Discover more from Marginalia with Beth Allison Barr
A glimpse from the SBC archives....
As promised, I will give the paid supporters of Marginalia some peeks into my current research. I confess as thankful as I am for your support, I am still uncomfortable with a paywall for my writing. It is amazing to me that so many of you think my writing is worth supporting, though. So I will show you thanks by providing a few exclusives. This is an example of what those future exclusives will be (although I will continue to provide some research updates to all subscribers too).
Rain is pelting the window behind me as I write (the picture above is directly behind my chair and table covered with archival boxes). Did you know that in 1978 the Southern Baptist Convention held a conference on women in church-related vocations? It convened in the conference center facilities of the Southern Baptist Convention Sunday school Board in Nashville and was sponsored by the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, the Foreign Mission Board, the Brotherhood Commission, the Historical Commission, the Radio and Television Commission, the Christian Life Commission, the Home Mission Board, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Sunday school Board, and the WMU. I could write an entire book on the material I have found thus far……let me just give you one snippet.
In 1979 Rosemary Brevard wrote a response to Danville, Virginia Lawyer Ruth Harvey Charity’s 1978 address: “Government Policy and Its Impact on Employment of Women.” Charity’s full address is printed in the conference report, and her overall point was that discrimination against women is alive and well despite promises of “equal opportunity employment.” Charity called on Southern Baptists to become an agent of change for women, writing “we can bring about new dynamic changes because these are the tools of the mind and the hand and we have the power of God himself emanating through our hearts and minds and hands to give us that determination, the insights, the courage, the ability to accomplish great works in this area. And we can do things that we have not yet dreamed of, for God will open doors of employment to women that the government, private industry, and no man can shut.”
I find it rather interesting (to say the least) that Charity’s call was made in 1978 to the SBC at an SBC-sponsored conference in Nashville—the same place where SBC messengers at the 2021 convention authorized an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse only to have the scope of that investigation immediately fought by SBC leaders. The will of the messengers prevailed, resulting in the bombshell Guidepost Solutions report released on May 22, 2022.
The optimism of Charity’s words, calling on the SBC to draw strength from God’s power to make the secular world a better place for women, is haunting. What if her vision had come to pass rather than that of the 1979 Conservative Resurgence? What if the leaders speaking at the 1978 consultation on Women had not been overpowered by the likes of Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler? What if Southern Baptists had indeed used their influence to do “great works” for women—”opening doors of employment that…no man can shut”? What a different world we might have…..
Yet I find Brevard’s response to Charity even more powerful than the original address. Just listen to the conclusion of Brevard’s comments.
“At the end of her address Ruth asked for our “good works in the areas of politics and education” to breathe life into governmental philosophies and laws….I’ll quit with a story in support of Ruth’s call for our good works in politics and education. It’s a favorite of my boss. Before the Civil War, Thoreau was often put into jail for refusing to pay taxes to a state that would support slavery. One day he was standing in the jail window when his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson saw him and said, “My word, Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau responded. “In times like these, what are you doing out there, Waldo?”
If we are into political and educational activity on behalf of equal employment opportunities for women, we need to stay there. If we are not, in time like these—and as obvious beneficiaries of past progress-what are we doing out there?”
In times like these, serving a God like ours, what are we doing if we are not fighting for women within our churches?
What are we doing out there?
Beth Allison Barr
Credit to the SBC National Archives in Nashville: Archives and Manuscripts 504 Box 1: Consultation on Women in Church-Related Vocations Collections, MSS Findings Report (folder 1.6) and Rosemary Brevard’s response (March 14, 1979 in folder 1.8).