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A Woman Making a Difference
by Isabel Lyman
25 June 2000

Isabel Lyman There they go again!

This month, Southern Baptist Convention delegates, gathered in Orlando, Florida, voted to approve the following statement at their annual meeting: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

In 1998, the nationís largest Protestant denomination voted that a wife should “submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”

These pronouncements, which come at a moment when many believe women are not significantly different from men, provoked instant reaction.

Two years ago, Southern Baptist Bill Clinton distanced himself from the submission mandate. His then-spokesman, Mike McCurry, announced that this was a case when the Presidentís own religious views didnít match the Conventionís. (Well, when do your views match, Bill?)

Predictably, a flurry of emotional reponses followed the Ďwomen canít be pastorsí mandate. Shelli Firmin harrumphed to the Dallas Morning News that the ladies in her Baptist church “are only allowed to teach children or women or prepare food.” Martha Phillips, an interim pastor at Al Goreís congregation - Mount Vernon Baptist Church of Arlington, Virginia - told the Associated Press that she was grieved by the news. “Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore,” observed Phillips.

But Rev. Adrian Rogers, the chariman of the redrafting committee, apparently had the last word. “Southern Baptists, by practice as well as conviction, believe leadership is male,” said Rogers.

I applaud Dr. Rogers for taking a pro-man stand. There are simply not enough available alpha males providing leadership in churches or for their families. So, I say step up to the plate, guys, and get ye ministering to the sheep in thy midst. Be more like Mel Gibson, less like Alan Alda.

But while the Southern Baptist bigwigs are busy throwing down their gauntlet in the war between the genders, thereís a blonde phenom clad in electric-blue pants suits and waging a one-woman blitzkrieg against militant feminists, couples who cavalierly break marriage vows, and parenting by proxy. Sheís so controversial that gay rights activists have organized a boycott against her fall television program.

This orthodox Jewish woman, obviously not ordained as a pastor, has become one of the most respected spiritual leaders in the country. Her married name is Mrs. Lew Bishop, but you know her as Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Dr. Laura uses a radio talk show, not a pulpit, to broadcast her message of “moral health.” She looks to the Ten Commandments as her compass. She is famous for preaching, teaching, and nagging. Her audience is evenly divided between men and women who clamor for her unsentimental sermonettes. With her fourteen million listeners, she has as large a following as the Southern Baptists with their nearly 16 million members.

AT&T verifies 30,000 to 50,000 attempted calls to her program each day, and callers often identify themselves as followers of Christ. Apparently, these believers may have accepted Jesus as their Savior, to borrow the lingo of the Baptists, but they are often clueless about how to live God-pleasing lives. So they are turning, in droves, to a sophisticated, Jewish woman for counsel. Sounds like leadership to me.

Frankly, itís a relief that Dr. Laura didnít aspire to pastor a Southern Baptist church. Even if she had had a shot at it, that would have been too narrow a forum for a dynamo like her.

Now, go take on the day, Rev. Rogers.


This column appeared in The Edmond Sun on June 25, 2000.

Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
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