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Be not afraid of a woman and a pulpit

Don't look now, but the First Baptist Church of Decatur has just appointed a (gasp!) female, the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, as its senior minister. Grab an umbrella. The sky may be falling.

Naturally, this appointment hasn't gone over well with some of the poobahs in the Southern Baptist Convention. When the announcement was made that Pennington-Russell would be taking over the 2700-member church in suburban Atlanta, the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was quoted as saying Pennington-Russell was qualified for the job, "except for the fact that she is a woman." He makes me proud to be a Methodist.

Methodists have had female ministers for a long time. The Rev. Ruth Rogers, who was a member of my boyhood church, First Methodist Church in East Point, became a full-fledged minister in the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church in 1959, the year Albert Mohler first saw the light of day. And she was delivering sermons on the radio before Albert cut his first tooth.

I've never heard Albert Mohler preach, but I'll bet Ruth Rogers could have run rings around him. After all, WTJH - 1260 on your AM radio dial, serving East Point and the Tri-Cities area - didn't let just anybody on their airwaves in those days.

Now, these many years later, there are a host of crackerjack female ministers in the Methodist Church, and we haven't been zapped by lightning yet.

In my own church, we have been blessed with the Rev. Maryanne Chapman, who recently retired; the nonpareil Rev. Ann Self, who has just accepted a senior role with the First Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.; and the Rev. Laura Eason, who is finer than corn silk and who is dragging me on a church mission to Guatemala in a few weeks in a futile attempt to salvage my sorry soul. To say that these women don't belong in the pulpit is theological hogwash.

No doubt, angry Bible thumpers are going to be on me like white on rice and will overflow my mailbox with the usual scriptural references justifying why only men can be ministers.

But before you rain your fire-and-brimstone down on my head, it would be helpful if you also let me know if your church requires women to cover their heads while they are worshiping and, if not, do they get their heads shaved (1 Cor. 11:5-6)? Do you have any divorcees in your church? Read what the scripture says about them (Matt. 19:9). And, finally, are there any women in your congregation wearing gold or pearls and/or plaiting their hair (1 Tim. 2:9)?

If we are going to adhere to the strict interpretation of the Scriptures, then let's include them all. No picking and choosing, please. I'm sure Mohler would be the first to say "amen" to that.

From what I read about Pennington-Russell, she is going to be a great addition to the First Baptist Church of Decatur - Mohler and his sexist attitudes notwithstanding. She has already served as senior pastor of a Baptist church in Waco, Texas, more than tripling attendance at Sunday services. According to news reports, Pennington-Russell received a standing ovation when she was introduced to her new congregation in Decatur. Congratulations to her and to the good folks in the church who sought her out and hired her.

Maybe in a moment of supreme benevolence, Pennington-Russell will invite Mohler and his narrow-minded friends to the First Baptist Church in Decatur and let them discover first hand that while they don't think women should be preachers, God does. God also thinks women can be CEOs, senators, governors, college presidents, doctors, dentists and lawyers. Let's face it: God is a lot smarter than we are.

If Albert still isn't convinced, I would suggest he hustle back to his own church, throw out all the divorcees and anybody wearing gold and pearls and shave the heads of whoever is left. That ought to keep him occupied for awhile.

In the meantime, I have only one piece of theological advice for Pennington-Russell: You go, girl!