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God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home & Society.

God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home & Society. By Susan M. Shaw. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. 322pp. $40.00.

Susan M. Shaw, associate professor and director of the Women Studies Program and director of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program at Oregon State University, has lovingly wrought an expansive study of Southern Baptist women. Possessing both insider's perspective and critical distance, Shaw adroitly navigates issues from the social construction of ender to the finer points of Baptist history, theology, and practice. She is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, prior to its theological and textual recension as a fundamentalist bastion of patriarchy. In my judgment, she represents the best of what Southern offered-an opportunity to think critically in the midst of deep faith, indeed, a faith that seeks understanding, in the words of St. Anselm. Reared in a Southern Baptist church, she received the palpable formation in discipleship, biblical literacy, and sacramental practice that makes meaning in faith. She is a faithful daughter of the tradition.

Drawing from interviews and writings of a remarkably expansive sample of remaining and former Southern Baptist women-lay and ordained, single and married, older and younger, egalitarian and complementarian, feminist and anti-feminist, conservative and progressive-the author offers an analytic phenomenology of the spectrum of views she discovered. I was most impressed with the respectful methodology she employed, allowing differing voices to be heard fully, without adding her own diminishing commentary. Thus, it is a tender book, born of pain, yet free of rancor. I admire the mature, generous perspective greatly. She is not afraid to hear the stories of those women with whom she has fundamental disagreement; yet, she receives their perspectives appreciatively. And to the credit of those interviewed, their hospitality and receptivity to her research makes this study all the more winsome. Her understanding of the cadences of faith through which they bear witness makes her study intrinsically more valuable. She well knows the rhythms of kindness, southern gentility, and stealthy power that characterize the women of the South who populate these pages. Besides, she is sufficiently acquainted with the 'comfort" food thought to make all theological challenges more palatable.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the great commonality that Shaw finds among the varied Baptist women in her research. Her chapter titles organize her research, and each chapter begins with an epigraph drawn from the Baptist Hymnal, illustrating both the formational piety and embedded focus of theological conviction. She rightly understands the power of these hymns-certainly as catechetical as the Book of Common Prayer or the Roman Missal. Nimbly sorting through complex issues, Shaw concludes that Southern Baptist women prize the freedom of biblical interpretation, priesthood of all believers, soul competency, and personal equality in the image of God-although they live these tenets out in vastly different ways. No doubt this is because they have understood their own social location and the trajectory of the women's movement in discrete constructs.

Shaw offers an excellent perspective on the role gender has played in the reconstruction of Southern Baptist identity. The role of women is more powerful than many thought. It has forced a radical retrenchment--but not for the good.



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Author:Marshall, Molly T.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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