Beth Moore’s courage to speak out, even at the cost of her reputation and possibly her ministry, gave me hope that the evangelical world would finally listen.
Even so, much work remains to be done in light of the continued support for Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, even after troubling information arose about his attitude toward, and comments about, women resurfaced.
For me, the most disturbing aspect of the Patterson story isn’t what he did. Given his beliefs about women, I am not surprised when he acts badly toward women. What disturbs me the most is how many Christians follow him.
As a historian, I am interested in how ideas influence behavior. I am interested in how so many Christians are complicit in allowing their pastor to openly sexualize the body of an underage girl and approve of wife-beating.
Why do Christians continue to follow men like Patterson?
In the church history textbooks being used, 98.6 percent of the entries included were written by men, and men comprise 94 percent of the narrative.
I can’t help but think of Miss Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, who complained that she could not be interested in history because “the men (are) all so good for nothing, and (there are) hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome.”
Only four of the 148 listed courses for Fall 2018 at Southwestern explicitly mentioned men and women – Biblical Theology of Manhood, Biblical Theology of Womanhood, Text Driven Commentary for Women, and Women and Discipleship. The three courses that mentioned women were all under separate headings of “Women’s Ministry” and “Women’s Studies.”
Southwestern’s website states the seminary is currently training more than 3,000 students in cooperation with 47,000 local Southern Baptist churches.
Those students are learning that women played a miniscule role in church history. They are learning that women hardly ever played leadership roles in church history.
They are learning that men’s voices matter more than women’s voices. They are learning that classes about women and for women should be segregated under separate headings and taught by women for women.
From this perspective, should we be surprised that so many Southwestern seminary students and Baptist pastors continue to support Patterson?
Should we be surprised that women are excluded from Southern Baptist ministry and leadership roles when Southern Baptist pastors are never taught about the women in history who did these things?
Should we be surprised that complementarianism continues to thrive when more than 3,000 students (multiplying every year as students graduate) connected to 47,000 different churches are taught a complementarian framework for male and female roles?
Beth Moore, a Bible teacher and founder of Living Proof Ministries, has made me hopeful, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.
If evangelical Christians are going to change their attitudes toward women, they have to learn the important role that women really have played throughout church history.
They have to recognize women as leaders, teachers, preachers, evangelists and apostles – not just as domestic caregivers and support staff.
Gracy Olmstead recently wrote in the Washington Post that, “Marginalizing women ignores rich church history going back to the life of Jesus.” She is exactly right.
If we want to change attitudes toward women, we have to better educate Christians about the reality of women’s roles in church history.
Only then will the world be a better place for my daughter.
It is time we changed the historical conversation about Christian women. I propose we start with seminary textbooks.
Beth Allison Barr is associate professor of history at Baylor University and a resident scholar at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. A longer version of this article first appeared on The Anxious Bench, where she blogs regularly. It is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @bethallisonbarr.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.
Associate dean in the Baylor Graduate School, an associate professor of history at Baylor University and a resident scholar at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.