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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A bi-weekly column, featuring one Silicon Valley Christian's (a)musings on life's journey

by Barbara Dahlgren

Controversial Cover Girls
Column for the weeks of October 16-31, 2008

What does the latest edition of Gospel Today Magazine have in common with Playboy and Penthouse?  Well, they all have pretty ladies on the cover and all are sold “under the counter” in some bookstores.

That’s right!  More than one hundred Lifeway Christian Bookstores have hidden the new issue of Gospel Today under the counter, taking offense at the five girls on the cover.  Although fully clothed, dressed in black and looking classy, they represent a new trend in Christianity – female pastors.  That’s a no-no for many Baptists and these bookstore owners in particular – the Southern Baptist Convention.   They believe women should not be pastors, part of the clergy, or preach.  However, these bookstores will gladly sell the Gospel Today Magazine to you if you ask for it, which I find just a little hypocritical.

The mission of Gospel Today Magazine is to provide a quality publication for the Urban Christian Community that inspires, informs, educates, and empowers.  Teresa Hairston, the magazine’s publisher, said she was just reporting on a trend, not trying to promote women pastors.  Unfortunately that explanation wasn’t good enough.  The magazine has not been displayed, but hidden behind the counter like pornography. 

One must wonder if the Southern Baptist Convention would ban all magazines with covers of women who make a difference in the Christian community simply because they don’t agree with their viewpoint or methods.  If so, the following women would have probably been banned.   

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth and her husband William, a London minister, had a heart for the poor, who were not welcomed in the churches and chapels of Victorian England.  They decided to found a mission church for the destitute and hungry in 1865, which eventually became known as The Salvation Army.  
William preached to the poor and Catherine spoke to the wealthy to gain financial support for their work.  In addition, Catherine also acted as a minister, which was unusual at the time.  Their Christian Mission Foundation Deed stated that women had the same right as men to preach.  William became known as the “General” of the army and Catherine who worked tirelessly with her husband, bore eight children, and fostered many changes and reforms was known as the “Mother of The Salvation Army.”

Catherine Booth never considered herself an activist, but she did the work she thought God had called her to do.  Yet she did not shy away from defending her role in the church.  Her article Female Teaching was published in 1859 and again in 1861, then renamed Female Ministry and republished in 1870.  Using scripture and logic, she made a compelling statement for women in ministry.

Emma Roberts and Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird

Today the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) does not claim to be a Christian organization, but the roots of its existence were steeped in Christianity. The two women instrumental in establishing the first YWCA in nineteenth century England were considered quite controversial at the time, but that did not deter Emma Roberts and Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird from doing what they felt they were led to do.

The Industrial Revolution and the Crimean War set the climate for the development of the YWCA in the mid 1800s. Florence Nightingale was making great strides in nursing and many nurses had enlisted to go to the front line hospitals she established for those fighting the Crimean War. Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird was a wealthy, prominent London matron who was concerned for these young nurses so she opened a house as a temporary dwelling for those going to and from the War.

At the same time Emma, the daughter of a small town merchant, began a prayer union that met every Saturday night for women. Because of the Industrial Revolution more and more young women were leaving small towns for big cities in hopes of employment and education opportunities. Emma started a prayer union to support these women. These prayer unions grew quickly in England.

After the war Lady Kinnaird made her nurse’s house a permanent residence for young women coming to London for work and education. This soon grew into a network of housing throughout the city providing more than just lodging. The staff taught Bible classes, offered vocational training, and chaperoned social events. They went on to form employment agencies, traveler’s aid bureaus, lunch rooms, and working girl’s clubs. In 1877 Emma Robert’s prayer unions and Lady Kinnaird’s homes combined to form one Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

Gladys Alward

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward was born in London in the early 1900s.  She worked as a parlor maid and became convicted after attending a revival meeting to preach the gospel in China.  She was turned down by the China Inland Mission Center because her academic background was inadequate.  She couldn’t pass the examinations.  However, she worked hard and saved her money.  She heard about a seventy-three year-old missionary, Jeannie Lawson, who was looking for someone to carry on her work in China.  Jeannie Lawson told her she would accept her as a missionary if she could get to China.  Not having enough money for ship fare directly to China, she traveled by Trans-Siberian Railway  
even though China and the Soviet Union were engaged in an undeclared war.  Her journey to mountainous Yangchen took her by train, boat, bus, and mule.

Yangchen was an overnight stopover for mule caravans so Jeannie and Gladys decided to open an inn for weary travelers.  For a standard price their mules were cared for and they were given good food, warm beds and an evening of stories shared by the inn keepers about Jesus.  It wasn’t long before Jeannie passed away.  Gladys took on the full responsibility.

In 1938 when this region was invaded by the Japanese, Gladys led ninety-four children to safety over the mountains. The book The Inn of the Sixth Happiness recounts her story which was later made into a movie.

The point is that these women were controversial and way ahead of their time.  If their likeness had graced a magazine cover, would Lifeway have hidden them under the counter? 

What about Emeline Dryer who worked with D.L. Moody and opened a school in Chicago (1873) to train women in the Bible, theology and practical ministry for the purpose of ministering the gospel?  Or Hannah Whitall Smith, the Quaker speaker and author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875) which influenced millions?  Or even Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is considered one the greatest humanitarians of all time?  The list could go on and on.  Under the present view of the Southern Baptist Convention, these women would not merit shelf space because of their differing theologies.  How sad! 

Throughout history women have been on the cutting edge of social, political and religious reform.  Many early leaders of Christian missionary groups or anti-slave movements and those instrumental in improving unfit working conditions or child labor practices have been women.  Should the focus of those five “cover girls” on the current issue of Gospel Today Magazine be that they differ theologically with some Baptists by being ordained clergy?  Or should the focus be on what they are doing to further the gospel of Christ?  All Christians – even the Baptists – need to stay informed about emerging trends, whether they agree with them or not.

Gospel Today Cover


Be sure to visit this page often to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at



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