In 1978, Frank and Evelyn Stagg’s groundbreaking book, “Woman in the World of Jesus,” gave impetus to the modern women in ministry movement.
The Staggs’ meticulous research effectively poked large holes in prevailing Scripture interpretations that advocated male domination of women in church and home.
An uproar ensued among conservative pastors and husbands. The ground shook beneath the status quo platform of “women’s place.”
Today, after decades of passionate debate, the controversy remains heated.
Shortly after the Staggs’ book was published, one of my pastor colleagues was attending a conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He happened to be sitting with the Staggs at dinner one evening. The conversation drifted to their popular book.
At some point, he asked Evelyn how she felt after completing all the research for their manuscript. She looked him square in the eye, set her jaw and gave a one-word reply: “Mad.”
Several years later, I was gathering materials for an article I was writing on women in ministry.
By then I’d been a full-time minister of music in a south Georgia church for more than a decade – against all odds, considering the climate against women ministers.
Earlier, I’d become certified to teach public school choral music. But my circumstances changed unexpectedly, and I “fell into” professional church music ministry instead.
Though I hadn’t attended seminary, I found that I was well prepared for music ministry.
In addition to my formal choral training, I was the child of a church-planter Baptist preacher, and grew up doing all sorts of leadership tasks in mission settings. Also, for two summers during college, I conducted music schools in churches throughout Florida.
Unknowingly, I’d been preparing for a career in church music ministry all along. Yet, I’d never considered being a minister and had no women music minister role models.
Since childhood, I’d been taught to follow wherever Christ leads. So Christ called, I followed, and I’ve thrived as a minister of music for 30-plus years.
In preparation for the article I was writing on “women’s place,” I sent a survey to Baptist women ministers throughout Georgia, garnering about 20 intense responses.
My plan was to fashion a mostly anecdotal article from their responses, including a section dealing with women’s ordination issues.
Just one problem: I didn’t feel qualified to write that section. No biblical scholar here – I hadn’t even been to seminary yet. And the survey responses regarding ordination were only moderately helpful.
I remember sitting with KJV Bible in hand, wondering if I’d been wrong about “women’s place.” Certainly, what I was experiencing was different than what I’d been taught.
My instincts, satisfaction and affirmation from the saints around me – not scholastic exegesis – had given me confidence in my calling.
With some trepidation, I breathed a quick prayer asking God to reveal whatever it was that I needed to know. Opening my Bible, I decided to focus on Jesus’ words and actions.
Yes! There it was, clearly shown, even in the KJV. Affirmation after affirmation. How could anybody miss it?
Jesus didn’t restrict women; he demolished the status quo. Jesus reserved his strongest admonitions for the religious powerbrokers, who usually got things wrong.
Jesus made no distinctions between women’s and men’s roles. He even freed Martha from the kitchen.
Jesus had women disciples. God gave the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection first to women, and told them to proclaim it.
Women’s “place” – just like men’s – is next to Jesus’ heart. Knowing Jesus brings boundless freedom, fulfillment and joy.
I can hear Jesus saying: “Follow me. Develop your gifts. Become the wonderful person God created you to be. I’ll love you, be with you and partner with you always.”
When the Holy Spirit reveals to women (and men) that the status quo they’ve bought into for so long is a lie – despite well-meaning instruction by trusted parents, religious leaders and mentors – their responses are varied: Shock. Betrayal. Bewilderment. Frustration.
Evelyn Stagg, after discovering truth through her own scholarly research, felt anger. Righteous anger at the misguided teachings of so many churches. Her response? Co-author a book that shares her findings.
For myself, after discovering biblical support for what I’d known all along in my soul, I felt relief, validation. My response? Write a blog advocating for women, especially women ministers – and be the finest minister of music that I can be.
Countless other women (and men) also use their little corner of the world to empower women: Activists. Politicians. Authors. Preachers. Social Workers. Mentors. Parents.
Some create websites and utilize social media; others organize conferences and give speeches. Some create informative reading materials; others mentor young women.
Some provide emotional support for battered women; others elevate the physical circumstances of needy women. Some are in-your-face activists; others advocate from behind the scenes.
Whatever the mode of our responses, our message is always the same: “The truth shall set you free.”
Naomi K. Walker is an ordained Baptist minister. Now retired, she served as music/worship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, from 1995 to 2017.