I have never participated in a Beth Moore study although I am very interested in her recent Galatians one cowritten with her daughter Melissa. Most of my love for Beth has been fostered by her Twitter presence and listening to her on podcasts. (Her discussion with Esau McCaulley on the Disrupters podcast ranks as one of my favorites.) I’ve heard her preach and teach and she is both dynamic and faithful to the Scripture.
Beth Moore has paved the way for many women in many forms of ministry. In her, women have seen themselves and seen a model for how they can use their gifts for the kingdom. That has come with a cost to Mama Beth, as she is delightfully known, but it is a cost she has paid in the hopes that other women will find an easier way. She recorded some of her experiences as a woman in a conservative denomination in this blog post from 2018 and I encourage you to go read it, especially if you are a man.
I continually face my own frustrations as a woman in the church. I have my own stories, and I hear stories, at least once a week, from women on Instagram about their own negative experiences among believers. Although I am not complementarian, I hold to the hopefully gracious position that many complementarians and egalitarians affirm the authority of Scripture while believing different interpretations of certain passages are the most cohesive with all of Scripture.
Regardless of labels, we are still having conversations we should not have to have. We still dissect two Bible verses without context or the scope of the whole Bible. We shout these Bible verses at women who are serving and add an addendum to every social media post affirming God’s call on women’s lives. (I could link to many examples from the past few weeks, but I’ll leave it alone.) I’m tired of participating in conversations that seem to make no difference. There are arguments instead of relationships, denials instead of opportunities.
Of course I knew this was reality. I applied to seminary knowing that I might not ever be able to find a job that paid for my school bill. Or find any kind of formal work whether or not it would pay for the cost of my education. The ability to go to seminary despite that is pure privilege and I’m aware of that. It’s also something men do not have to do. As a woman called to vocational ministry, I have to be ready to give a defense of my participation. On the other hand, I have had conversation after conversation with men who could not answer the simplest questions about their position on women and to my knowledge never went on to evaluate what they believed because it did not seem to matter to their lives.
Much of the problem stems from not taking the Bible seriously enough in its own context outside of what we want it to say. My friend Megan told me about a conversation John Mark Comer had for IF:Gathering where he pointed out that Jesus was not the first person to have disciples. It was who he had as disciples that was radical, not that he had them. He had female disciples which was unheard of; no one wanted to waste education on women. The male disciples that he called in order to represent Israel were tax collectors and fishermen. Nobodies with no money and no status. He continually turned the world’s methods upside down. As much flack as Paul takes or as much status as he is given, Paul’s own words about women were radical. In a world where the Greco-Roman household codes only addressed the relatively few men in charge and gave them authority and permission to rule their wives, Paul instructed husbands to love their wives, a command that echoed what he had already told the entire church (see Ephesians 5). And yet when we talk about Jesus’ disciples, we try to exclude women or move them to a second ring despite their being arguably the most faithful of His followers. When prominent people discuss “headship” often love is completely left out or included far down the list, while the things Paul explicitly did not say, though they would have been expected, are emphasized.
We also do not take our mission as the people of God seriously enough because we spend our time quibbling over illogical and unbiblical arguments. We split hairs and pronounce as heretics people who won’t stand on the same narrow ledge. It is normal in the church for a man to tell women that he can read their books but he cannot sit in a chair and listen to them teach the Bible. Or that women can teach theology to unbelievers but not to believers. Or that women can offer input as long as they do not make decisions. Or, or, or…that list could go on for a long time.
Our difficulties in our social practices do not just extend to women. We struggle unnecessarily to practice being anti-racist (we have many faithful guides if we want them); we make unwise political alliances that marry politics into faith. Formal statements are made that look good on the surface and yet affect no change in the life or practice of the church. It is many repeats of “racism is wrong but CRT is a threat to the church and that’s what we will focus on” regardless of the fact that there is no serious attempt to combat racism and it doesn’t seem as though CRT is in the church in many places. We do not take the Bible or our mission seriously enough, but we also don’t take how we treat each other with enough gravity. The record of this is painfully lengthy.
My personal study of Scripture has emphasized over and over that I cannot pretend to love God while not loving my sister and brother. (See specifically 1 John.) I cannot love Jesus and stand by while racism harms people of color. I cannot share in fellowship with God and demean or ignore women and their giftings. Distancing myself from the experiences that are inflicted on other people distances me from the God who enters into the pain and suffering of people. I must enter in even when it’s uncomfortable or I might lose power. This isn’t just true for me; this is true for all believers.
Because I am a woman and I am called to ministry and I do feel passionately about how God designed women and men to work together, I feel almost constant frustration and even anger at what faces women in the church. I see the damage we are inflicting on men as well with the stories we tell or at least do not refute. Right now I am working on turning my anger into lament so that I can “be angry and sin not.” I am practicing taking my grief and anger over injustice and brokenness to God as His people have always done. I’m expressing these emotions in the safest place with the One who can handle all of it. Even though it doesn’t fix the problems right away, it does turn my heart to worship. Most often I find my lament mingled with praise for the One who promises to right all the wrongs. This is the most faithful way I have found to deal with being a human in this world.
Good models also show me the way. That Beth Moore still believes Jesus is worth following after all she has endured from other believers strengthens my spine. That the black church in American is still faithfully proclaiming the gospel reminds me that Jesus is worth everything.
I do not have a completely victorious response to this pain. I don’t have a path forward or a job opportunity lined up. I will not be planting a church with my husband who is doing the work God has given him in other arenas. I do not see waves of repentance sweeping through the church. I, perhaps with unbelief, do not anticipate great changes within many sections of the church. I do not have all the answers for what faces the church. I have suggestions, conversation-starters, questions, but few willing conversation partners. For myself, I can only pursue faithfulness, whatever that looks like each day. Beth Moore may have left the SBC, but she is still showing women and men what it looks like to pursue faithfulness to Jesus even when it comes with a cost.