On the SBC Sidewalk - Word&Way

On the SBC Sidewalk

While messengers to last week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention debated how to treat churches with women serving in pastoral or other leadership roles, I found the most revelatory statements not in the big convention hall but because of my time outside on the sidewalk. Amid national media attention to a proposed constitutional change that would add extra emphasis to the SBC’s opposition to women serving as pastors, Baptist Women in Ministry showed up to offer a counter witness.

During the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, this week, Baptist Women in Ministry organized a vigil offering prayers on a livestream and holding signs for messengers to consider. From left: Nikki Hardeman, Sharon Felton, Heather Deal, Meredith Stone, and Brian Kaylor. (Word&Way)

Each morning, midday, and evening, BWIM leaders courageously stood outside the SBC meeting offering prayers to lift up women called by God and to hold signs affirming God empowers people regardless of their gender. I made a point the first morning to stop by to photograph them and say hello to friends. I quickly found myself drafted to hold a sign. Since I’ve long affirmed women in ministry (including my own pastor), I was happy to stand there in solidarity.

Before heading into the annual meeting to catch a couple of sessions while promising to return later, I took a photo of the women to post on social media in hopes of amplifying their message. Since I used the official SBC hashtag on the platform formerly known as Twitter, the post quickly garnered attention from pastors and other messengers who deny God can call a pastor without a penis.

As I watched the comments poured in, I noticed the misogyny from pastors and anonymous accounts with bio statements about being “saved by grace,” preaching the gospel, and believing “Jesus is Lord.” A few accounts openly embraced the term “Christian Nationalist” to describe themselves, and a couple of Westboro Baptist Church accounts piled on to attack BWIM. Multiple people called the BWIM leaders “demons.” Several compared them to Eve or even the serpent from the garden story. Some shared memes comparing women to children, while many others shared memes suggesting Paul (but not Jesus) would be upset by the signs. Numerous people suggested the BWIM ministers — all with more seminary education than the average SBC pastor — hadn’t actually read the Bible.

To troll the pastors offended by the sight of women called by God, I later posted another photo after returning for another shift at the vigil. But this time I made sure to include myself to further trigger the pastors with a man also holding a sign affirming women in ministry. The comments continued, still mostly targeting those I stood beside. A couple people also questioned my masculinity, even calling me a woman — a particularly ironic argument coming from people who like to frequently claim liberals don’t know the definition of a woman.

The comments in response to my posts belie the arguments by opponents of women in ministry who claim they honor women but just want them roles complementary to men. Once again, a regime of “separate but equal” proves to believe in separate and unequal.

A few pastors who stopped to debate while we stood on the sidewalk offered similar theological arguments, though generally with less overt misogyny as found online. Showing more grace than I felt, the BWIM ministers thanked people for offering their thoughts and wished them well while refusing to join what would be fruitless debates about “inerrancy,” “creation order,” and other buzzwords thrown out in the form of questions. Most of the pastors ignored me as they lobbed their verses at the women.

Although the pastors who stopped by were usually nice, one repeatedly raised his voice and aggressively kept moving forward into our personal space. Afterward, one of the women mentioned they were glad I was there, but I think they would’ve been sorely disappointed in my usefulness had the confrontation turned physical! For the man, biology proved women couldn’t be pastors, just like, he added, how men can’t get pregnant. The call to pastor, of course, is spiritual — not biological. And if he’s using his genitals in his ministry, he really shouldn’t be a pastor! Like the pastors who have sexually abused children, women, and men while the SBC does little to address clergy sexual abuse. More than 91% of messengers voted during the annual meeting to disfellowship a church for having a woman serve as pastor of children and families, but efforts to address ministers preying on children and families continue to find opposition and institutional roadblocks.

And that’s why I hung out on the sidewalk (though not as much as I would have preferred since I needed to report on what was happening inside). When a rich, powerful group gathers to uphold patriarchy, protect their own institution, squash the call of God on half of God’s people, and do close to nothing as children are abused, head outside to the sidewalk. For it’s there you’re more likely to find the Holy Spirit and hear her voice.


Brian Kaylor is editor-in-chief and president of Word&Way. He is also the co-author of Baptizing America: How Mainline Protestants Helped Build Christian Nationalism.