Though several noteworthy histories of Baptists have emerged recently by scholars like Nancy Ammerman, Bill Leonard, and Doug Weaver, Flowers's Into the Pulpit addresses an overlooked aspect of Baptist history: the voices of Baptist women. Flowers's monograph relays Baptist battles from the perspectives of women, both conservative and moderate, shedding new light on the complexity of Baptist politics and beliefs. She draws upon historical documents, speeches, interviews, and direct observation, weaving an outstanding, well-rounded narrative. [End Page 113]
Between 1945 and 1960, Baptists supported the denomination over any political agenda and invested heavily into the well-being and advancement of Baptist organizations. A "spirit of compromise" prevailed in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and its hermeneutical controversies remained internal. Baptists' commitment to missions bound them together in spite of their differences. The political and social upheaval of the 1960s fatally upset this arrangement. By the 1970s, conservative loyalty switched from denominational to party politics. Whereas moderates separated religious from denominational battles, conservatives merged the two, and Southern Baptists gained increasing power in the Religious Right.
In 1979, the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC equivocated "conservative" with inerrancy. Conservatives combined traditional womanhood with the sociopolitical conservatism and directly connected feminism with American moral decline. "If feminism inspired inerrancy . . . then inerrancy likewise inspired the debate over women" (p. 109). The SBC enforced institutional submission, while conservative women like Dorothy Patterson pressed for "gracious submission" in the home. In the 1970s, inerrancy and gender issues were secondary debates; by the 1990s, they had become primary issues. They collectively taught that the only correct biblical interpretation of family structure meant men as heads of homes and churches.
Moderates emphasized "freedom." Southern Baptist Women in Ministry (SBWIM) bravely pushed for the full endorsement of women in ministry by moderate Baptists—for example Molly Marshall-Green's 1983 address at the SBWIM gathering—which created tension within the moderate ranks concerning how far along the moderate-liberal spectrum to push. For Baptists interested in preserving ties with the SBC center, going too far to the left was prohibitive. Moderate women like Marshall-Green, Anne Neil, and Nancy Sehested appealed to the Baptist tradition of dissent and the importance of women in Baptist life, particularly in missions. With the founding of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1990, SBWIM became BWIM and continues to press for the public affirmation of [End Page 114] women in ministry and presence in Baptist pulpits.
Throughout the book, Flowers makes several important observations about Baptist women. One, women's ministry has replaced the WMU as the linking social and spiritual organization for women. Beth Moore and Baptist women authors like her have produced numerous Bible studies that are easy for churches to offer locally, provided material for women's events, and have created a new Baptist subculture of "women's ministry." Two, Baptist women are now deeply polarized over women's roles in the church and home and are increasingly without programs that bridge the divides between theological poles. Three, Baptist divisions were as much about women in the SBC as about the SBC in modern American culture; women became the divisive issue, but the problem had much deeper roots.
Flowers's narrative excellently nuances various points on the Baptist spectrum at both ends. Both conservative and moderate Baptist women could read this book and feel like their perspective was fairly and thoroughly represented. Moreover, her book weaves the voices of women in leadership and women in local churches into a seamless whole. This book is an excellent work of scholarship on an important issue.
Courtney Pace-Lyons is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow in church history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She researches race and gender in American religion and history.