And Your Daughters Shall “Prophesy”

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17, NRSV)

There’s just something about the word “prophesy” that reminds church women that men prophesy, but prophesying women might encounter some pushback. From my roots of Greek Orthodoxy all the way to my unlikely conversion that made me thoroughly Baptist, I knew beyond any doubt that women could not prophesy and could not ever be priests or pastors! My earliest message: Know your place, young lady!

While hunkering down in my allowed place, I learned that female Baptist ministers trying to live life in our places had foremothers who refused to stay in their places. From a young age, Baptist girls learned that they had at least one quite formidable foremother—Lottie Moon. Much has been written about this remarkable woman, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary who spent nearly forty years living and working in China as a teacher and evangelist.

Lottie Moon believed her calling was to be “going out among the millions” as an evangelist. Instead, she found herself teaching forty schoolchildren. She came to view herself as part of an oppressed class. In an article titled “The Woman’s Question Again,” published in 1883, she wrote,

Can we wonder at the mortal weariness and disgust, the sense of wasted powers and the conviction that her life is a failure, that comes over a woman when, instead of the ever-broadening activities that she had planned, she finds herself tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls?

I imagine that Lottie Moon did not believe that teaching girls was “petty work,” but over time, her teaching paled in comparison to her dream of evangelizing all of China. Eventually she set out to pursue some of those “ever-broadening activities,” choosing to follow God’s call rather than men’s expectations of her as a woman. In 1885, she gave up teaching in the school and moved into China’s interior to evangelize. “It is said that her converts numbered in the hundreds.” Author Regina Sullivan says that Lottie Moon was a pioneer for gender equality. Moon wrote from China in 1893, “What women have a right to demand is perfect equality.”  Certainly Lottie Moon was a woman ahead of her time, one who both acted according to her calling and used her influence to advocate on behalf of women who were facing similar oppression. Yet, on her trips back to the States, she was conventional, even refusing to speak to audiences where men were present, a hint that her life was a complicated contradiction.

Quite often, Baptist women called to ministry identify with Moon’s oppression as well as her complicated contradiction, knowing that our call could well cause similar frustration. She serves as both exemplar and encourager for many who have followed in her footsteps to “prophesy” both at home and abroad.

A stirring hymn that many of us learned as young Baptist girls is “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” Like the story of Lottie Moon, this hymn’s inspiring text touched our hearts and helped us believe we could be missionaries in exotic, faraway lands. We learned that those lands were called “the mission field,” and some of us set our minds to go. We were taught to learn the Bible, to give our offerings, to be kind, to pray, to care about all people, to teach, to speak, and to sing. We were also told that someday, when we were older, God would call us to do something. The problem is that some of us grew into young women destined to experience rejection when we announced that we were called to do something. That something was a call to ministry—a “God whispered my name” moment that may well have been a call to prophesy, at least for some of us.

Dr. Susan M. Shaw, professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, writes prolifically about the journeys of Baptist women who aspired to ministry:

We practiced public speaking skills, and we listened intently when leaders told us, “You can be anything God calls you to be . . . .” When you tell little girls they can be anything God calls them to be, they grow up to be women with powerful voices calling the church to be and do. When God calls, there’s nothing the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] or any other force can do to stop them.

Indeed! The women featured in this book are among the many who found their voices, and the words they write present a captivating portrayal of their lives. Unstoppable, they take you along on their journeys to ordained ministry and inspire you with their persistence and courage, commitment and creativity. Some of them were told they absolutely could not “prophesy” because only sons could do that, never daughters. And yet, like Lottie Moon, they did it anyway.

The post originally appeared in the Introduction of When God Whispered My Name: Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry.

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