Confession: I am a clergywoman ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition who has completely denounced complementarianism as an institutional, theological, and scriptural concept. I am also an author who has examined her own sin and complacency in the construct of spirituality and sexism.
In early March, when you made a seismic announcement that you were cutting decades-long ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its monster publishing arm, LifeWay, I was relieved you finally put your money where your mouth was.
But once the dust settled, I, like so many others, tried to get a sense of what it all meant. Your “resignation” from the SBC and LifeWay seemed poorly timed. I sensed it may be a beat too late in a longer story arc. Why not quit the SBC and LifeWay at the height of your #MeToo outrage or your anti-Trump stance or in your “Letter to my Brothers”?
Why wait to exit the SBC and LifeWay, the distinct Southern Baptist giant of a publisher? You likely had contracts to ride out. And while the SBC’s pre-COVID economic demons of 2019—store closings, audit, and subsequent legal in-fighting—weren’t a prominent through-line in your departure statement, it appears you drove that Cadillac until the wheels fell off.
Then came your empty and befuddling apology last week for your role in perpetuating complementarianism. Amid a tearful “sorry,” and a full month after leaving the SBC and LifeWay, you begged for “forgiveness” but you were still unwilling to go so far as to fully abandon it.
“I’m not going to be pushed into either category right now because that’s not my point,” RNS reported as a response to whether you were still complementarian.
So you reject complementarianism as a litmus test for Biblical inerrancy, authority of scripture—but are unwilling to strike this “doctrine of MAN” (your words) altogether. This suggests that you believe there are circumstances in which complementarianism is appropriate.
Where, then, is complementarianism an effective Christian construct? You did not elaborate. At home? In a marriage? At school? In raising children?
Perhaps you believe that some women are better served by complementarian marriages, family systems, and/or mentor/mentee relationships. This may be evidenced by your December 2020 interview on the Bold Love Podcast with Pastor Bob Roberts, Jr. In that conversation, you praised your “shepherd” at Houston’s First Baptist Church, Dr. John Bisagno, who was the first to ask you to teach “under [his] authority.”
You said, “There is no doubt that there was a male authority over that church … but lots and lots of women surrendered to ministry under his pastoring.” (12:59)
You benefit from maintaining a neutral posture on complementarianism the way white women benefit from not denouncing racism. If the white men lose another inch of privilege, status, power, and authority, their white women will as well. By association, you have historically derived your power and authority from white men like Bro. Bisagno.
“My point is that [complementarianism] has taken on the importance of a first tier doctrine,” you wrote to RNS. But while you rejected complementarianism as being of “1st importance,” in your tweets on April 7th, complementarianism is of course, of first importance to the men (and women) who practice it. The SBC does consider it an institutional boundary for identifying women’s roles by way of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000’s Church and Family sections.
When you fail to denounce complementarianism explicitly but assure your readers that it’s not a litmus test for Biblical inerrancy, it’s analogous to saying, “I definitely don’t think the Bible says you have to believe white people are more beloved by God than Black people … but I’m not prepared to say that it’s categorically wrong.”
Perhaps you’re reluctant to reject complementarianism in totality because you have too much to lose: namely, supporters who still find the construct useful. In this way, as I noted earlier, you’re much like white women who refuse to do the work of anti-racism because they derive power and authority from their white men.
Since you first derived your “authority” from Bro. Bisagno, you would risk alienating the female Sunday School teachers and Women’s Ministry and Bible Study groups who also derive their authority (and money) from men who control the curriculum and conference purse strings. And it’s documented that you plan to keep writing and speaking. Publishers Weekly reported that Tyndale was already “partnering” with you to bring your trade book publishing “to the broader marketplace.”
Perhaps you want to build a “Big Tent” of SBC carryover readers to your work at Tyndale. If you reject complementarianism outright, you lose any conservative and moderate Baptist female-and-male support that remains. A toe in complementarianism keeps your career safe and avoids a liberal-leftist-Baptist label. To do otherwise would make you even more vulnerable and susceptible to financial loss, as was evidenced by how your criticism of Trump resulted in LifeWay Living Proof’s reported $1.8M loss from 2017-2019.
You want to empower women—but only insofar as white men continue to keep the power over the women who, “surrender to ministry under his pastoring,” as you did “under” Bro. Bisagno.
By apologizing but not denouncing complementarianism, you’re attempting to maintain your past, current, and future audiences—including readers who live by a black-and-white doctrine like the Baptist Faith and Message. But, most importantly your empty apology keeps you complicit in psychological, spiritual, and physical violence against other women (and men). Your toe-in, toe-out posture harms SBC members, wives, sisters, and would-be preachers and teachers. It’s also a slap in the face of divinity-school-trained Southern Baptist clergywomen (like me) who have sacrificed money, church families, “authority” and “power” because of our vocal stances against complementarianism.
And, as I said in my 2017 critique of your #MeToo outspokenness, while remaining bedfellows with the SBC and LifeWay—and now with your stance on complementarianism—you’re benefiting financially from a tradition that codifies sexism in writing. Your continued association with a toxic social construct that bears the dangerous fruit of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, abuse, assault, and purity culture is sinful. It entraps women in complementarian relationships, communities, and churches that they cannot financially or psychologically afford to leave.
Your apology also reeks of white privilege: your boasting that you are “not going to be pushed into either category right now because that’s not my point,” is indicative of a woman who can have a toe in both worlds: a woman with the power to leave the SBC and LifeWay while continuing to uphold complementarianism and pay the bills. You know who doesn’t have this same privilege? Abused SBC women, BIPOC women, trans-women, and any female-identified person who’s been trapped in toxic social and faith constructs.
So, while you, Beth Moore, drove the LifeWay Cadillac until the wheels fell off, you’re on to the next lucrative ministry, unwilling to renounce a doctrine that so many of us Baptist women have “paid” for—vocationally, socially, financially, and spiritually.
I do applaud your March bravery in leaving the SBC and LifeWay, but this most recent statement reeks of cowardice and backpedaling. I expected more.
But you did the very thing the SBC and Bro. Bisagno taught you: You “surrendered to ministry under his pastoring.”
Your apology requires action. How about using your resources to help women who desperately need to exit abusive complementarian relationships but don’t have the means to? How about putting yourself in a low material return-on-investment vocational situation like paying seminary tuition, receiving good theological training, and serving as the female equivalent of a pastor by being the “Children’s Minister”?
When you see the light enough to leave the dwindling SBC and going-broke LifeWay publishing company, but refuse to take a hard stand against the very institutional doctrine from which the Southern Baptists derive their power and authority, you are a coward.