Hundreds of Southern Baptist women from across the nation explored the theme, “Imago Dei: Created in His Image — Female” during the annual Pastors Wives/Women’s Conference held June 12 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference.
One of the primary topics covered by speakers dealt with the confusion of gender identity that is now pervasive in today’s culture.
“The effect of gender confusion and what it means to be a woman has reached our churches,” observed Katie J. McCoy, director of Women’s Ministry at Texas Baptists and author of “To Be A Woman: The Confusion Over Female Identity and How Churches Can Respond.”
“Gender confusion is just not growing, it is exploding — and by a landslide,” McCoy said.
She observed that Satan “is blinding a generation to the truth of their identity.
“To reach them will take compassion .… You have been chosen as God’s witness in this time, in this culture,” McCoy said.
Another speaker on gender identity — Rachel Gilson — drew the ire of some Southern Baptists last month.
Gilson, a former “lesbian atheist,” serves on the leadership team for Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) and author of “Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith and What Comes Next” became the center of controversy when a clip circulated on Twitter of her speaking to an audience, addressing the question of whether a person should leave a same-sex marriage if he or she becomes a Christian.
Gilson recently dealt with the controversy on the May 23 episode of “The Confronting Christianity Podcast” where she joined host Rebecca McLaughlin and North Carolina pastor and former SBC president J.D. Greear, according to churchleaders.com. The podcast addressed the question, “Should someone in a same-sex marriage who becomes a Christian get divorced?”
Gilson noted that “by definition, a same-sex marriage is not a marriage in God’s eyes even though it’s a legal contract that does exist in our society right now,” the website reported.
Churchnews.com reported that “several Christian influencers perceived Gilson to be endorsing Christians remaining in gay marriages and some subsequently called for her to be removed as a speaker at the conference.
The same day the controversy erupted, Gilson posted a statement in which she said that same-sex marriages are “sinful” and that any believer who is in one should get out of it and noted that has always been her position, according to the website.
Gilson did address the conference June 12 and the controversy was not mentioned.
Navigating difficult conversations
Gilson was asked how Christians can navigate contemporary conversations around gender and sexuality. She observed that the dominant emotion in those conversations is fear.
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power,” she maintained.
Citing John 4:1–26, she encouraged Southern Baptist women to remember this principle when having conversations about gender and sexuality. “Our neighbors need Jesus and they need truth and grace,” Gilson said.
The conference also featured a panel discussion with McCoy, Gilson and Jess Archer, executive director of South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union, addressing additional gender-related issues such as how to have truthful conversations with children who are bombarded with the issue in their schools. The women also addressed how churches can better minister to single women.
Donna Gaines, who was instrumental in helping to form the conference nearly 20 years ago, reminded the women that ministry can be lonely. “We need each other,” she stressed while encouraging them not to leave the meeting without the phone number and email address of another attendee.
Plea for unity
She issued a plea for Southern Baptists to love one another and to have unity. “If we polled this room on how the Southern Baptist Convention could be described” she predicted no one would use the word “love.” “Shame on us,” she said.
Gaines noted that unity is desperately needed in the convention. “We need unity so we can live under the blessing of God,” she said.
Gaines, wife of Tennessee pastor and former SBC president Steve Gaines, also noted that there are missionaries and church planters in the world “who are depending on our unity. We must choose unity over division,”
Kathy Litton of the North American Mission Board challenged those in attendance to be resilient in life and in ministry.
“Do you have a circumstance in your life that requires resilience?” she asked.
Litton cited the Old Testament story of Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers, exiled and put in prison. Joseph is a dramatic story of resilience, she said.
She reminded the women that God’s plan is bigger than any event people will face. “Resiliency is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, diversity, trauma and tragedy,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by B&R editor Lonnie Wilkey as part of the team coverage of Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting and related events by staff members from The Baptist Record, Baptist & Reflector, Baptist Message, Illinois Baptist State Association, The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper.