Left Behind: How Southern Baptists Forgot Medieval History and Why It Matters for Women

“How we tell history always matters, but how Southern Baptist seminaries have told the history of medieval Christianity has mattered more than we have realized for women in North American evangelicalism. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Beth Allison Barr Baylor University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

In the third chapter of my 2021 book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, I asked if the neglect of teaching medieval history within modern evangelicalism has contributed to the rejection of female leadership. Left Behind answers this question. First, drawing from the history curriculum of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, it examines how medieval Christianity (a time in which women were especially visible in Christian leadership) was taught to pastors. It also explores if a correlation exists between history curriculum and policy changes that pushed female seminary students out of pastoral classes. Second, drawing from the repositories of sermons by pastors influenced by SBC seminaries, it analyzes how pastors implemented what they learned to teach their congregations. Third, comparing academic scholarship with SBC narratives about medieval Christianity, it shows how history taught at SBC seminaries contributes to a theology that limits female leadership. It also asks if the minimization of medieval history within SBC seminaries could have as much to do with decreasing the visibility of women as it does with anti-Catholicism.

Left Behind thus explains (1) how evangelical pastors like Albert Mohler, the current president of the flagship SBC seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, can claim that for 2000 years of Christian history the pastoral office has been limited to men, (2) why such claims are not only believed by the majority of churches represented at the 2023 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, but also garner wide-spread support throughout North American evangelicalism, and (3) the importance of including women and medieval Christianity in seminary curriculum. In sum, Left Behind reveals the impact of teaching a “womanless” history, not to mention the impact of minimizing a historical time in which female ministry was especially visible, to generation after generation of seminary students.