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License Women to Preach

License Women to Preach

By Alice C. Linsley
Special to Virtueonline
May 16, 2021

The Rev Mary Alice Birdwhistell took a stand on the ordination of women in a letter published in the Courier-Journal on 14 May 2012. The letter was addressed to Dr. Albert Mohler, the esteemed president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Birdwhistell is the pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, so at first glance, this appears to be a local dispute. However, for Southern Baptists the question of women pastors is as divisive as the question of women priests for Anglicans.

The Rev Birdwhistell believes that Mohler's opposition to the ordination of women suggests that his "God is so small" and, reflecting on her personal experience she writes, "My hope in writing this letter is that other people who read your most recent statement against women pastors might not feel as shut out as I did growing up in the Southern Baptist Church."

Birdwhistell explains, "I feel no need to try to defend myself to you or the calling God has placed on my life." However, that statement rings hollow by the fact that she wrote the letter which at times has a condescending tone.

I hope that Southern Baptists find a solution to this quandary. When God calls a woman to proclaim the Gospel, he surely expects the Church to provide her an official platform for doing so. As a laywoman, I preached once in an Antiochian Orthodox Church with the bishop's permission. If that is possible, why should ordination be required? Why not simply license qualified women to preach?

My paternal grandmother, Alice Williams Linsley, was ordained by the Northern (now American) Baptists in 1925. She was a powerful preacher who read her Bible in Greek, Hebrew, and Telegu. She was born to pioneer missionaries in India where her pastor father was instrumental in the translation of the New Testament to Telegu. I remember listening to her preach as a child in Whittier, California. I was named after her, and I named one of my daughters Mary Alice.

Women and men alike are to tell forth the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. They will do this with or without official recognition of a denomination. Women were the first to proclaim the Resurrection. Photini, the Samarian Woman at Jacob's Well, ran into the town and told everyone who would listen that she had met the Messiah.

Abbesses have preached to their monastic communities for centuries. Women who preached include the Dominican observant nun Tommasina Fieschi (1448-1534) and the Dominican tertiary Stefana Quinzani (1457-1530). Teresa de Avila (1515-1582), a Doctor of the Church, is said to have woven great humor into her sermons. Harriet Livermore (1788-1868) was one of more than 100 female itinerate preachers during the Second Great Awakening.

Women sermonize through their writings and seminars. Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Sayers, Beth Moore, and Elizabeth George are a few examples.

I encourage every Christian woman who feels compelled to preach to study to be approved, and to pray for anointing and direction. Women are to humbly proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to the Father. They do not need to be ordained to fulfill that calling.


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