Dear First Baptist Church, Jefferson City,
I know, I know. This is a post that many expect would be sad to write. After all, despite my best effort to speak a word on your behalf, and despite my hope that Southern Baptists would see the truth or at least be willing to reason with those with whom they disagree, the Convention has overwhelmingly voted to not allow your delegates to be seated – including the undershepherd of your flock, the Pastor Ellen Di Giosia.
It is a sad thing indeed to see the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) deny you the right to be seated and make decisions at the annual convention meetings, but it just goes to show what we’ve always known about them: they’ll never change their view on women in ministry unless they’re struck by lightning, or, to use a John Calvin phrase I shudder to think about, “God overrides their wills” with a sense of conviction about the matter. God would have to overpower and break through their wills to get them to change.
Apart from that, it’s highly doubtful. I want to be a huge optimist here, but you’ve been in partnership with the Tennessee Baptist Convention for over 140 years — and they haven’t changed yet. I doubt another 140 years will change their view. Only God can, and, contra Calvin, He doesn’t override our wills to make us see the truth. He brings conviction, and how we respond to that conviction is up to us.
Their decision to remain as hard-headed and hard-hearted on the matter over the last century shows just how powerful, stubborn, strong-willed, and depraved the will can be. I still don’t understand to this day how they can view women as true, equal members of the Body of Christ alongside men but then tell them “you’re a woman, so you can only do these 5 things in the church.” It seems so contradictory to say those things, but that’s what Southern Baptists will tell you.
I know men who were shocked to find out that some women I knew were planning to enroll in post-graduate degrees at SBC schools because “I don’t think we allow women to do those things,” one female friend told me a male student said to her. I know of one woman in particular who was told in front of her family while on tour at a Southern Baptist Seminary that “maybe she’ll get married, have kids, and settle down while here at school,” as though the man who said it had all the best intentions in the world.
But this is what they believe. As shocking and as “Dark Ages” as it sounds, this is the denomination you have allied with all this time. And now, they’ve become so committed to a “gospel of masculinity” that you no longer qualify to be a part of their fellowship. I said in my letter to the TBC last week that they were the ones in the wrong, the ones who’re not cooperating with the Holy Spirit, but even that fact alone didn’t deter them from doing something that they’ll have to answer to their Maker for doing.
And so, in the midst of this, Pastor Ellen and First Baptist Jefferson City, you’re wondering what to do. Should you continue in missions work with the TBC, or leave their gathering entirely and ally with others who support your affirmation of women in all ordained offices within the church? It’s admirable to want to stay in their midst and continue to labor alongside them, believing some good will emerge from it, but the TBC has overwhelmingly spoken.
The TBC, and thus, Southern Baptists, don’t want you in their midst.
As hard as that is to accept, it’s time you and I accept it.
The Lord Jesus told the 70 disciples that they were to go to their own people, “the lost sheep of Israel” He said (Matthew 10:6), and they were to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (v.8). They were to do the work of ministry. However, in doing what the Lord Jesus commanded, there were those who would not receive them: “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:13-14).
Yes, these words apply to the work of the ministry, the inauguration of the Kingdom among the Jews, but it also applies to your current situation: for over 140 years, you’ve been doing Kingdom-building work. You have labored alongside those in the TBC, an overwhelming number, no doubt, who’ve disagreed with your view to ordain women preachers, women deacons, and women pastors. And yet, you’ve done what the Lord commanded you to do.
You’ve put the Lord first, heard His voice, read His Word, and done His work, and you’ve been faithful in it — even in a denomination that has ostracized you and treated you as a distant third cousin instead of a close sibling. And for that, you are to be commended. Your love has been a beacon of light to the TBC and to Southern Baptists in general. You have done the work of the Lord alongside those with whom you’ve disagreed with regard to women in ministry.
And God has been, somehow, glorified in that.
And now, after all this time, the TBC and Southern Baptists have said that they don’t want you in their Convention any more, that they would rather be enemies to you and deny you your opportunities as a church, than ally with you and agree to disagree. Well, it’s time to take Jesus’ words: if they won’t receive you, “shake off the dust from your feet” and keep moving.
There are a few things that we know about all of this. First, we know that you are committed to ordaining women in all of church leadership, including the Pastorate. Praise God! You’re doing the right thing. You’ve read the Scriptures and meditated upon them, and you know for yourselves the role that women played in Israel’s theocracy in the Old Testament. Deborah was both a prophetess and a Judge in the theocracy, and she judged all of Israel, including the males, in her day. Huldah and Miriam are two others.
In the New Testament, the church forms, which is a theocracy because Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23-24), and whether a local church or churches have a male or female pastor at the helm, the church is still the Bride — never to be the Groom (Christ is the Bridegroom, and Him alone). We know that Junia was one of the apostles in the early church, and we know that Paul would’ve never told the women of 1 Timothy 2 to listen in silence with full submission if Paul didn’t expect that they could serve in teaching, preaching, and pastoral ministries in the future (after all, what’s the point of learning if you’re to never do anything with it?).
We also know that the TBC, as does the SBC as a whole, picks and chooses which passages they will interpret literally and make “necessary” and which ones they won’t. Take the issue of women: they’re saying “women cannot be pastors, they’re denied the opportunity in Scripture.” And yet, 1 Timothy 3:12 tells us that deacons must “rule their children,” but the SBC still sets aside men as deacons (remember, they’re resistant to women as deacons) who don’t have children. How can this be? If one takes the text literally, then one must do all the text says. And yet, they ordain men who can’t have children or have decided against it anyway, despite the literal instructions of the text.
Why then, should they make female Pastors a hill on which to die? I can answer the question: Because they’ve forgotten the gospel. They’ve embraced a male-only gospel that puts politics and gender above God, salvation, and His mission to save souls. The Scriptures say that for you, Pastor Ellen, to desire the office of Pastor is to desire “a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1), but they’ve made it out to be a “bad work.” Again, they’re not understanding the text, standing under it to let the Scriptures preach to them, but overstanding the text, standing over the text to tell the Bible what it will say. This is an affront to the name of Christ, but they’ll let it slide due to their political agenda.
They’ll tell you they’re not “Gnostic,” that they don’t embrace the idea in the Gospel of Thomas that says that a female must become male to enter the kingdom of God, but that’s how they act. They still embrace a gendered gospel, not understanding that Jesus came to show us that there is no hierarchy in Christ because of gender, social status, race, and so on. Gender, a gift God gave humanity, to unite us, has been used by SBC-ers to divide and conquer. I don’t have to tell you who the Father of Division is who led The Great Rebellion in Heaven (He, like the SBC, think their millions of members and money are strong enough to compete with God; God’s “arm” is too strong for SBC-ers to box with it and win).
But despite all this, the Convention belongs to them. They are the majority. And as painful as it is for you to move past it, tomorrow will be a brighter day. This won’t feel good now (it’s painful, I know), and it feels like a divorce of sorts. And in some sense, it is a divorce. But sometimes, change is what we need to move forward and live better. I faced the same. I remember when, two years ago, I made some major changes in my life that caused me to leave my environment. And I didn’t want to move; I didn’t want to leave the environment I was in. And yet, the Lord closed every door until I surrendered to His will and made the move. And, to my surprise, it has been the best thing for me. God has birthed a ministry (you’re reading an article on this site as a living testimony) because of the move. The move was painful, and it hurt (and yes, I’ve shed numerous tears over it), but the joy God replaced my sorrow with has been more than I could’ve ever dreamed or imagined.
And God will do the same for you, First Baptist Jefferson City. When you’ve had time to get away from the TBC, time to think, in the quiet, with you and the Lord, and as you continue to have worship services, Bible Studies, prayer time, baptisms, and celebrate Christian observances, you’ll realize that the Lord has been guiding you all along. Remember, God brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, but it didn’t come without cost.
God is bringing humanity out of bondage to old-age gender discrimination. Today, the church is raising up more and more women in the Army of the Lord to not only be soldiers but also “lieutenants” and “high-ranking officials” for the cause of Christ with giftedness in the Body of Christ. The SBC has been fighting against it all these years, but the gospel and the Holy Spirit have been breaking down barriers and setting the captives free (Jesus said he came to do this, quoting Isaiah 61 in the process). But even though the Lord brought the Israelites out of bondage, they reached places in the wilderness where they wondered if God was with them. Even when Moses first appeared to Pharaoh, Pharaoh punished the people by making them work harder to do slave labor. And yet, God displayed His wonders and upheld His people, even though it initially looked as though Pharaoh would win.
And God has brought you to this place in the life of your church for His purpose. His purpose has been to have you as a beacon of light, as “a city on a hill” in the TBC and SBC so that your actions could condemn and convict those with whom you disagree. And now that they’ve chosen to release you, your mission to the SBC by being in the SBC is over. God still has a mission, but this will start a new (and better) chapter for you in the Kingdom of our Lord.
The road ahead looks uncertain, with cloudy skies but not the slightest bit of sun. In these times, remember that God’s amazing grace goes with you. There are times when you may wonder if God is even with you, but as my mother who is now with the Lord once told me, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” I’m proud of your love of God, your desire to honor Him, and the persecution you’ve endured. You’ve always voted in the TBC with your hands; now it’s time to vote with your feet. Move forward, leave the TBC, embrace the associations and conventions that will embrace you, and move on to do bigger, better, and more satisfying work for Christ. Though you may not know it, the road ahead will prove to be even brighter, even sweeter, than what you leave behind. Sometimes we have to leave to receive.
The SBC is a beast that only God can conquer. Continue to write, preach, teach, speak, and live the truth. Commit the SBC to God. And finally, thank God that you’ve come to the light and pray that the TBC and SBC do so as well. As the Lord told the prophet Samuel when Israel wanted a human king, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
A Spirit-filled believer