Monday, May 22, 2006

Baptist Women

Lat week I picked up a secondhand book titled The Enterprise by Orchard and McLaurin, written in 1925. It outlines the beginnings of Canadian Baptist Missions in Eastern Canada. According to this book Canada sent out the first single women Baptist missionary, Minnie De Wolfe, in 1867, the year of Canada's birth as a country.

There is simply no reference to her and the many other women missionary firsts in this book which appear on the internet. I noticed that Archibald Fleming and many other evangelical Christian men are also under-recognized. These books are out of print and interest seems to be conglomerating around fewer and fewer idealized men of our selective past.

However, the plight of Baptist women seems particularly touching with regards to the present policies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

From Southern Baptist Sisters: In Search of Status, 1845-2000. by David T. Morgan.

"David T. Morgan's history of women's participation in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is full of accomplished women, organizational successes, and stunning reversals."

    Southern Baptist women made slow but steady progress, always facing severe opposition within the Convention, until the SBC came under the leadership of staunch fundamentalists in the 1980s and 1990s who, according to Morgan, took the SBC back to the 1840s in terms of thinking about the nature and proper role of women, and who shut the door completely and permanently on theological and practical advances for women within the denomination.
All That Fits a WomanTraining Southern Baptist Women for Charity and Mission, 1907-1926 by Laine Scales

    The history of women's roles within evangelical religious traditions has received scant attention when compared to that of women from more liberal denominations. Further, women's roles in the Southern United States have garnered less scholarly attention than those of women in the North and Midwest. Laine Scales rectifies both of these oversights with her fascinating book, All that fits a woman.

    She offers an insightful detailed look into the challenges Southern Baptist women experienced as they pursued their commitment to missionary activities and social work. This story attests to the veracity of the saying "what goes around comes around" in that, after reading about the trials and tribulations Southern Baptist women faced, the epilogue offers a bleak prognosis for these women who continue to seek full participation in their church's ministry today.

    It appears that the hard-fought efforts over the past century were, in the end, to return to a place, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, not all that far from where the journey began. And so it goes.
And here is the present state of women in the Sountern Baptist Convention from WOMEN AS CLERGY: When some faith groups started to ordain women:

    The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) had undergone a struggle between Fundamentalists and less conservative members which ended in the late 1990's with a Fundamentalist victory. The Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee of the SBC, issued a statement on 2000-MAY-18 recommending that "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The SBC currently has about 1,600 ordained women among their 41,099 churches. About 30 of their senior pastors are female. The recommendation was approved at their annual meeting on 2000-JUN-14. Their existing female pastors are allowed to remain, but no new pastors will be ordained. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.; they have about 16 million members.
For those who might argue that these early women missionaries were not ordained pastors, I admit, they were not. But their roles did not revolve around the domestic; they were medical doctors, preachers, trainers of Bible-women, teachers in the seminary, and organizers and leaders par excellence.

As medical doctor married medical doctor, each one running an independent clinic, the notion of missionary wife and helpmate, on the one hand, was balanced, on the other hand, by the example of women who founded and administered teaching hospitals and industrial schools. They preached and taught and participated in the leaders conferences along with the men. This was at the end of the 19th century.

The very premise that women's role is somehow subordinate to men, in any way, shape or form, is given the lie by this book, The Enterprise.

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