Monday, 20 February 2012

Responding to Truth

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 Seminary, Louisville. 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 full-time Minister of Music in a South Georgia church for over 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+ 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 twenty 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.

Yeess!! 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 power brokers, 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."

[*Subsequently published in The Christian Index (GA) and The Southern Baptist Church Music Journal, which devoted the entire 1985 edition--including sensitive commentary about women's ordination--to articles by women music ministers. My, how the SBC's official stance has devolved since then.]


  1. Might you have also noticed Jesus' words that stated the kingdom of God was at hand or near? When these statements are combined that with what he did (the elevation of women as well as all those who were seen as a lower class and inferior by the religious elite), I believe we see that one of the qualities of the kingdom of God (i.e, the way God intended it to be from the beginning before the fall), is total equality and harmony of all humanity. The church, as God's representation on earth of what the kingdom of God is to be, must be practicing all of those qualities. In the pages of the letters of Paul and others, we see first steps that the church was taking to bring about that equality. In those days and in that culture, any elevating of the status of women was a controversial and revolutionary thing, but I believe it was only the start of what God intended for the church to become and represent. I understand about being relieved about the validation to what God has called you, but I think you already knew his validation for he called you himself. May his continued blessings and favor rest upon you as you seek to serve him in the way he has called and equipped you.

    Rev. Jim Laupp
    First Baptist Church (ABC-USA)
    Fort Dodge, IA

  2. Blessings on you, Naomi! Yes, we're all working for the freedom of all women to follow God's giftings and callings, whatever they may be.

  3. f.y.i. - A condensed version of this blog posting was published online by on March 6, 2012 with the title, "What is Jesus' View on Women in Ministry?

  4. @Kristen - Thanks for your support!

    @Jim - I agree with your comments--Thanx! It seems that since Jesus' time, we Kingdom People have continued to take "3 steps forward, 2 steps backward." We still have far, far to go, but with God's revelation and assistance, there are occasional glimpses of daylight within the darkness. We are encouraged and hopeful that we are generally heading in the right direction.