Sandy Davis wishes she could send a picture of a 40-year-old thin female, but since she is a 62-year-old fluffy-bodied grandmother of 8, that did not work out. She is grateful that she was born and raised a Tennessean, but really loves the California beach that graces her view each morning. She scores high as a “learner” on all personality tests, and although she has had to learn some things the hard way, she tries to keep those to a minimum these days. She continues to use the lessons that she learned at David Lipscomb College and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Her experience on staff at Bayside Church left her in awe that God would leave something as precious as His Bride in the hands of us mere mortals.
Although she never left the South until she married a Yankee almost 44 years ago, she has now been in almost all the 50 states and wonders when she is ever going to get to North Dakota. Of the 31 countries that she has visited, she continues to return to Nigeria (12 times now) with great hope that someday she can emulate in her life what she finds in the Christians’ lives there.
My mama tried to teach me a lot of religious lessons when I was growing up. I probably knew before I learned to count that the story of the birth of Jesus never said that there were 3 wise men, only 3 gifts. I knew that God’s great plan of salvation included 5 steps plus an add-on--hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. The add-on was to continue to be faithful unto death, if you wanted to go to heaven. I seemed to run into trouble with the continuing-to-be faithful part.
Some years ago, I began to take a different path than the one my mama had worked so hard to instill in me. On this path, I could see the grace, mercy and forgiveness that is central to Christianity. These concepts were probably part of the religion of my raising, but I had missed them.
The one “mama taught” religious lesson, however, that I did not miss—but have kept close to my heart and in my mind—is how to view the Bible. I can still hear her say, “If anyone ever tells you to do anything that is contrary to what is in the Bible, do not listen to them. Even if they say that they will kill you if you don’t do what they tell you, pay no attention. And if you are given an opportunity go against the Bible and be able to live, turn it down. Let them kill you. You will be much better off.”
I took my mama’s words to heart then, and I take them to heart now. I believe she knew exactly what she was talking about with those words.
Through the years, as I have been out of the main stream of the church of Christ, I have had to measure many things I have heard with what is in Scripture. And so it was with my role as a woman in the church. As I matured from a very bad rule follower to a striving follower of Jesus, I did so in a church where women were given opportunities to serve the Lord in positions of leadership. I served as a volunteer in different areas of whatever church we were attending, but for whatever reason, never took on any position that was much in conflict with how I grew up in the church of Christ. Eventually, though, I got to the point that I had a little time to give thought to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. There was a seminary close to where we lived, and I thought it would be fun to take a course. It turned out that it was more than fun. Five years later, I had finished the three-year course and had my MDiv. And during the 5 years of study, my mama’s words came back to serve me well.
All this is to say that, when I was in seminary, several things came together as a perfect storm. I ran into people who affirmed my natural and spiritual gifts. I was being trained for ministry. I learned how to put together a theological statement based on the whole of Scripture. And I was forced to answer the question of “What does the Bible say about the role of women in the church?”
While I felt the tug in my heart and soul towards ministry, I did not want to rely on my feelings. Too often I have gotten my wants, desires and feelings confused with the Lord’s desires for my life. I needed to take a clear look at what Scripture said about the role of women. I had learned my mama’s lesson well. I approached the Bible with as neutral a stance as I could manage--I did not want to manipulate Scripture to fit what I wanted. I wanted my “wants” to be in line with the Bible.
After “doing my theology,”--that is what I called starting with the broadest scripture I could find and then building from there--and doing a lot of studying and asking questions and reading Scripture in light of other Scripture, I came to the conclusion that the traditional role of women that I had gone along with to some degree had some gaping holes in its theological reasoning. While there is a case to be made for the more traditional role of women in the church (and it must be respected), I came to believe that the practice of women taking leadership roles in the church was more in line with what was going on in Scripture.
To my sisters in Christ, the best that I can say is that if you come down hard on either side of the debate about women’s role in the church, there are Scriptures that you will have to do a lot of wrestling with … and you will not come up with completely satisfactory answers. I encourage my sisters to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, to learn to be in tune with the Holy Spirit as He directs, to be willing to agree to disagree with respect, and to always allow Scripture to guide and inform all of your choices. If you do, I’m quite sure my mama would be proud.