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Most historical accounts of women in Baptist life describe women's roles as both restricted by the conservative orientation of the denomination yet slowly expanding and progressing. Baptist women in ministry have found creative ways to work within Southern Baptist denominational boundaries while still negotiating leadership roles and positions. After fundamentalists took over the denomination in 1979, women have been forced to redefine both their personal identities and their relationships with the denomination. The 15 years following the fundamentalist takeover were a time of chaos, confusion, and uncertainty for women. Some abandoned the denomination, but the majority anticipated that their situation would improve. Because fundamentally aligned leaders have held complete control of denominational boards and agencies since 1995, more and more women have decided that working in connection with the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer an option. Contemporary histories narrating the experience of moderate Baptist women in ministry need to take into account the complete ways women have responded to their ambiguous status within Baptist life and culture. In the current moment, Baptist women are seeking new institutional models while still adhering to a private Baptist identity. Recent writings by Baptist women in ministry explain their status and identity through reconstructing Baptist heritage. The analysis of moderate Baptists histories and specific publications that address women in ministry, such as the Baptist women in Ministry's newsletter Folio and collected narratives from forty-plus women, reveal that amongst the voices a general theme emerges which illustrates shared, characteristic patterns of contradiction. For instance, women generally have stayed connected to Baptist principles, such as local church autonomy and the priesthood of believers and have fashioned an identity from the influence of Baptist missions educational programs and mentors. The dynamics of individual beliefs and practices often belie denominational boundaries and a southern evangelical status quo. Nevertheless, because Baptist women have worked within these contradictory dynamics for decades, they constantly negotiate their positions and trap themselves in a culture shaped by incongruity. Despite impediments, women in ministry still have hope that they will be accepted and supported within Baptist life. They tell stories of a glorious past, of times of trial, and of hope that their individual narratives will be a source of change for other women. These women have not refused to recognize to recognize the past, but they have failed to concede that their heritage has been unkind to them and that Baptist history has never demonstrated collective change. Baptist women in ministry continue to hope for the advancement of women within the context of Baptist life. The myth of progress becomes a substantial part of their identity. In a culture and heritage where women remain in an obscure position, women in ministry attempt to create a usable past relevant to contemporary women in Baptist life, while sometimes misreading their history as progressive. This study explores the key dynamics of their identity as shaped by patterns of contradiction that contribute to a mythologized Baptist heritage and ensnare women in a consistent narrative of incongruity.
Women in Baptist Life, Baptist Identity, Baptist Women
Date of Defense
Date of Defense: September 10, 2003.
A Thesis submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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