By Kelly Moreland Jones
On this weekend when the secular calendar demands our attention to the matter of mothering I am reminded of Raquel Contreras’s words at the recent Baptist Women In Ministry’s Leading Women 2017 conference:
“They needed a mother.”
Raquel’s story is one of submission and service, love and loyalty, passion and power. I was moved to hear her journey from pastor’s wife and stay at home mom to widow and single parent during her mid forties. She told us about being excused from a business meeting expecting the people to be gathering a widow’s offering behind closed doors, following the death of her husband. Instead she returned to the meeting, only to learn that the church wanted to call her as their senior pastor. In her steadfast woman-ness Raquel called a sea of bickering men to prayer. And after those men prayerfully sought Almighty God’s will for the leader who would help heal wounds and propel them into the future, the Chilean Baptist Union elected Raquel as their President by acclimation. Each man stepped forward to remove his name from the ballot so that the group could submit to a Godly woman. Raquel Contreras’s story is nothing short of a miracle. It is evidence of a living, loving God walking among us.
And yet… I sat with other church leaders from around the country, shocked… jaws gaping and hot tears streaming as we listened to Raquel’s voice and stories. And now a week or so later I find myself wondering: why are we so surprised when male Baptist leaders realize they need the leadership of a woman?
Three immediate thoughts come to mind: 1) we rarely, if ever, see women in positions of leadership in Baptist churches; 2) Often male leaders exude a sense of interdependence solely on God and other men; 3) even God is often limited to images of maleness.
Just to keep things interesting, let’s consider these three in reverse order…
Do you know that scripture describes God creating females in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)? And that God interacts with God’s people as a Mother who births, nourishes, comforts and cares for her young (Hosea 11:3-4, Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 131:2).
Even Incarnate God, Jesus, says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) So, yeah… God is imaged in ways other than male in the Bible. Maybe we should bring these images to the forefront every now and then… Perhaps if we did then when we imagine being dependent on God we could imagine something other than being dependent on a spiritualized old guy… And that imagination might help us all learn how to lead in community together, regardless of gender.
I get that this may be hard to swallow. I know because I’ve lived in a male-led Baptist world my entire life. The pulpits of my past and, often, my present are filled with virtually no gender diversity. I’ve never once heard texts preached or prayers addressed to anyone other than a male God. And, I think that’s a problem. Or perhaps it is an opportunity.
I’ve also learned that tough love is a necessary part of mothering. So while the conversation continues I’ll be over here continuing my story and identifying with God as the prophet Isaiah depicts in chapter 42 verse 14:
“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
My friend Reverend Tambi Swiney, Associate Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church Nashville, Tennessee, said it best at last week’s Scholastica gathering… Stories are powerful. Indeed they are, if we but listen. Is anyone listening?
Grateful for the inescapable love of God,
for emerging new life,
for the gift of stories,
for the journey God has placed me on,
and for motherhood,