refused to bring students into the religious political fray that would end her career at the seminary she loved.
She showed amazing patience. She endured suffering as a good soldier. She modeled the kind of grit and grace that no sane person would want to be called on to exhibit.
I encountered her next in doctoral studies. She was one of my doctoral professors and on my dissertation committee.
At that level, Molly consistently demonstrated biblical and theological breadth and depth. She analyzed, summarized and critiqued authors, texts, emphases and insights.
She did not tolerate foolishness or laziness in scholarship. No one wanted to endure her public discipline which she only gave when necessary to inspire students to faithfulness and excellence. She was tough, but she was fair.
Finally, I have seen the Lord use Molly Marshall to resurrect a dead or dying theological school.
After assuming the presidency of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I became an adjunct faculty member to assist teaching theology.
She needed to be freed from teaching to focus on leading the school through the valley of the shadow of death. Apparently, she feared no evil because the Lord was with her.
Candidly, I did not know if those bones could live.
You could tell this used to be a fine institution, but what a surprise I felt when I drove onto the campus. I thought the guys had once again run the car to the cliff and then gave the steering wheel to a woman. (Guys have been known to do that kind of thing!)
But look at Central now – a vibrant, imaginative, innovative, global theological community with a future and a hope. What a leader she has been!
Molly resigned from the presidency of Central a few months prior to her scheduled celebratory retirement.
Many are saddened by this anticlimactic conclusion to a stellar career. This cloud, however, does not diminish or destroy her gleaming career as an educator, leader and minister.
Central Seminary, because of the good and faithful service and sacrifices of Molly T. Marshall across the years, will emerge from both the coronavirus crisis and a less than desirable presidential transition ready and able to continue its work of preparing leaders for “seeking God, shaping church and serving humanity and all creation.”
Even when things do not work out as planned, if we plant and water, God can give an increase – because or in spite of us.
Molly T. Marshall is my “doktormutter.” She is my friend.
For those who know her as one or the other, how blessed we are.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.