I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a book buying problem. I constantly find myself on Amazon looking up titles that were mentioned in other books and the site’s “related” feature sucks me in to what becomes a long trail of wish list- and cart-adding. I recently bought three new books when I have only finished one of the four books that I ordered in December, and one of the six books from my new favorite bookstore (The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles) that I bought in November. I just can’t help myself. My mindset has changed from, while in high school and early college, HAVING to finish any book I started to, now, considering myself better off for having read a chapter of a book than none at all… and plus I have all those books on my shelves in case I ever want to reference anything. Anything related to gender, that is, as those have been the majority of my book purchases as of late.

My most recent batch of literary-goodness that arrived in brown cardboard on my doorstep includes How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan F. Johnson (isn’t “F” a wonderfully strong middle initial? Those perpendicular and parallel lines making up crisp right angles? Mm). I attribute the consistency of my reading of it for the past *two* days to the short stories that make it up; lots of wisdom nuggets in a small amount of time. I would like to share a quote that made my spirit feel lighter and my soul feel more grounded.

“My journey to biblical egalitarianism was essentially complete. While I did not, and do not now, claim to have the final answer to every question or difficult passage, I was convinced the framework sketched above was clearly a superior way to account for the varieties of biblical evidence. […] But there was one more piece to my journey that is important, though seemingly small and unrelated to anything that had happened up to this point. It was the final piece that confirmed for me that I was on the right path.

In early 1974 I was preparing for a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from some of the more important primary source documents representative of that history. When I came to the early and mid-nineteenth century, I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition. The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states were especially fascinating. Whether the men were from the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, or Roman Catholic traditions, the biblical and theological arguments in defense of slavery were essentially the same.

Abolitionism was said to be anti-Christian. Defenders of slavery claimed that abolitionists got their ideas from other sources and then went to the “Bible to confirm the crotchets of their vain philosophy”. Scripture, it was repeatedly argued, does not condemn slavery. In fact, Scripture sanctions slavery. In his parables, Jesus refers to masters and slaves without condemning slavery as such. In the New Testament, pious and good men had slaves, and they were not told to release them. The church was first organized in the home of a slaveholder. That slavery was divinely regulated throughout biblical history was evidence that the institution was divinely approved. When Scripture, as in Galatians 4, uses illustrations from slavery to teach great truths without censuring slavery, it was considered more evidence that the institution had divine approval. The Baptist Declaration of 1822 did accept that slaves had purely spiritual privileges (as Christians), but they remained slaves.

The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point, and all developed their defenses by appealing to Scripture in much the fashion I have summarized above. With one voice Southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God.

I had heard this line of reasoning before, but to actually read it for myself was an eye-opening experience. I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority. How could churchmen and leading theologians have been so foolish and blind? […] It hit me like a flash. Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defense of slavery.” -Stanley N. Gundry in How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership

This realization was also a “rest stop”, so to speak, of my gender journey and I am so thankful to see it be so essential to someone else’s journey that they documented it. Reading about nineteenth-century Christians who defended slavery as being divinely approved knocks me off my feet and makes me think about other beliefs that I accept and practices I follow that I have never examined through the broad lens of the redemption story God is enacting throughout history. The Kingdom is coming, but He is also bringing the Kingdom now. And women and men get to be partners in seeing it happen!