The Southern Baptist Convention 2019 was a momentous occasion. Not only had I never attended before, but everything from the resolutions to the panels to the coffee dates were alive with the whirlwind of change.
Women’s roles in the church.
No one was afraid to talk about the SBC’s dirty laundry. We didn’t always agree, but that was okay. We talked about all of it in painstaking detail and invited the whole world to watch. Then we voted that sexual abuse and racism were grounds for expelling churches from the convention. And I couldn’t be more proud of our leadership for their humility and resolve in these areas.
While remaining steadfast in conservative, Biblical principles and complementarianism, I saw men—leading men—affirm the value and voice of women in the church. At the SBC Women’s Leadership event, our president, J.D. Greear, expressed his excitement about the new generation of women and change we are ushering in. And while he was glad for what has already taken place, he reminded us that we are only starting to scratch the surface.
The SBC (along with other conservative denominations) are just beginning to see the effects of the minimization of women in churches—especially in the South where legalism over leniency is more common. And I would have to agree fully with Greear—there is much to be done, not primarily in the convention but in church culture.
I was in a state of awe during the convention. There was so much to see, hear, learn, and read. I couldn’t have done it all if I’d wanted to. And I was just so darn happy to see change finally taking place in so many areas, I didn’t immediately feel where it was still lacking. But as we drove out of town on Thursday morning, I finally put my finger on it.
No one asked me what I do.
You know those moments when you get stuck at a table with a bunch of people you don’t know? You’re forced to make small talk, ask where they’re from, what they do, how many kids they have. But people in the church don’t ask women what they do unless they’re alone.
I asked my husband how many times he had a chance to tell someone he’s a philosophy professor and PhD student. It was so many, he’d lost count. When he asked me the same, I recounted the one time I told someone about my various writing endeavors—at the women’s leadership event. It was at a place where there were no men at the table and women only had eyes and ears for one another.
That realization stung deeply. All the implications crashed down around me. I could list all the reasons why they ask him and not her, but there was one that stuck out to me above all the others: they already knew. Or they thought they knew, and they didn’t care to know more.
All the people at those tables and booths subconsciously assumed I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband had a real job. And I assumed right along with them. Don’t think I’m trying to be high and mighty in my critique here. You can bet I did it too. I am guilty of not wanting to hear about other women’s kids and schooling choices because I think (wrongly) that it’s boring and ordinary. Nor do I immediately assume they have something they do outside the home or in their spare time. It’s not something I would ever have admitted to until now since it’s mostly subconscious.
But here’s the thing—I am a stay-at-home mom. My husband really does have a job outside our home. I change diapers, cook the food, fold the laundry (sometimes), and then some. And all those things are extremely important. There were seasons—and rightly so—of my life where that is all I did, and all I was able to do because my kids were little.
But that isn’t the whole story for me. I am a woman who loves the church and the people in it. He has gifted me as well as every woman to serve his church in some capacity. He has gifted you, sister, to serve the body for the sake of the kingdom.
I have things that I do apart from my family. And if we were honest with ourselves, we look a lot more like the Proverbs 31 woman than we usually give ourselves credit for. We care for our homes, our families, start businesses, use our teaching/serving/leading gifts in a multitude of venues, and pretty much git it done.
I know a lot of men in SBC churches who think very highly of women. Some of them even read theology books written by the opposite gender. But I can’t help but wonder if they would think to ask that woman, the one sitting at a table with her husband, what she does.
This is a glorious season of change in the church. Let’s all work together for the sake of the gospel.