At my installation service the congregation was asked to write blessings and prayers over my ministry at First Baptist Austin. I was surprised to read through them and find this: “Griff, the Feminist! For years I have desired a pastor who was a feminist and now I have one. Don’t stop! Keep on.”
My immediate reaction was that I did not know I was a feminist, or at least I had never self-labeled myself as one. As a disciple of Richard Rohr I try my hardest to stay away from labels because they tend to distract my spirituality. And besides that, could a male Baptist pastor really label themselves a feminist.
And then I began to think back and wonder what I had done in the pulpit that allowed a congregant to label me as a feminist. I know that I am not scared to talk about the issues that girls and women face in the world today. I know that I am willing to talk about the huge issues of gender equality. I can preach words like rape and sexual abuse knowing they need to be spoken aloud in our world. But surely, honesty alone does not make me a feminist.
I know I am honest about the female voices that have deeply impacted my own spirituality from Barbara Brown Taylor to Paula D’Arcy. I know well the roles some pivotal women have played in my own sense of calling from Ruth Ann Foster to Suzii Paynter. I know how the church has truly mothered not only me, but my ministry. But surely, recognition alone does not make me a feminist.
I know that I personally need to hear the Gospel in a female voice in order to be whole. So, I find ways to regularly hear female pastors proclaiming the Gospel, because I am not whole without those sacred voices preaching in my soul. But surely, simply acknowledging a spiritual need does not make me a feminist.
I know the commitment I had made to the First Austin pastor search committee and to the church, to have a female voice in our pulpit at least once every two months, although we aim to increase that even further. In the last year we have had Lee Ann Rathbun, Stacy Blackmon, Meredith Massar-Munson, Amelia Fulbright and Leigh Jackson preach and we have Ann Pitman-Zarate, Tracee Henekee, Carrie Houston and Anna Carter Florence all lined up to preach soon. Additionally this spring child-led worship and youth-led worship both feature females in the pulpit. But surely, that commitment alone does not make me a feminist.
I know that I have a daughter who seems very interested in spiritual things and I know that I want her to grow up in a church where she hears the Gospel in her own voice, where she sees females in leadership roles, where being female is celebrated and where equality of male and females is the aim. But surely, trying to make the church more realistic for my daughter does not make me a feminist.
And I know I have a son who pays a lot of attention to things and I want him to grow up in a church where he hears the Gospel in a voice that does not sound like his. I want him to see women in bold leadership roles and to learn equality is the Kingdom of God. But again, trying to make the church more realistic for my son does not make me a feminist.
Surely simply doing these things alone does not make me a feminist, this is just the work a pastor should be doing, right?
And then I thought about the words of one of my favorite authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”
And if that is the case, well I know there is a deep problem with gender as it is today in most Baptist pulpits and I want to help us to do better. I want more female peers leading churches. I want to hear the Gospel spoken by all people. I want the leadership of the church to look more like the Kingdom of God—like creation where male and female, in God’s image, God created them. I don’t want my kids to have to look for a church with female clergy, I want that to be the norm.
So yes, I am a Baptist male pastor and I am feminist. And, it takes both to finally bring equality into this blessed calling of ministry.
Griff Martin is pastor at First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.