New Book Says Southern Baptist Women Are Equal In Decision-Making in the Home

October 13, 2008 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

susan-shaw-book-cover.jpgWhile professing to believe the Bible teaches them to submit to their
husbands, Southern Baptist women tend to function as equal partners
when it comes to most decision-making in the home, according to a new
book by an author familiar with Southern Baptist women.


That is due in large part, says author Susan Shaw, to the fact that
Southern Baptist girls are taught from a young age to believe they have
direct access to God — without any need for an intermediary like a
husband or a minister.

Shaw, director of women’s studies at Oregon State University, wrote God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home & Society,
from the perspective of both an insider and outsider. She grew up
Southern Baptist but now attends a United Church of Christ
congregation.

She weaves her own experience with more than 150 interviews of
current and former Southern Baptist women from various traditions and
backgrounds.

“For years I had been intrigued by the contradictions in Southern
Baptist women’s lives,” Shaw said in an e-mail interview. “They
professed to be submissive, but they ran their families and churches.
They were Southern women with all of that cultural baggage, and yet
they were strong leaders, some even challenging cultural and
denominational norms by being ordained and becoming pastors. So I
wanted to explore those contradictions and complexities.”

She concluded that while the Southern Baptist Convention’s official
positions might seem to make women subordinate, Southern Baptist women
are, in fact, a rebellious bunch. The level of rebellion varies from
ordained women — who defy the decades-old Southern Baptist tradition
that girls can aspire to be missionaries but only boys can be called to
preach — to stay-at-home moms who view their husbands as head of the
home, yet exert significant influence on the direction of their
families and churches.

Shaw said Southern Baptist women are a diverse lot, but one thing
they share across the spectrum is belief in the Baptist distinctive
often termed “soul competency” or “priesthood of the believer.” Because
of that belief, Shaw says in the book, whether or not a woman views
herself as a complete equal to her husband or is assigned to a helper
role, she answers only to God in matters of faith.

“The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has significantly
and essentially shaped the identity of Southern Baptist women,” Shaw
said. “Each woman I interviewed, without reservation, claims that God
speaks to her, and, for many women, that belief has empowered them to
challenge gender norms in Southern Baptist life. For all of them, that
belief has allowed them to negotiate a very strong sense of [moral]
agency, even among women who espouse submission” to their husbands or
other male leaders.

Shaw said a lot of people would be surprised to learn that Southern
Baptist women are stronger and more independent that their popular
image might suggest. They know they have power, but they exercise it in
different ways — some through traditional ways and some in more
feminist fashion.

“The bottom line, though, is if they feel like God is telling them
something, then that’s the way they’re going to go,” she said. “‘God
speaks to us, too’ — that’s what they kept telling me.”

In the book, Shaw profiles her mother as a typical Southern Baptist
woman of her generation. She would say her husband is head of the
house, but he would never make a family decision without discussing it
with her first.

Shaw turns to her mother’s Bible study group, nicknamed “the
Clique,” as an important focus group representing the older generation
of Baptist women.

While they accept the language of male headship, they do not view
themselves as powerless in the home. “Man is the head,” one member of
the Clique comments, “but woman is the neck that turns him.”

They aren’t afraid to disagree with their pastor and to tell him so.
They may believe that only males should be pastors and deacons, but it
is common knowledge that without women, the average Baptist church
could not function.

Shaw said women who espouse submission still view themselves as
equal to men in God’s eyes. They see submission based on role, not
value, and as a choice they make, not a requirement imposed on them.
And they don’t see male authority as all-encompassing.

“It’s a recognition that at some point in a marriage relationship
wives and husbands are going to disagree, and at that point, they
believe, the wife’s role is to give in to the husband’s authority,” she
said. “But on the whole, what they really practice is a partnership,
with give-and-take.”

Shaw grew up attending a Southern Baptist church in Rome, Ga. She
earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary, was ordained as a minister and taught eight years at
California Baptist University. She left the Southern Baptist Convention
about 13 years ago, following significant controversy between moderates
and fundamentalists over issues such as women’s ordination and the
proper role of pastors.

Conservatives ultimately won, and by 2000 they had changed the
confessional document of the nation’s largest Protestant faith group to
discourage women pastors and teach that each wife should “submit
herself graciously” to her husband’s “servant leadership.”

Shaw said Southern Baptist women’s views are shaped as much by generation as anything else.

“Older women are much more progressive than most people might
think,” she said. “Women who came of age during the women’s movement
are more likely to identify as feminist, or at least see feminism as an
important development of the ’60s and ’70s. Some younger women are more
conservative than their mothers and grandmothers, but other younger
women are on the forefront of progressive social and theological
change.”

Source: ABP

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