Friday, August 2, 2013

A Theology of Women: Notes from An Evangelical Church in the American South

Ephesians 5:22-3

Ira D.S. Knight, "Our Heritage," in Sandra K. Gorin, A Brief History of the Glasgow Baptist Church (Glasgow, Kentucky, 1999): 

In April, 1818, Sister Fannie Rountree was charged with "unguarded expression" representing her husband Richard Rountree. A committee of five was appointed to wait upon the sister, and at the next meeting, it was reported that the sister had been visited, talked and prayed with, and that she was convinced of "the error of her way" and asked forgiveness of the church (p. 18).

Translation: Sister Fannie Rountree said something to someone in her church to diss her husband. That someone informed on her to the officials of the church, and they sent a disciplinary committee to Sister Fannie to let her know that she had transgressed. And should shut up, when it came to venting about her husband to anyone other than said husband.

This is not by any means the first such annotation I've found in Baptist or Methodist church minutes of the Southern states in the 19th century. My research has focused on those two churches in this time frame because they're the ones my ancestors always joined as they moved out of the purlieu of the Episcopal churches they had previously attended back east, or, in some cases, of the Presbyterians churches or Quaker communities to which they belonged in older states of the Southeast.

I've seen sisters disciplined by committees in evangelical churches for having an "evil (i.e., seductive, in someone's eyes) walk," for dressing too vainly (showy buttons were a particular no-no), for gossiping or high-hatting neighbors. Women were harshly supervised by many evangelical churches in the South up to the 20th century, and primarily for infractions that had to do with getting out of their submissive places.

Men were also constantly supervised by these churches, but for different reasons. In the case of men, church minutes persistently record that men were disciplined for drinking to excess (if I had a nickel for every male ancestor of mine put out of a Baptist church for that infraction, I'd be a rich man), for fighting, for, in the case of an uncle of my paternal grandmother, "taking an ax"--a notation I read to mean that he tried to take an ax to someone else, not to take someone else's ax, which would have been an act that would have compromised his family's honor.

Whereas taking an ax to someone might well be an act  necessary to sustain one's family's honor . . . . 

But it all makes sense, right? Women and men are essentially different. They have different needs. They're made by God to complement each other. Natural law affirms the divine plan of complementarity. God wrote that plan into nature itself.

And so churches should make it their business to treat women differently from men. They should make it their business to observe (and reinforce) the essential difference between women and men, for which God created them male and female.

Above all, they should remind women constantly that women are created to serve, to prop up males, never to say anything that takes away from the glory of a man, which is the crowning glory of the family and household. Churches need a theology of women . . . . 

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