David T. Morgan. Southern Baptist Sisters: In Search of Status, 1845-2000. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2003. 273 pages. ISBN:
0-86554-830-7. Reviewed by Betty A. DeBerg, for the Journal of Southern Religion.
David T. Morgan's history of women's participation in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is full of accomplished women, organizational successes, and stunning reversals. In two compact and clearly written chapters, Morgan surveys the controversies regarding women and their roles in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American culture before recounting in much more detail the battle over women messengers and officers in the SBC; the work of Southern Baptist women in China and other foreign mission fields; the founding and on-going work of the Women's Missionary Union (WMU); and the
ordination of women as deaconesses and pastors, with all the conflict such actions by individual congregations caused within the SBC and its state associations. As Morgan tells it,
Southern Baptist women made slow but steady progress, always facing severe opposition within the Convention, until the SBC came under the leadership of staunch fundamentalists in the 1980s and 1990s who, according to Morgan, took the SBC back to the 1840s in terms of thinking about the nature and proper role of women, and who shut the door completely and permanently on theological and practical advances for women within the denomination. One very important aspect of the story even before 1980, however, is just how strong and ever renewed were the forces working against women's organizations, governance, and ministry throughout the entire history of the SBC. The Southern Baptists really are different than the Presbyterians and Methodists.
|"David T. Morgan's history of women's participation in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is full of accomplished women, organizational successes, and stunning reversals."
Morgan was also attentive to important Southern Baptist women leaders, and included vital biographical and career information about luminaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Fannie Heck, Carol Weatherford, and many others who were missionaries, WMU officers, and pastors.
Morgan, who sides with the pro-women moderates in the SBC and who clearly disapproves of the fundamentalist takeover of it, has made available a good, inexpensive, relatively comprehensive, and well-researched introduction to a topic that is vitally important to the understanding of the SBC, the largest Protestant body in the U.S., and a major cultural force in the South and beyond. I would recommend the book to general readers, and for use in undergraduate and graduate courses in American religion, history of the American South, and U.S. women's history.
Betty A. DeBerg, University of Northern Iowa
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