THE SOUTHERN BLACK BAPTIST CHURCH
ABILITY AND NOT BIOLOGY
For the most part, African Americans who live in the South are devoutly religious people. They praise God for this and they praise God for that. If at all possible, they pull to the shoulder of the highway to acknowledge the solemnity of a funeral procession. Let me state that I am a Southern Black Baptist Christian woman. I live among Black Baptist Christians who are deeply committed to our Southern Black Baptist traditions. But, sadly, many of the traditions that we practice do not accord to the Spirit of the Bible, or for that matter, the letter of the Bible; nonetheless, we continue to honor our traditions. That being said, it is not surprising that most of our lifestyles do not reflect a true spiritual conversion. Yet, we studiously maintain the outward appearance of our religious protocol. One of those protocols is that men in the Southern Black Baptist Church are automatically assigned leadership positons. Over the years, I have come to realize that this practice is not always advantageous to the Church or the community that it serves. All too often, the practice advances men to leadership positons solely on the basis of biology.
CALLED BUT NOT CHOSEN
A Black man, in relatively a short period of time, if he is owns a suit, a car, a Bible and is a gifted orator and/or singer; overnight, he can matriculate from the back pew to the front pew. And, if this same Black man is an exceptionally quick understudy, he will immediately become an expounder of the Word of God. For him, the pulpit becomes his classroom. It is where he learns how to ply the trade of being a Black Baptist Preacher. Similar to many of his religious predecessors, the Southern Black Baptist preacher inherited his clerical positon. It is an ordination process that was originally conferred by the laying on of hands. In fact, during the New Testament house church era, the ordination of an individual to proclaim the Word of God was a simple three-step process. It entailed the members fasting, praying and the laying on of hands (Acts 13:3). There was no requirement for schooling and there was no prestigious ordination ceremony.
In hindsight, it is important to recall that the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth were not those from the upper echelons of society but those who were considered to be the "dregs" of society. They were the downtrodden, the disposed and the displaced. The literacy rate among this segment of the population was quite low, and more than likely, the literacy rate among those whom Christ and his apostles sent forth to minister intellectual levels were probably equal to that of the masses. This is not to imply that Christianity was a religion of the poor and illiterate only; it simply notes that Christianity spread more quickly among that socioeconomic class of people than it did among the more accomplished and the wealthy. Consequently, congregational fasting, praying and the laying on of hands was sufficient to anoint individuals with the power to proclaim the Word of God.
However, the Southern Black Baptist Church has done away with fasting, praying and the laying on of hands as a means of ordaining; instead, the Church selects a pulpit committee who in turn solicits candidates. Potential candidates submit a resume, and if selected, they are invited to deliver a trail sermon. After which, the pulpit committee submits its recommendation to the congregation for a vote. Everything rests upon the candidate's ability to sing and preach. If he is a double-barreled whooper, he will be selected as the new pastor. Admittedly, fasting, praying and the laying on of hands have been omitted from the ordination equation. But I believe that God is still able to work through whatever Church administrative system that we use, as long as it is fair, and we are willing to yield our wills to His Divine Will.
APPROVED AND COMPETENT
It is the omission of the seeking God's Divine Will for the Church on spiritual, doctrinal and administrative matters that has caused the Southern Black Baptist Church to go awry. Romans 10:3 states "Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." I have seen this to be the case. Thus, in the indiscriminate calling of Black men into the ministry for the expressed purpose of leading God's flock, many Black Baptist Churches have negated their responsibility of adequately feeding God's sheep (John 21:15-17). Instead of using the entirety of the Biblical precepts that Paul enunciated, they rely solely on the controversial disclosures contained in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Collectively, these two inflammatory injunctions forbid women from exercising authority over a man and from teaching a man.
It was almost two thousand years ago when Paul penned these pastoral directives. At the time they were greatly needed but in many unenlightened Churches, they have caused a doctrinal nightmare. It needs to be impressed upon the men of the Southern Black Baptist Church, that like them, Paul was man of his times who was writing to a small congregational audience that was lead by men who were representative of the overall culture of their time. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul stated:
"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."
UNDERSTANDING THE INJUNCTIONS
As a side note, I personally think that when President Lincoln was struggling with the issue of whether the nation should be slave or free or whether the nation should continue on half slave and half free, he relied upon Paul's word contained in the above quoted citation to help him derive at his decision. Lincoln wanted what was best for the nation. Paul wanted what was best for the Church. From his writings, we see that he was a one-man opportunist who was devoutly devoted to the mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore in Ephesus, a tumultuous city that worshipped the female goddess Artemis, and a city where Greek women had a certain degree of political, social and religious freedom, Paul felt justified in telling Timothy not to allow a woman to exercise authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:11-15). Likewise in Corinth, a Greek city beset by sexual immorality and religious plurality, Paul instructs Timothy that women should keep silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). In each of these worship settings, Paul is applying situational theology. In the house churches in Ephesus, uneducated women had fell sway to false teaching, and in turn, they were openly questioning Timothy's teachings. In Corinth, the women, uneducated as well, were vociferously interrupting the male teachers as they were conducting their classes. Among other divisive issues, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was a pastoral response to these interruptions.
To eliminate the heresy and to restore order back into the Church, Paul provides the house churches in Ephesus and in Corinth with written pastoral instructions on Church administration. To tackle the problem in Corinth, Paul writes that the men are to teach their uneducated wives in the privacy of their own homes. Most men in the Southern Black Baptist Church do not know that Paul's plea for women to remain silent in the Church was not an unheard of practice. Few Black Baptist men know that in the Ancient world, young pupils were expected to remain silent while being taught. Likewise, they do not know that older more advanced students were the only ones who were allowed to interrupt a speaker. One can only imagine the social uproar that was caused when unlettered females with their heads not covered stood up during liturgy and attempted to expound upon the meaning of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection. The sight must have been comparable to when Sojourner Truth, the Black abolitionist, was forced to extract her breast in an effort to prove that she was a woman. My point is that in both Ephesus and Corinth, Paul is attempting to establish administrative procedures for the orderly dispensation of God's word. Many contemporary church members fail to realize that first century Church services were not scripted or formalized. The services were conducted in the members' homes. There were no rules of engagement. Most of the new converts were illiterate, polytheistic and of Greek nationality. Yet, for the men, as well as for the women, pre-existing political and cultural roles of male and females engagement already existed. In theory, women and men were co-heirs of the Kingdom of God; yet, in actuality, both sexes were still confined to their prescribed roles. The women, it seems, had forgotten their assigned place and the men, having no other choice, had summoned Paul's pastoral assistance.
The Apostle Paul, confronted by disorder, builds upon the existing political and social institutions that the people where previously accustomed. In Corinth, Paul not only had to establish proper dispensation of the message; he had to censor a man for having sexual relations with his mother; he had to set standards for the partaking of the communion meal and he had to castigate the Church for not being a proponent of righteousness (1 Corinthians 17-34). In Ephesus , Paul was forced to provide a strong set of operational procedures for a young timid minister in charge of a church riddled by heresy. True followers of Christ recognize the importance of situational theology, therefore, they understand that there is no doctrinal contradiction in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and Galatian 3:24-28. More importantly, informed followers of Christ understand the political and social restrictions that Old Testament and New Testament women were obliged to submit to.
In the ancient world, it was indeed a novel concept for a woman to instruct a man. Not only was the practice incomprehensible there was no woman to be found intellectually capable of instructing a man. But as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule; the Bible highlights the names of the women who defied the local customs and became astute political, military and religious leaders. Women such as Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, Noadiah, Esther, Phillip's daughters, the Prophetess Anna and Mary were examples of the handful of women that the Bible mentions. Understanding the restricted role of women in the first century, it was truly amazing that Jesus engaged in a one-on-one conversation with a woman, and even more astonishing, that he was found speaking to a Samaritan woman! In the Ancient Near East, women were of little political or social worth. Their primary duties were to birth children and perform household chores. In the New Testament Church, Jesus solidifies the woman's role in the Church by including women in His ministry. But it was Paul who left a written account of women's ministerial contributions. In Romans 16, the same Paul who vehemently disallowed a woman to teach a man publically commends the ministerial work of Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary and Junia.
MISINFORMED & DIVIDED
In Ephesus and in Corinth, Paul's written recommendation that women submit to men was reflective of the disenfranchised world that women were forced to live in. In this instance, Paul's theology clearly illustrates the ramifications of sin and the palpable impact it has upon both the sexes and their roles in society. In fact, the same demoralizing concepts and practices that separated women and men two thousand years ago still divides them. Unfortunately, it is the Southern Black Baptist Church unintelligent understanding of the historical context of Old Testament and New Testament culture that allows it to continually place men in positions of authority. Granted, a large portion of the men who are ascribed positons of authority are capable individuals; however in the South, the Church only employs half of its talent pool and assigns the remaining half the task of preparing meals and sponsoring church programs. There is nothing wrong with these support tasks but the intellectual, as well as the spiritual skills of an entire segment of the Church's population are not being harvested. Overall, the Black Baptist Church as a collective representative of Christ is suffering from this travesty. Instead of the men relying upon the entirety of God's Word to help them comprehend and implement God's Will; the men have lashed onto their traditions and fastened those traditions down with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.
A LAME CHURCH
In doing so, they have render God's Word and the counsel of His Holy Spirit ineffective. I say so because the Body of Christ; and the universe, consist of both men and women. The wholesale practice of men leading and dominating women in the Church is not demonstrative of the overall spiritual purpose of the Body of Christ or of the biological composition of humanity. From a theological, spiritual, academic and relational perspective, a one-sided dictatorial form of worship and governance is no longer feasible. Theologically, the Southern Black Baptist Church can no longer hide behind the controversial teachings of Paul to deny women access to the pulpit. Spiritually, the Church must come into the knowledge that there is no division of the sexes. Academically, the Church must utilize those members, regardless of their sex, who are best fitted for leadership. Relationally, Adam was nothing without Eve and Eve was nothing without Adam; they both sinned and fell short of God's righteousness. Until the Southern Black Baptist Church realizes these points it will continue to be an emasculated member of the Body of Christ where we praise God for this and we praise God for that without ever yielding to the Will of God.