Decatur | “There’s a lot going on in the culture,” Carmen Halsey said. “If Christian women are not going to talk about it, who is?”
Halsey challenged the nearly 600 attenders at the Priority Women’s Conference in Decatur April 28-29, and brought before them speakers who would address tough issues women face today. “Some of the topics (at the conference) sound a bit risky,” she said, “but the culture is talking about it; the culture is who we’re going to have to reach. We are going to have to be brave if we’re going to do it.”
Halsey serves as IBSA Women’s Missions and Ministry director. The two-day conference addressed what it means to be godly women in today’s culture.
The conference took place against a backdrop of women’s marches with pink hats and cat ears, and a resurgence of debate on feminism and abortion. An April march on the state capitol in Springfield came the day of passage of a bill expanding taxpayer-funded abortions in the name of “women’s health care,” and now there is a renewed push for Illinois to become the thirty-seventh state pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Thirty eight are required for the ERA to become part of the U.S. Constitution, although the ten-year period for adoption expired 20 years ago.
How women can hold godly views and live Christ-like lives in such an environment may have been a subtext for the conference, but the admonitions were clear: “God calls us not to just be hearers of the Word, but also to be doers of the Word,” Halsey said.
“How do we create a safe place that we can come ask questions and learn from each other?” Halsey said. She emphasized the need for women to minister to women who don’t know Christ. And she brought to the platform teachers and leaders whose experiences serve as solid examples.
Rebecca Epley served as an International Mission Board missionary to Bangladesh until taking voluntary retirement. Epley said its people are 96% Muslim, the rest are Hindu and Buddhist, with less than 1% Christian. “Many have never heard the name of Jesus, and do not know who Jesus is.”
Working with other missionaries, they started the Light of Hope Center to reach poor families. Muslims began threatening Christians who would go to the Christian center for help.
Epley shared, “One mother was told, if your daughter continues to go to this center, we’ll burn your house down.” The strong mother of six replied that the Christians had done much more for her daughter than the Muslims ever had. “She will not stop going to the center,” Epley quoted the woman as saying. “And no, they did not burn her house down.”
Epley also told about girl who visited the center who had gotten pregnant outside marriage. The girl had brought shame on her family, her mother pushed for an abortion. “In Bangladesh, they think until a baby is born it’s just a ball of blood,” said Epley.
“We found a Christian family to adopt that baby. That girl accepted the Lord, but later she was forced to marry a Muslim man. We can’t fix that situation, but we know that Jesus is in her heart.”
Epley encouraged the Illinois women to stand strong in their faith and to follow God’s leadership. “One of the verses God has given me is ‘Be still.’ Stop trying to figure it out. I will be exalted. Keep your eyes on me. He is going to be exalted through those girls in Bangladesh.”
What should women do in the church? That’s a question with many answers, especially at a Southern Baptist women’s conference. Nora Allison and Carrie Campbell were the leaders of a breakout discussion on that topic. Allison is Director of Women at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., and teaches at Southern Seminary. Campbell is a member of Sojourn, a student at Southern, and central Illinois native.
In the Bible we first see men and women in Genesis 1:26-28 when God created male and female in his image. In Ephesians 4:14-16 men and women are to work together as part of the church body.
“Peter says men and women alike are co-heirs,” Allison shared. “God gave women specific responsibility to lead and train other women in who they are supposed to be. Men and women are not alike in how they are created, or in how they live out their faith.
“Typically our churches are 60-65% women. We need women to identify their giftedness and then use their gifts in appropriate ways in their church.” Allison suggested doing this by having women teach other women and shepherd women in small groups.
Campbell said it’s important to “know what your church believes regarding women’s roles in the church.” It’s also good to find out if your church studied the biblical text to determine what the roles of women are. “What do you believe about the roles? Have you studied what the Bible says?” she asked.
Most important, Campbell said, “Examine your motives. Where is your heart ? It’s OK and right to push back if things are not biblical. Are you doing this for yourself and your own glory, or for God’s glory
and his will to be done?”
“Feminism is alive and well in our culture and in the church,” or so said the breakout topic assigned to Jeanette Cloyd. A member of the Illinois Baptist Women’s State Advisory Team, Cloyd shared how after the Industrial Revolution, women started to be more involved in churches because they were looking for something worthwhile to do. But some women took it too far and acted as if they were more spiritual than men.
Cloyd said in the last twenty years, many women in evangelical churches have moved toward a more traditional biblical model of womanhood. Women are “having this constant struggle—a lot are quitting their jobs and staying home and raising their children.”
Women have begun looking for mentoring relationships. “We need someone to mentor, and not just younger women,” Cloyd said. “The Bible should be our guide,” she said, pointing to Titus 2. “We’re supposed to be humble and helpful to one another.” And mentoring is really discipleship. “We can’t do if we don’t know. We can’t look different to the world if we’re not doers of the word. That’s where discipleship comes in.”
And that’s the challenge for Baptist women: serving in the way of Christ, as godly women in a declining culture, so the world can see the difference.