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Raised as a Southern Baptist in Rome, Georgia, Susan M. Shaw earned graduate degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, was ordained a Southern Baptist minister, and prepared herself to lead a life of leadership and service among Southern Baptists. However, dramatic changes in both the makeup and the message of the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s and 1990s (a period known among Southern Baptists as “the Controversy”) caused Shaw and many other Southern Baptists, especially women, to reconsider their allegiances.
In God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society, Shaw presents her own experiences, as well as those of over 150 other current and former Southern Baptist women, in order to examine the role, identity, and culture of women in the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The Southern Baptist Convention was established in the United States in 1845 after a schism between Northern and Southern brethren over the question of slavery. Shaw sketches the history of the Southern Baptist faith from its formation, through its dramatic expansion following World War II, to the Controversy and its aftermath.
The Controversy began as a successful attempt by fundamentalists within the denomination to pack the leadership and membership of the Southern Baptist Convention (the denomination’s guiding body) with conservative and fundamentalist believers. Although no official strictures prohibit a Southern Baptist woman from occupying the primary leadership role within her congregation—or her own family—rhetoric emanating from the Southern Baptist Convention during the Controversy strongly discouraged such roles for its women, and church leadership remains overwhelmingly male as a result. Despite the vast difference between the denomination’s radical beginnings and its current position among the most conservative American denominations, freedom of conscience is still prized.
Shaw identifies “soul competency,” or the notion of a free soul that is responsible for its own decisions, as the principle by which many Southern Baptist women reconcile their personal attitudes with conservative doctrine. These women are often perceived from without as submissive secondary citizens, but they are actually powerful actors within their families and churches. God Speaks to Us, Too reveals that Southern Baptist women understand themselves as agents of their own lives, even though they locate their faith within the framework of a highly patriarchal institution. Shaw presents these women through their own words, and concludes that they believe strongly in their ability to discern the voice of God for themselves.
Susan M. Shaw is associate professor of women’s studies at Oregon State University. She is the author or coauthor of several books, including Girls Rock! Fifty Years of Women Making Music.
"If anyone ever thought Southern Baptist women were meek, mild, and uniformly submissive, this book assures them that they have another thing coming. Susan Shaw found that while some of the women she interviewed believed they should submit to their husbands in theory, most believed strongly in their ability and responsibility to think and act for themselves."—Susan Willhauck, Wesley Theological Seminary
"Dr. Shaw presents a thought-provoking glimpse into the professional lives and personal thoughts of women who have 'succeeded' in professions previously preserved only for men within Southern Baptist life. Paying attention to the internal as well as the external struggles of these professionals, she gives the reader a well-rounded analysis of the grit, determination and commitment of these women to following what they perceive as God's call on their lives, no matter what the consequences. Any person who is wrestling with questions about the role of women, professionally, within conservative, evangelical faith systems will find this book informative. For those women who are currently in the struggle for professional acceptance within conservative evangelicalism, Shaw's work will provide inspiration and encouragement. The struggle is worth the prize."—Rosalie Beck, Department of Religion, Baylor University
"Shaw demonstrates to the reader how these women reconcile their personal attitudes with conservative doctrine and how they are influential players within their churches and families."—Tennessee Historical Commission
"This work serves as a spiritual balm, showing that there are many options available to women who have discovered how unlikely age-old patriarchy is to budge."—Christian Ethics Today
"God Speaks to Us, Too is not just a book for scholars, though it is an important contribution to the fields of women’s- and religious studies. Compelling and accessible enough to be read by ordinary Southern Baptists as well, the book is likely to find a broad audience."—Journal of Baptist Studies
"This volume will be of greatest interest to women who, like those interviewed, are or have been active in Southern Baptist churches and ministries. The light, conversational style and graciously sympathetic interviewing will make the book attractive to public library or church library patrons. Recommended."—Choice
"Shaw offers an excellent perspective on the role gender has played in the reconstruction of Southern Baptist identity."—Journal of Church and State
"Shaw’s combination of humor, self-reflexivity, extensive Baptist history, and attention to the unique aspects of southern culture that construct Southern Baptist women’s identities makes God Speaks to Us, Too a solid read for anyone interested in women and religion."—Church History
"Susan Shaw has put together a rich new primary source of material revealing the minds, words, and experiences of 159 women who grew up Southern Baptist during the twentieth century."—Baptist History and Heritage
"The book's conversational style is reminiscent of a memoir rather than a dry academic tome. In eminently readable prose, Shaw effectively conveys the ideas and opinions of a myriad of Southern Baptist women whose voices have too long been underrepresented in studies of southern religion."—Journal of Southern Religion
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Baptists, Baptist women, Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist doctrines
History of Religion
Shaw, Susan M., "God Speaks to Us, Too: Southern Baptist Women on Church, Home, and Society" (2008). History of Religion. 7.