Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on March 27, 2017
Women’s History Month is celebrated in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom during March. Its purpose is to highlight the struggles and contributions of women throughout history and into the present day. The National Women’s History Project chose “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business” as their theme for 2017. I wish to honor three trailblazing women in the life of First Baptist Church.
The Genesis 1 creation story culminates with the glorious announcement that men and women are created in the Image of God. How significant this is! For the Image of God to be revealed in creation, it was necessary to create both men and women. Thus, an accurate understanding of maleness and femaleness is essential in understanding the nature and character of God. Together, men and women were commissioned to fill, subdue, and rule over God’s magnificent creation.
By Genesis 3, however, sin had entered the world causing separation and discord between God and men and women and all of creation. Now, instead of harmony between men and women, the ongoing struggle for power and control would characterize their relationships. The New Living Translation reflects this best in Genesis 3:16, “You (the woman) will desire to control your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This verse describes the impact of sin on the relationship between men and women, not the intent of God as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. This battle for control and power would ultimately lead to manipulative, destructive, and abusive relationships, systems and cultures.
The coming of the “Kingdom of God” in Jesus, however, offers a radically different and new way of life and relationships. Jesus observed that the greatest in earthly kingdoms exercise their power and authority to lord over others. In contrast, the greatest in the Kingdom of God use power and authority to love and serve others. Thus, Jesus talked about loving your neighbor as you love yourself. He instructed His followers to “treat others as you would have them treat you.” The Apostle Paul wrote that in humility we should “regard one another as more important than ourselves.” Finally, Paul declared that in the Kingdom of God there is “neither Jew or Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the Kingdom of God the oppressive and destructive systems and cultures of this world are overcome. The result is that men and women can come alongside each other in healthy, mutual relationships that celebrate the distinctiveness of our maleness and femaleness without the sinful pursuit to control and manipulate the other.
Regrettably, the church at times has been slow to implement and transition to Kingdom of God practices and relationships. Yet, the church has been the key catalyst and force in bringing about much social change.
In 1993 First Baptist Church ordained three women to serve as deacons. Under the pastoral leadership of Dr. Lavonn Brown, the church determined to acknowledge and bless the leadership of women through deacon ordination and service. First Baptist is committed to the Kingdom notion that in Christ Jesus the barriers and prejudices between men and women have come down and that we can live and serve alongside one another in love with great joy, purpose and freedom.
Today women continue to serve faithfully in our church, on our deacon team and ministry staff. First Baptist is far from perfect, but my heart rejoiced one day when a family told me they chose to attend because their daughters could see women leading in prayer and worship.
I give thanks to the men and women of First Baptist who 24 years ago agreed to ordain women to serve as deacons. And in this moment I honor Mittie Durham, Ginny Cecil and Mary James, three trailblazing women who served as the first female deacons at Norman’s First Baptist Church.
Dr. Wade Smith