What would the world be like without women?

It’s an unusual question, but take a minute and engage it with your imagination. 

Would pink collar jobs like secretary and health aide disappear? Would fashion products designed to constrict bodies into ideal shapes disappear from store shelves? Would children remain well-fed and cared for? Perhaps violence and wars would increase, fueled by high levels of testosterone. Plus, humans would soon become extinct.

I prefer not to think about all the implications of a world without women. I’m grateful that God created us male and female, and that both sexes are needed in the church and the world. 

However, too often churches are dominated by men and women are kept from key leadership roles. These churches overlook the importance of Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

This exclusion of women also happens in the way that many people tell Christian history. We trace the stories of key men over the course of two thousand years. First we have Constantine, then Aquinas, then Luther, then Whitefield, and so forth. Or we discuss the actions of male leaders in churches and denominations. Male pastors founded the Southern Baptist Convention; male messengers voted at the denomination’s meetings; male executives led its newly formed entities.

Yet when we tell history this way, we leave out more than half of the Christian population through the centuries. More women than men have attended church for most of Christian history. How does our understanding of history change when we include women? 

A new book, in which I wrote a chapter, explores just that question. A Marginal Majority: Women, Gender, and a Reimagining of Southern Baptists demonstrates that Southern Baptist history is best understood when women are considered alongside men.

For example, Delane Tew explains how women’s efforts through Woman’s Missionary Union helped lead to the centralization of the SBC, a development that had previously been attributed only to male denominational leaders. 

Carol Crawford Holcomb’s chapter provides a new understanding of Southern Baptist progressivism in the early twentieth century. She demonstrates that Southern Baptist women worked for social change in ways that men did not. Similarly, my chapter argues that Southern Baptist women were more open than men in their attitudes toward other races in the mid-twentieth century. Such contributions provide a more complete understanding of Southern Baptist history than previous attempts that focused on male leaders and institutions.

Chapters by Karen Seat and Courtney Pace analyze Southern Baptist understandings of Molly Marshall, Sarah Palin, and Beth Moore. Their writings provide insight into how twenty-first century Baptists have understood gender roles, and demonstrate that we cannot understand the SBC, current struggles within it, or groups that split off from it without considering women.

It seems absurd to imagine a world without women, but sometimes church leaders, theologians, and historians have appeared to do just that. I am thankful to be a part of a new generation of historians of Baptists who are attempting to remedy that mistake. 

How might we better understand the past when we focus on sources from and about women? I recommend that you check out A Marginal Majority to help answer this question for yourself.

Melody Maxwell, PhD is associate professor of church history and director of Acadia Center for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies at Acadia Divinity College.

Elizabeth Flowers, a Baylor University associate religion professor and Karen Seat, director of religion and classics at the University of Arizona, are co-editors of the 2020 book, A Marginal Majority: Women, Gender, and a Reimagining of Southern Baptists.