Reaction And Resistance To Cultural Change -- By: Jennifer McKinney

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 29:4 (Autumn 2015)
Article: Reaction And Resistance To Cultural Change
Author: Jennifer McKinney

Reaction And Resistance To Cultural Change

Jennifer McKinney

Jennifer McKinney is professor of sociology and director of women’s studies at Seattle Pacific University. She holds MS and PhD degrees from Purdue University. This article was first delivered as Seattle Pacific’s 2015 Winifred E. Weter Faculty Award Lecture for Meritorious Scholarship. The annual lecture series honors Winifred E. Weter, Seattle Pacific professor emerita of classics. Dr. McKinney’s lecture has been adapted for Priscilla Papers.

A Tale Of Two Baptists

Throughout American history, gender theologies have been used to signify a religious organization’s level of tension to the surrounding culture. As a result, religious organizations have changed their gender theologies in response to cultural change. This process can be illustrated by a tale of two Baptists. Invigorated by the First Great Awakening of the 1740s, a robust American tradition of female piety was born. Revivalists broke with Puritan orthodoxy that equated Christianity to a hierarchical family. The revivalists, instead, envisioned a new covenant—one that emphasized individual rebirth within a community that was related, not by biological ties, but by grace. Within the bond of spiritual fellowship, the revivalists affirmed that men and women, rich and poor, lettered and ignorant,1 were as capable as ordained clergy of discerning spiritual truth, leading to communities of relative egalitarianism.

The revivalist spirit had significant implications for Colonial Baptists. Rejecting the hierarchical Puritan ideals of gender, Baptist women in the mid- to late-eighteenth century served along with men in unprecedented access to Baptist governance and authority. Women participated in all major decisions, including election and dismissal of ministers, admitting and excluding of members, and vociferous theological debates.2 In the mid- to late-eighteenth century, Baptist women’s religious authority posed a challenge to the hierarchical mainline denominations—the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.

More than 200 years later, the largest Baptist organization in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), made headlines when they changed their Statement of Faith and Message for the first time in their history. The SBC “overwhelmingly voted against having women serve as pastors, despite the fact that many women were already serving as pastors.”3

This shift in Baptist theology represents the ways in which gender has come to symbolize an ideological divide within American Pr...

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