There has been much to talk about in recent weeks in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The problem is, we need to talk more. I write this article as a lifelong SBC member and pastor. I’m a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have no agenda to stir-up trouble in the SBC. However, there is trouble, and that’s why I write as a concerned pastor.
As the annual meeting in June approaches, the pace of the political structure intensifies as usual, but this year, with a new president to be elected and other factors at hand (such as moral failures of leading professors)—the pace has drastically increased to say the least. Albert Mohler has written a piece suggesting that the wrath of God has been poured out on the SBC. Sam Rainer has used the language of a “dumpster fire” in an article he published about the recent problems within the Convention.
Make no mistake about it, there are major fires in the SBC that need immediate attention. A great deal of attention is centered on the issues of immorality (SBC version of #MeToo) among leaders in the SBC and SBC entities. Certainly the SBC could benefit from a greater humility, so perhaps God is using such situations to bring Southern Baptists to a point of repentance. A few years ago the talk of the SBC was about church planting, but today the talk is centered on social justice, racial inequality, and the empowerment of women. One issue that must be addressed in the SBC today is the issue of political intersectionality. Make no mistake about it—if left unchallenged the SBC will see massive decline and a complete capitulation on matters of complementarianism.
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality was originally coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a political activist and radical feminist, in order to describe oppression against women on specific different points of intersection. Today, it’s used in a more broad sense. In short, intersectionality as it has been defined, is discrimination based on overlapping layers of individual classes of discrimination. It’s when a person is subjected to discrimination for more than one classification such as a woman who is black and lesbian. She would classify, under this line of reasoning for three basic discriminatory marks—being a woman, who is black, and is also a lesbian. According to the definition of intersectionality, where these three marks “intersect” is the focus of her greatest and most severe discrimination which places her at the greatest risk of oppression in our culture.
Although this term was birthed out of a radical feminist political culture, it’s now being used within evangelical circles to describe people who are oppressed and “held back” from certain advancement within evangelicalism. Today, conferences are being held, articles are being written, and people are talking quite frequently about social justice and intersectionality as it pertains to ethnic diversity and women empowerment.
How Will Intersectionality Politics Change the SBC?
As this agenda continues to play itself out, the outcome has yet to be determined. Will the SBC split during this new era? Many people are predicting a split and splintering of the current denominational structures across evangelicalism. Some are suggesting that as this agenda continues to work its way through the SBC and other groups like the PCA, that we will see a fracture happen at some point in the near future.
While we must pray that it doesn’t happen, we must speak up and point out the dangers of ideologies such as intersectionality. God has created both male and female in his image and we as image-bearers of God have a specific purpose in God’s redemptive plan. This goes not only for men and women, but for all ethnicities. However, the ideologies of intersectionality do not run down the tracks of the gospel of Jesus Christ and they certainly don’t lead to the same end goal. How will intersectionality change evangelicalism?
Intersectionality, like many ideas, was not created in a vacuum. They are birthed from parent ideologies that create spin-off ideas and movements. Intersectionality was birthed from a Neo-Marxist view that seeks to tear down hierarchies and create new power structures that help the minorities achieve equality. This approach seeks to divide everyone in a specific population into race, class, and gender segments and place a great spotlight on the minority groups among that population. Then, by organizing an effort to “help” the minorities achieve equality, this movement works to create a great deal of sympathy, money, and support for those oppressed individuals.
The result of such a politically charged and emotionally driven movement is power and influence. In essence, it places the leaders of the pack in the captain’s chair. However, we must be clear, the ethnic division is never solved. This is an age-old model that does not work. It continues to keep the ethnicities divided while empowering people to solve the problems. In short, American politics pumped billions of dollars into the civil rights movement era up to our present day in attempt to solve such problems. While it created many jobs, gave people positions and titles, it never really solved the division between ethnic groups. Why did it fail? It failed because you can’t solve human depravity outside of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, the same ideas are being used to address the need to empower women and provide them with equality within evangelical circles such as the SBC. This same language was directed at racial inequality and injustice at the recent MLK50 conference as well resulting in a call for repentance for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., as Thabiti Anyabwile articulated in his article:
My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.
One must ask an honest question about this social justice war—is this movement the right way forward or will it lead to greater division? Will this movement deconstruct the SBC and other hierarchies in evangelicalism without harming local churches in the process? Does this whole social justice war empower women and minority ethnicities in our culture or does it patronize them?
When we think of how women are used in the household of faith—we certainly see the value of faithful discipleship among the women who train the younger women and children (Titus 2:1-10). For nearly two millennia the Church understood their roles and responsibilities in regard to women teaching and exercising authority over men, and it wasn’t until the militant feminist movement of the 1960s that caused people to seriously question the boundaries of God—even among conservative evangelical circles.
Paul never held women back in his day, instead, he was helping them forward by pointing out their intended roles in God’s creation as he wrote about such roles to Timothy in his first letter to his son in the faith. As I’ve stated in a previous article on this subject, the word teach, “διδάσκω,” according to Thomas Schreiner, has in mind the public teaching and involves authoritative transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; James 3:1). While women are permitted to discuss biblical theology in a mixed group setting such as a Sunday school class, women teaching children or other women (Titus 2), or in a private setting such as with Apollos’ instruction that was gleaned from meeting with Priscilla and Aquila—biblical teaching, when among the church as a whole or a mixed audience should be led by men. It seems clear that Paul was addressing an issue that was taking place in the life of the church and needed to be corrected.
The role distinction of women and men has been made clear from the beginning. God has one role for men and another for women—that goes for life in general and for leadership structure within the church. To rearrange God’s plan is dangerous, as we’ve seen in our American political debate surrounding the redefining of marriage. If the SBC should decide to redefine complementarianism—we can expect a massive landslide as the foundation crumbles on this issue.
Dawn M. Owens, an author, speaker, and radio show host said the following in a recent tweet:
If we are going to apply 1 Timothy 2:11-14 as our end all be all in this argument first we need to acknowledge is says “a woman” not all women. But since you are stuck in applying it that way, then you must apply it to ALL women whether in or out of church.
In the same conversation, Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas responded by quoting Dawn and then stating the following:
Interesting insights&commentary on that passage,that I’d never heard,read,or considered. Grateful that women aren’t forbidden to tweet, scripturally [emoji not included here in the quote]. Women often bring out fresh perspectives interpretively, that are exegetically accurate&profound.I regret many refuse2hear wmn.
Is this how we’ve been trained to interpret the Bible? Is this rightly handling the Word of God or is this a method of eisegesis rather than exegesis? Certainly this can’t be the fruit of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. One must not mishandle God’s Word in order to uphold the dignity and value of women.
Jen Wilkin, popular author and speaker also weighed in on the issues in a recent tweet as she said:
As go our seminaries, so go our churches. It’s past time for a full re-evaluation of existing power structures, and for the strategic implementation of formal channels of influence/input/leadership for women in the SBC.
In a recent Tweet, Russell Moore (the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC) stated the following:
There would be no Southern Baptist Convention without Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. We desperately need a resurgence of women’s voices and women’s leadership and women’s empowerment, again. It is way past time.
In that same line of thinking, J.D. Greear Tweeted out to Beth Moore regarding her article written to chart her own personal road of oppression, by stating the following:
Thank you, Beth! Hoping that we are entering a new era where we in the complementarian world take all the Word of God seriously–not just the parts about distinction of roles but also re: the tearing down of all hierarchy & his gracious distribution of gifts to all his children!
With two of the largest voices within the SBC today championing women’s empowerment and encouraging a tearing down of all hierarchy as we enter a new era, the question remains — what is this new era and what what will the result be for the SBC as we move forward as a collective group of partnering churches? Will women be invited to preach to the Convention in the days to come? Will once conservative evangelical circles redefine complementarianism and rearrange roles and boundaries for women in leadership? How will this change the SBC and perhaps other denominational structures in the broader evangelical world?
Only God knows the answer in full. While I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, my prediction is that the social justice agenda will keep the ethnicities divided and smash the foundation of a robust view of complementarianism. We should all work to root out racism and uphold the proper use of women’s gifts inside and outside the local church—but the social justice warrior movement is not the best way forward. A firm commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way forward.
I’m reminded of that truth every time I read the story of the demon possessed man who was living in the tombs and rejected by society. When Jesus changed his life—he was suddenly pictured as a man in his right mind and clothed (Luke 8:35). It’s the gospel—not intersectionality or any other ideology that will bring about peace, unity, and respect for the image-bearing dignity deserved by all of God’s people. The longer we continue to import language of sociology on biblical texts and employ tactics from the political sphere—we will continue to see a divided SBC and one that may never fully recover. May the Lord spare the SBC from such a disaster.
1. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 190.