A small Baptist church in Texas received more than $15,000 in donations after a conservative group criticized the congregation’s website for using the wrong pronouns for God.
“This is close to paying for a month of our operating budget,” author Beth Allison Barr, whose husband is the church’s pastor, told her Twitter followers on Wednesday after an initial $6,500 in donations had been made to the church. “We are overwhelmed, humbled & in awe of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The donations were inspired by an unlikely source — a fundraising appeal from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which has been critical of a popular recent book from Barr.
In the appeal, Colin Smothers, the executive director of CBMW, criticized both Barr’s book and her church, First Baptist Church in Elm Mott, Texas. But Smothers especially took aim at First Baptist’s online statement of faith, which included the word “Godself” instead of pronouns like “himself” for God.
“This kind of revisionism is dangerous, unorthodox, and should be rejected by confessional Christians,” Smothers wrote.
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Barr, who has no official role at the church, says she and her husband had nothing to do with the statement of faith or its pronouns. That statement of faith, according to the church website, predates her husband’s arrival as pastor.
The church has since updated its online statement of faith and replaced the term “Godself” with “Himself.” It also has posted a statement, saying, “While there is nothing inaccurate about the word ‘Godself,’ the Scriptures clearly uses ‘Himself” in reference to God, and our church has no problem with that. We seek to use gender-neutral pronouns when the scriptural text does so in the original languages, and we use gendered pronouns when the text does so in the original languages.”
Smothers, who did not immediately reply to a request for comment, called the statement a “‘neutering’ of God’s self-revelation.”
Barr, who said she’s used to people taking issue with her work, said going after her church was “below the belt.”
“What really ticked me off was that it wasn’t just attacking me,” she said. “It was attacking this congregation that had nothing to do with any of that, aside from the fact that they hired my husband.”
She added: “It was really uncalled for.”
Barr was also concerned that CBMW was trying to raise money by critiquing her church. Like many small congregations, First Baptist has struggled during COVID, with attendance at services dropping from about 70 to less than 30.
The church has also faced financial struggles. Last fall, the church’s former secretary was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $150,000 from the church, wiping out much of the congregation’s savings.
Barr said the church has orthodox views of Christian beliefs such as the Trinity and a high view of the Bible. It also has a long history of supporting women in ministry, dating back to the 1930s, and has tried to be faithful to serving its community, she said, despite the struggles of COVID.
The critique of First Baptist, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, reflects a larger debate over the roles of women in the church and at home that has intensified in recent years. Groups like CBMW that promote “complementarianism” — a view that men and women are equal but have different roles – have been pitted against those who hold egalitarian views.
Authors such as Barr and Calvin historian, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, have argued that the complementarian view has been harmful to women in the church. Meanwhile, leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have labeled women who preach threats to biblical authority. This is one of several reasons popular Bible teacher, Beth Moore, recently cited for leaving the SBC.
After Barr tweeted about the CBMW fundraising email, First Baptist began receiving donations through the church’s website. By Wednesday afternoon, more than $6,500 had come in from 80 donors. After Barr tweeted that total, Texas Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic promised more was on the way.
Count on $2000 more. My beliefs would be in between Denny Burk’s hypercomplementarian view, & what may be possibly called your evangelical egalitarian view. Kingdomarian highlights coed partnerships, with the lead partner being under God’s sovereignty, a male. Feel your pain.
— Dwight McKissic (@pastordmack) November 10, 2021
Becky Castle Miller was one of the donors who chipped in. A recent graduate of Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, she knows Barr from Twitter but has never met her in person. Miller served on the staff of a small church in the Netherlands, a congregation she loved dearly, before returning to the United States.
“I would have been mama bear-angry if someone had gone after my church the way CBMW mocked Dr. Barr’s church,” she said. “I love Jesus, and I love the church. I care about small churches. I’m sad to hear about the struggles First Baptist of Elm Mott has been facing.”
By Thursday morning, more than $15,000 in donations from 182 people had been received at the church, according to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jeb Barr.
“We’re a small church in a low resource community, and COVID has hit us pretty hard,” he said. “This will be our Thanksgiving miracle!
“It’s also a reminder of God’s faithfulness and provision, often in ways we could never anticipate. On a practical level, we meet in an aging facility, and there are needed repairs that we’ve been putting off that we may now be able to address,” he continued.
“This might help save our church,” Beth Allison Barr said.
Julie Roys contributed to this story.