In June 2000, I was on my way to a convention in Florida. I only had a vague idea of where I was going or what was happening there. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Tampa and would soon apply at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. I was uneducated and always looked to others for my answers on spiritual matters. That convention was the annual meeting of Southern Baptists, and during that meeting in 2000, a motion was brought to the floor to officially limit the position of pastor to men, and, along with a little over half of the people there, I raised my ballot in the air to affirm that motion.
Shortly after the convention, I left for college. During breakfast on the second day of orientation, I met my future bride. While we were both attending college, my wife changed her major from elementary education to Christian education. Her change of majors would be the first of several different shifts that would take place. In college, my wife and I served under a pastor in the panhandle of Florida and saw our first example of a husband and wife ministry team. We liked this example so much, and we began to hope that this would be the calling that God placed in our lives.
Eventually, we both enrolled at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Even during my seminary days though, women pastors and the ordination of women was foreign to me. After several of my ministry friends, who happened to be women, were ordained, I became acquainted with the unfamiliar. As I began to appreciate and admire the giftedness and calling of these woman, I began second guessing my decisions and felt guilty over my vote in favor of the amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000.
Up to this point, I was trying to be the person that other people implied I ought to be rather than being who I was. I struggled with the question of who was I to tell someone else, “No, God did not call you into ordained ministry because you are not the right gender.” Yet that mindset was what my upbringing had taught me. God, however, began opening my eyes when I gave myself permission to ask the difficult questions that my Southern Baptist roots had silenced. Does God really look at gender as a qualification for calling someone into ministry? Do we follow God or man’s interpretation of the Bible as our guide for calling? Can a woman be ordained if the church recognizes her calling into the ministry? It was the process of struggling with these questions and studying the stories of women in scripture that illuminated my heart to God’s call on men and women alike.
In the meantime, God was already working on the heart of my wife. Within weeks of enrolling in a Christian history course titled, Women in the Christian Tradition, my wife brought up the possibility of preaching. Soon after, we were wrestling with the possibility of her being ordained. I wanted to embrace it wholeheartedly, but something in my Southern Baptist background was not letting me. But I was becoming more open to the possibility.
The next semester I took a Baptist History course with Dr. Lydia Hoyle. In that class, I read two books for a class project. The books helped me explore the two different sides of the division in the SBC. I expected to see copyright dates on the books of 2002 or later. I was in disbelief when the copyrights were in the 1990s. I soon discovered that the battle I was up against had been around longer than I have been alive. I came to terms that the struggle was more about power than about doctrine. It was more about politics than religion and was more about interpretation than it was about the Bible. While studying the life and death of Perpetua, I came to the conclusion that if a woman could give her life up FOR the faith then she could certainly give her life TO the faith.
I found myself desiring to send a pebble back to the SBC headquarters symbolizing the recantation of my vote in 2000. I have now come to the place in which I believed that any person should be able to pursue God’s call on his or her life without someone else interpreting that call, whether it is in counseling, in the home, behind a desk, a lecturn, or even a pulpit. I began this year by celebrating the ordination of my wife and will continue to rejoice with other men and women who have experienced God’s call in their lives.
Brian Miller is the pastor of Richfield Baptist Church, Richfield, North Carolina.