I am delighted to join the Baptist Women in Ministry staff as Project Manager to help research and write the upcoming State of Women in Baptist Life Report.
I have admired the work of BWIM for a long time. I remember attending the annual gatherings when I was too young to fully understand the beauty and struggle as well as the essential value of women in ministry. From this young age, I looked up to the resilient and passionate people who represented BWIM, and I am beyond grateful to join the long line of women who paved the way.
I grew up in an environment where I was able to take some aspects of women and ministry for granted. I saw women ordained as deacons and watched them lead in other areas of the church. And I did not realize women’s access to these ministerial roles was rare in some congregations until I was older.
Growing up, I also witnessed the limitations of a woman’s ability to hold certain leadership roles. While the concept of women in ministry was theoretically promoted, it was not always well practiced. Before my junior year in college when I attended a church with a female senior pastor, I can count on one hand the number of women I saw preach on a Sunday morning. The highest levels of ministerial leadership did not seem to be potential opportunities to all women. Rather, it seemed that women’s ability to preach only reached to a few special and exceptional women.
In college I quickly discovered that my own call to ministry landed outside of the church walls, as I explored community and social ministry, hospital chaplaincy, prison ministry, and work in a religious nonprofit. I went to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where I received a B.A. in Christian Studies. In classes I saw the support of women in ministry in practice but also heard some students’ smaller views of confining women’s place in churches to the pews.
In May of this year, I graduated with an M.Div. from Boston University School of Theology. I received a certificate in Religion and Conflict Transformation, realizing that the acceptance of women’s unconditional role as potential leaders in the community is a conflict that is alive in many religious circles. In classes I focused on feminist and womanist theologies and embodiment theology to study the biblical and theological basis of women’s divinely given gifts.
I also discovered the ways that the Bible and public theology are sometimes twisted to control and harm women’s bodies and restrict their access to certain spaces. Outside of the classroom, I worked for Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse in Boston. Through this work, I bore witness to the stories of survivors—predominantly women—in abusive relationships. The stories of Christian survivors revealed a larger narrative of the harmful theology used by abusers as a weapon to keep victims in abusive situations. Theologies that restrict the autonomy of women can go so far as to demand submission and subjugation to abuse.
After leaving Boston, I became a Clemons Fellow with Baptist News Global, writing in part about ways women’s mental and physical health suffer when they are restricted from opportunities of full participation in leadership roles in their congregations.
Today, I recognize the effects of harmful theologies that demand women stay in the pews and out of the pulpit. I see how some toxic theologies demand women submit to men in all aspects of life, even in abusive situations. And I believe all theologies that restrict women’s flourishing diminish the work of God and deny the love of Christ.
I am thrilled to work with BWIM as they continue to dismantle barriers of sexism in the church by encouraging and empowering the gifts, presence, and graceful power of women in ministry positions. And I am thankful for the opportunity to continue my own call to ministry outside of the church through this new role, as I join with BWIM in advocating for women in all areas of ministry and life.
Laura Ellis is the new project manager at Baptist Women in Ministry.