By John Pierce

When someone asks if I believe in the ordination of women to ministry, my standard reply is: “Some of them — and the same for men.”

Yesterday, the Highland Hills Baptist Church family (of which I’m a part) in Macon, Ga. ordained one of our own, Rachel Britt Huston, a hospice chaplain, to ministry. It was a wonderful service of worship — and the chance to celebrate and affirm the gifts and calling of Rachel.

Baptists of the South, even in a noticeable minority, were very late acknowledging that God calls persons to ministry regardless of gender. And the vast majority of Southern Baptists are still erecting manly barriers between more than half of their congregants.

And some male Southern Baptist powerbrokers (excuse the redundancies) even enjoy seeking out churches that call women to pastoral ministry and removing them from fellowship for such perceived crimes. (Apparently, gifted and committed female ministers are more threatening than many of us can imagine.)

Careful to avoid those biblical texts that are more restrictive than their liking as well as those more liberating, these male powerbrokers tout a carefully crafted case for keeping women in proper places of submission. And despite their biblical selectivity, they claim the Bible is “clear” on this matter — the same thing their forefathers said in defense of slavery and about other wrong-minded issues of human equality.

Of course, they are quick to add that they believe in gender equality, just in distinct gender roles. But as Susan Shaw, author of God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society, pointed out in an interview with me a few years ago: The roles with all the power are assigned exclusively to men. Therefore, there is no equality.

The sad result is that many churches and other ministry settings are missing out on the remarkable array of ministry gifts of women. It is yet another example (racial equality being an obvious one) of how the church gets dragged toward truth by and behind secular society and some minority voices of faith.

On the positive side, ordination services for Baptist women are becoming more common among more-moderate Baptist congregations — often aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Alliance of Baptists and/or American Baptist Churches.

Personally, there is some satisfaction in realizing that I can no longer count on my hands the number of ordination services for women in which I’ve participated. The first was in 1978, and the numbers have picked up steadily in recent decades.

More satisfactory, however, is that my daughters have always been involved in churches where the only thing special about an ordination service is that someone has been called to ministry — regardless of gender. To them, there is no surprise that God calls sons and daughters to proclaim the Good News, and that, in Christ, there is no slave nor free, male nor female — wherever they got those crazy ideas.

So, do I believe in the ordination of women? Yes, for some of them — like Rachel. The ones called by God and gifted for a ministry of Christian service.

Yet, I keep wondering how many other women have been told by men that God cannot make such a call. Or that the tugging at their hearts is something other than a divine call.

Listen, sisters, to the voice of God. And be assured that beyond the human-raised barriers between you and your calling are many sisters and brothers who will eagerly affirm your call and set you apart for service. We believe in God — and in you.

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