Where have we heard those words before? Those strident and defensive words from Southern Baptist leaders who claim full biblical authority for denouncing women as unequal in power and position.
Listen to their words, along with haunting echoes from a tragic and what should be shameful past:
“It’s a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment to the scripture that unequivocally we believe limits the office of pastor to men,” said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler to his fellow Southern Baptists recently.
“Who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God … and invent for ourselves ‘a higher law …,’” said John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, in 1864.
“It’s a question of authority. I think that’s what makes people nervous, but the apostle Paul makes that argument, ‘I forbid a woman to have authority over a man …,’” said Mohler in a 2019 podcast as reported by Baptist News Global. “Did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to say that or not? If the Holy Spirit did inspire Paul to say that, then it’s the Word of God.”
“The answer is very plain, St. Paul was inspired and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ and was only intent on obeying it,” opined Hopkins, author of the tract “Bible View of Slavery” (1861). “And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God.”
“I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice,” said Mohler in the 21st century.
“Master and slave are, alike, the creatures of God, the objects of his care, the subjects of his government; and, alike, responsible to him for the discharge to their several stations,” said Presbyterian pastor George D. Armstrong of Norfolk, Virginia, author of The Christian Doctrine of Slavery (1857).
“This is a disappointing departure from the clear teaching of Scripture …,” tweeted Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Keith Allen in response to Saddleback Church’s female pastoral leaders. “I Tim 3 & Titus 1 list qualifications, not suggestions. Let’s hold fast to Scripture.”
“It is vain to look to Christ or any of his Apostles to justify such blasphemous perversions of the Word of God …,” said South Carolina Governor James Henry Hammond in his Hammond’s Letters on Southern Slavery. “It is impossible to suppose that slavery is contrary to the will of God.”
“To affirm women pastors undermines confidence in Scripture, weakens God-ordained male leadership, and bows to the spirit of the age,” wrote Scott Aniol, editor-in-chief of G3, in defense of fellow Southern Baptists.
“[Abolitionist efforts] lead to one of the most dangerous evils … a disregard of the authority of the Word of God … to suit their own purposes,” stated University of Virginia professor Albert Taylor Bledsoe, writing for Cotton is King (1860).
Same song, different verses. Different times, different issues. But the same arrogant, self-serving and misguided approach to biblical interpretation.
It’s the same certainty that leads to cruelty — not in scale but in consistency. The same cocksure insistence that these preferred acts of discrimination somehow reflect the will and word of God.
And it is carried out by what is isolated and what is ignored.
Isolated are those scattered and limited biblical texts that prop up one’s presupposition. Standing alone or stitched together, they provide the claim that the Bible is clear on this topic — and that anyone who disagrees is disagreeing with the Bible.
In reality, this approach (hermeneutic) finds a stronger case for human bondage than for denying women prophetic and pastoral roles.
Ignored are not only those verses that speak in contrasting ways but also the larger biblical themes of freedom, equality and grace. And, of course, Jesus is pretty much tossed aside in favor of Paul.
Yet, even the favored apostle is only partially heard — as if Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”) barely slipped into the biblical canon.
Those who claim to believe the Bible the most tend to focus on the least of its overall revelation culminating in the life and teachings of Jesus. Yet, they harshly dismiss their fellow Christian detractors as unbelievers.
Of course, limiting women’s roles in church leadership is not equivalent to human bondage in terms of its destructive force.
However, the reckoning of these two issues by slaveholders then and their descendants of Americanized Christianity now follow the same wayward path of using isolated biblical texts while ignoring Jesus’ teachings and larger biblical truths to justify their injustices.
For Southern Baptists, one might think a denomination that grew out of the seedbed of slavery would be more introspective. But no.
Staying this course for centuries is precisely why a large portion of white Americanized Christianity is always the caboose and never the engine of social movements toward justice, equality and inclusion.
They do the same thing to the Bible — and people unlike them — over and over again with lessons never learned.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.