Confession: I hold an ordination from a denomination that, broadly speaking, does not ordain women. I have benefited greatly from this ministerial minority status. It propelled me forward in attending a top-tier divinity school. Credentials in hand, I can marry, bury, or baptize. I’ve preached many sermons (at non-Southern Baptist churches), written two books, and served in ministry capacities. When I want, I can add the pretentious prefix “Reverend” in any Christian (or secular) circumstance and look important. Plus, it’s a shocking icebreaker: I’m Reverend J. Dana Trent, one of the few ordained female Southern Baptists.
But after #MeToo, I had to reconsider this gift of ordination, bestowed upon me by my beloved local Southern Baptist Church when I was only 21.
Because I have committed a terrible sin.
I’ve benefitted—professionally and financially—from an evangelical Christian ordination connected to an institution that perpetuates systemic oppression of women.
Recently, when my Southern Baptist sisters Beth Moore and Kay Warren came forward with their support of and additional #MeToo statements, they joined a cacophony of secular women with harrowing stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. But there is a flaw in their (and my) attempts at female solidarity: how can evangelical Christian women—particularly those associated (deeply or loosely) with the Southern Baptist Convention, even address #MeToo without first confessing about what we have done—and left undone?
My Southern Baptist ordination aligns me with the Baptist Faith and Message, a pestilent document of outright discrimination and hyper-masculine self-righteousness, both of which correlate to sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse.
But Southern Baptist women are too entrenched to even notice the cognitive dissonance. This weighty theological and doctrinal baggage held by us—and similar ones held by evangelicals all over the world—place women in a losing power dynamic with men who can justify inappropriate behavior with inerrant scripture and ecclesial polity. Don’t believe me? Read their stories.
Shame on us.
Now, that’s not to say that secular institutions do not have similar threads that contribute to broad-sweeping problem of seeing women as less-than.
But, we, Southern Baptists, have a document that declares it.
The tradition in which I was ordained—the one that declares itself “non-creedal”—has an inerrant scripture-based, black-and-white party line. This complementarian theology is used to justify objectification and submission of women in the home, at church, and in higher education. This manifests explicitly in the church’s refusal to ordain women to gospel ministry to serve as pastors, forbidding them from teaching young men over a certain age, insisting they submit to their servant leader husbands, and limits their dominion to the home. This doesn’t even name the inconspicuous effects of the BFM. How can we—fellow Christians with any association with the SBC, not view this as horrendous?
Here’s another confession: I have been the recipient of microaggressions and harassment based on my gender identity and ordination.
There’s the outright: “You’re too pretty to be a pastor”; “Women can’t preach”; hugs that linger, hands that wander; and comments on my wardrobe, shoes, nail polish, make-up, or hair. Full disclosure: this is why many clergywomen love wearing our giant, football player clergy robes.
I’ve also had many uncomfortable public worship moments with male pastors who bogart pulpits, as in refusing to exit such that we must stand there together, his body pressed against mine, while I make my already brief ministry update even briefer.
Then there are the more subtle slights: church or funeral home greetings directed toward my husband, “Thank you for being here to do the service, Rev. Trent.”
“She’s Reverend Trent,” he says nodding to me, my clergy robe draped over his arm and holding my black padfolio. “I’m her assistant.”
There are a million equal and worse instances in the secular closet, too. But, Harvey Weinstein doesn’t have a public statement of faith on his website professing his outright misogyny—or his virtuousness. We do.
While I applaud and respect famous evangelical Christian women for coming forward in #MeToo, it’s also an opportune time to examine the log in our own eyes. Any woman associated with the Southern Baptist Convention—through her church membership or organizations who support her “ministry”—and who benefit professionally and otherwise, cannot point a finger at #MeToo until they come clean and cut ties.
Molly T. Marshall, president and professor of theology and spiritual formation and Central Baptist Theological Seminary said it best: “Baptists are not absent from this tale of abuse, and our refusal to talk about it forthrightly has only given license to predators.”
Our silence contributes to the perpetuity and pervasiveness of #MeToo in Christianity. And, while some of us may feel empowered and safe enough to speak out, others are not so fortunate. So long as men are emboldened by inerrant scripture and a denominational document that gives them a free pass to degrade, devalue, and assault women, our sisters will suffer.