Remembering Addie Davis and Sheri Klouda
In 1964, Addie Elizabeth Davis became the first woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry by a Southern Baptist congregation – Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. At the time of her ordination, Rev. Davis was a student of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Not all Baptists in the Durham area took kindly to Davis’ ordination. She received dozens and dozens of letters spewing with vitriol. One of these letters urged Davis to “learn from her husband.” Davis never married. One man from Richmond, Virginia demanded that Davis renounce her ordination. Another man called her “a child of the Devil.”
Unable to find a pastoral position in a Southern Baptist church, Davis had to leave the South in order to practice the vocation given to her by God. Eventually, Davis was called to pastor First Baptist Church in Readsboro, Vermont. According to David Stricklin, author of A Genealogy of Dissent, Davis’ experience showed how people’s attitudes are conditioned by what they observe. Davis “once noticed some children of the congregation she was serving in Vermont ‘playing church.’ When one of the little boys wanted to take his turn being the preacher, his older sister admonished him saying, ‘You can’t be the preacher; only women are preachers!’ Such was not the attitude of most of the people from the region of her upbringing.”
Upon Addie Davis’ death in 2005, Pam Durso remarked that “what made Addie Davis so remarkable was not her place in history as the first woman to be ordained by a Southern Baptist church; it was her humility, her compassion, and her warm spirit. She faithfully followed God’s calling, serving three churches as pastor or co-pastor. Her focus in those churches was on caring for the people and being with them in times of crisis.” Throughout her ministry, Davis often encouraged other women to “keep on dreaming and cherish the dream God has given you!”
Southern Baptists LOVE Controversy – or so it seems. Recently, several self-described Southern Baptist “Reformers” have decided to revisit the women’s issue. Well, kinda. At the center of the latest SBC Controversy is a woman named Sheri Klouda. Dr. Klouda served as Professor of Hebrew at Southwestern Theological Seminary’s School of Theology from 2002-2006. Dr. Klouda was denied tenure and essentially fired by Southwestern’s President, Paige Patterson, for one reason and one reason alone – Dr. Klouda is a WOMAN.
After being chosen as President of Southwestern in 2003, there were rumors that women would no longer be allowed to take classes with men. In an attempt to clear up these rumors, Patterson stated that not only are women prohibited from serving as senior pastor but they are also forbidden from serving in a teaching or ruling capacity over men.
Take a moment and consider the consequences if such a rigid belief was actually put into action at all Southern Baptist churches….
Southern Baptists should be outraged by the actions of Paige Patterson. But Southern Baptists should not be surprised. Remember the tenured Professor of Theology that Al Mohler forced to resign in 1994? The outrage that Southern Baptists are currently experiencing SHOULD HAVE extended to both inerrantists and non-inerrantists alike.
Inconsistencies aside, almost 43 years after Addie Davis was ordained Southern Baptists are debating whether a woman has the authority to “teach” a man Hebrew or friggin Sunday School.
Fortunately, many of the self-described “Reformers” like Wade Burleson don’t share Paige Patterson’s “spooky fundamentalist” beliefs concerning the role of women in church life. Nonetheless, these “Reformers” would not invite Addie Davis to share their pulpit on any given Sunday. Women like Addie Davis are still unable to answer their call to the gospel ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention. Instead, the Addie Davis’ of this world are forced to seek refuge in organizations such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the Alliance of Baptists.
Women such as Dr. Sheri Klouda should never ever be discriminated against because of their gender.
Same goes for these women.
Remember Addie Davis.