A recent exchange on facebook demonstrates that as a Baptists we should be wary of making responses like ‘I’m glad I’m a Baptist’ in the face of the Church of England Synod decision last week not to appoint women bishops (its important to note this decision cannot be said to reflect the majority of voices in the Church of England and the vote points to the truth that a system of voting may not mean we discern the mind of Christ). In this last week where many of us have been lost for words at the Synod decision, as Baptists we need to look in our own backyard as it were, and see that there are many women who feel the same pain in our own denomination.
While as a Baptist Union there is a clear position of affirming women in ministry and a desire to encourage more women to respond to God’s call on their lives, there is still a minority (or perhaps more!) who want to claim that women have no place in the pulpit or presiding at the table. In fact the Church of England can perhaps be more confident of the majority affirming women in ministry, because they have worked so hard to first ordain women as priests and now (almost!) as Bishops. The history of Baptists on the other hand saw little major (theological) turmoil when we first began ordaining women to ministry and so there has not been the public battle that has engulfed the Anglicans, but this led for a long time (it seems) to no real encouragement that women should explore a call to ministry (numbers training in colleges for most years, until very recently, have been too low). Where Anglicans in the last twenty years have experienced a steady increase, over the eighty-odd years Baptists have not seen a rise at anyway near the same rate. More recently as a Union we have begun to work more actively in wanting to re-address what might be called a laissez-faire attitude and approach to women in ministry.
The biblical and theological case it appears still has to be made. Of course a lot of this is to do with hermeneutics and the belief that many express (whether consciously or not) that we can read the Bible like any other book and know what it is saying. It is a belief that practices proof-texting (and often does that poorly) and often fails to account for the witness of the whole of scripture and the truth that in Christ the world is not the same (Gal 3.28) – which is precisely the point Tom Wright makes here.
The best arguments that I believe for us to practice anything but the ordination of women are: we baptise girls, women are church members, and most strikingly the witness and example of the numerous lives of women I know who exercise a wonderful, encouraging, challenging, Spirit-filled, Christ-centred, godly ministry within our churches and Union.
For more see also The Story of Women in Ministry in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (available here).