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Interview with Melody Maxwell on her new book "Baptists and Gender"

Rev. Dr. Melody Maxwell holds a copy of "Baptists and Gender"

Recently ASBE's co-president, Melody Maxwell, published a new book, Baptists and Gender: Papers for the Ninth International Conference on Baptist Studies (Edited by Melody Maxwell and T. Laine Scales). This book explores the fascinating ways that Baptists have understood gender roles over the past four centuries. It includes chapters from Baptists in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania.

The new book Baptists and Gender: Papers for the Ninth International Conference on Baptist Studies explores how Baptists have constructed gender roles, with both historical and global perspectives. Rev. Dr. Melody Maxwell, congratulations on the publication of this book. Why is this an important book for today and why did you want to be involved as an editor?

Gender is an important topic in today’s world and one that has been underexplored among Baptist scholars. In addition, too few studies of Baptist history have come from scholars outside of Europe and North America. This book seeks to contribute to both areas. I have been involved in the International Conference on Baptist Studies (ICOBS) for several years and was pleased to be the editor of this important volume.

The book is compiled of twenty-three papers; from the various contributions in the book, what is unique about viewing this subject from the perspectives of Baptists as compared to other Christian traditions?

Because of our belief in the autonomy, or independence, of the local church, Baptist perspectives are diverse! That diversity contributes to the richness of the Baptist tradition and certainly is worthy of study. Compared to other traditions, Baptists also tend to emphasize the Bible, the importance of a believers’ church, and religious liberty. These emphases impact Baptists’ understanding of gender (and many other topics).

Globally, contributors to Baptists and Gender span five continents, with chapters from Baptists in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania. For those of us in Atlantic Canada, could you help locate us within the broader context? What might we be unaware of?

Baptists in North America sometimes fail to realize that there is a vibrant Baptist presence around the world. Baptist churches in the Global South, especially Africa, are growing in number and vitality. In the book, Matthews A. Ojo describes women’s leadership and training among Baptists in Nigeria. Francis Jr. S. Samdao discusses how Filipino Baptist women have served as pastors and leaders. Similar chapters could be written about Baptist women from many parts of the world.

Looking back on the past four centuries, how prevalent were concepts of gender equality and what are some examples that stand out, either for or against?

Gender equality, as we understand it today, was not a prevalent perspective among Baptists (or other Christians) historically. Yet Baptist women found ways to serve and lead, even informally. In a Baptist church in Moscow, Russia in the mid-twentieth century, for example, although women could not serve as pastors, they wrote letters and poems, collected signatures, and distributed anonymous notes to express their opinions. Although she was prohibited from preaching, eighteenth-century British Baptist woman Anne Steele expressed her religious sentiments through hymn writing. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, some Baptist women were ordained and assumed pastoral leadership roles. For example, Margaret Jarman was the first woman to study for a theology degree at Spurgeon’s College, and later became president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. More and more Baptist women today are taking similar steps to follow God’s call.

Any final thoughts you would like to share? Where can readers find a copy of Baptists and Gender?

In addition to exploring women’s roles, this book also analyzes concepts of masculinity that have emerged among Baptists historically. Many men put forth a concept of “rugged masculinity” that involved strength and physical activity. Some also took activist stances toward injustice. More study is needed to better understand ideas of masculinity among global Baptists.

I appreciate the interest in this book and hope that readers find its chapters as fascinating as I have. You can purchase a copy of the book from Mercer University Press or anywhere good books are found.

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