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A New Day Dawning

What’s that sound?

The stirring wind of a new day.

As the sun rose this morning over Lake Michigan, a new day in Baptist scholarship also dawned.

It was not simply the panel presentation at the ASCH on “Conflict and Compromise: Reappraising the History of Gender in Southern Baptist Battles” which marked the new beginning. Don’t get me wrong, this morning’s convergence of scholarship from long years of study, training and writing was in itself no small thing. Baptists have long suffered from a lack of rigorous self-critical scholarship of their own history and polity. And this morning’s panel was another solid step in the right direction of raising the bar for scholarly engagement and analysis of Southern Baptists.

In particular each paper made the point – either directly or indirectly – that understanding Baptist history, culture and polity without including attention to gender is insufficient. As I put it in my own paper about the schism of of Southern Baptists in the late twentieth century: up to this point interpretations of Baptist events have not considered gender sufficiently for its role or contributions to understanding adequately what was at stake.

In February of last year, Karen Seat emailed Betsy Flowers and Susan Shaw and me. She asked us about working together to present our research and writing about Baptist women and issues of gender and feminism. Each of us immediately agreed and started planning how and where to propose a panel. Today was the first public presentation out of what we hope will become an ongoing collaboration. As Susan put it this afternoon, “I haven’t had this much academic fun in a long time.” It was both fun and important.

There is something larger at stake here. This morning’s papers contained a kind of critical distance on Southern Baptists and gender that has been emerging for several years now. A growing number of scholars, trained in various fields from history and ethnography to women’s studies and practical theology, are offering a more mature analysis of Baptists in various periods including more recent changes in Southern Baptist life.

The larger scope of what was represented in this morning’s is the more important story. What evidence do I have for making such a bold claim? Here’s a short list of indicating factors that lead me to declare this a new day:

  • an increasing number of Baptist scholars studying Baptist history, theology and culture from a variety of perspectives;
  • the fact that many more women who study and write about women in Baptist life hold academic appointments in universities, seminaries and divinity schools;
  • a growing number of dissertations about Southern Baptists being written at research universities (Vanderbilt, Duke, Princeton, Emory, Baylor);
  • the expanding list of books (for example Susan’s God Speaks to Us, Too, Betsy’s Into the Pulpit as well as my own) and other publications (for example Pam Durso is editing an issue of the Review and Expositor which will be devoted to scholarship about Baptist women later this year).

Put as simply as possible: today’s panel was a sign that scholarship about Southern Baptists, which takes seriously “the roles played and contributions made by women,” is reaching a critical mass.

It will be exciting to see where the wind blows and what this new day brings!