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« It must be Monday | Main | Good news on two fronts »

God bless women who preach

If it weren't for Martha Stearns Marshall, there's a good chance I would not be a Baptist today. I can count seven generations of Baptist blood in my family, and all of it started with what seemed to be an unfortunate incident -- until you see how it turned out.

The first Cartledges in America were Quakers (Edmund and Mary) who came over with William Penn in 1682, helped to establish Philadelphia, and settled in a community named for their English home of Darby.  The first generation of descendants (John and Edmund II) became Indian traders, lost much of their religion, and were described by one historian as "crude, raffish, violent ... backslidden Quakers." The approach of the Colonial Wars in the late 1730s ruined the fur trade, and a third generation of Cartledges (Edmund III) moved south and established a large plantation on what came to be known as Cartledge Creek near Rockingham, North Carolina. Political expediency, job opportunities, and intermarriage with an Anglican woman named Elizabeth Keble contributed to the Cartledges' Carolina conversion to Anglicanism.

Sometime before 1762, Edmund III gathered his family (including sons James, Samuel, Edmund IV and Joseph) and moved even further south, settling on the Kiokee Creek in what is now Columbia County, Georgia, not far from Augusta. Edmund III became a captain in the King's Militia in the royal colony, which had adopted a law in 1757 outlawing any worship "not according to the rites and ceremonies of the church of England."

As the Cartledges were working their way south, so were Shubal Stearns, his sister Martha, and Martha's husband, Daniel Marshall. As zealous Separate Baptists, they moved from New England to North Carolina, where they established Sandy Creek Baptist Church in 1755, in Randolph County. With Shubal Stearns as pastor and the Marshalls working beside him, the New Light message spread rapidly across the state and many Baptist churches formed.

Daniel Marshall was called to be pastor of Abbotts Creek Baptist Church near High Point, where Martha was remembered for contributing fervent prayers and powerful preaching to the worship services. Martha's presence in the pulpit led to a delay in Daniel's ordination because of the difficulty of finding other ministers who did not object to his practice of allowing Martha to speak openly in church.

In time, the Marshalls moved their evangelistic enterprise southward, preaching, establishing, and serving churches in South Carolina before a fateful day in 1770 when they crossed the Savannah River into Georgia, where they held a brush arbor meeting near Kiokee Creek. Traditions vary, but at some point during the service, most agree that Marshall was arrested by a "stern constable" for preaching a gospel contrary to the Church of England. The stern constable's name was Cartledge. He is often identified as Samuel, but some records implicate a different brother. All are agreed, however, that following the announced arrest, Martha Marshall was quick to defend the gospel her husband had preached.

Samuel Boykin's version of the story (History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia, 1881), later copied by B. F. Riley (A History of the Baptists in the Southern States East of the Mississippi, 1898), says that Martha Marshall fluently quoted passage after passage of scripture with the result that "The stern constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so impressed by the inspired words to which she gave utterance that he was pricked to the heart, and was ultimately led to Christ" (Riley, p. 31).

An earlier account, by Jesse Campbell (Georgia Baptists: Historical and Biographical, 1847), relates that "Mrs. Marshall, who was present, quoted several texts of scripture with so much force as to confound the opposers and convict several persons" (Campbell, pp. 16-17).

That's some powerful preaching, and it came from Martha Stearns Marshall. Among many others who were "pricked to the heart," virtually the entire Cartledge family was converted. The brothers became founding members, deacons, and leaders of Kiokee Baptist Church. Samuel became a pastor and served faithfully for more than 60 years.

I'm descended from brother James, who saw to it that his children had a good Baptist upbringing, and we are Baptists yet. It's no wonder that I am thankful for Martha Stearns Marshall.

I am also thankful for Baptist Women in Ministry, which sponsors the "Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching" each February, encouraging churches to invite a woman to preach at least once during the month.

There are still folks, lamentably, who believe women have no right to preach or teach men, but the weak biblical defense they offer for the view is countered by weightier scriptures that clearly endorse women as gospel proclaimers. The historical impact of women like Martha Stearns Marshall, Lottie Moon, and many others demonstrates that women can be just as effective in communicating the gospel as men.

If your church hasn't yet observed the Martha Stearns Marshall emphasis by inviting a woman to preach, it's about time you do. And the next time you need a pastor, don't automatically assume that it has to be a man: many women deeply feel called by God to preach and pastor. Churches have been overlooking some of God's best gifts for far too long, and the sooner we remedy that, the better.

[More detail about the above story, including an analysis of which brother is most likely to have arrested Daniel Marshall and lots of footnotes, may be found in my article "Samuel Cartledge: Colonial 'Saul of Tarsus,'" published in Viewpoints 8:1982, pp. 13-31.]

Reader Comments (15)

I never knew about your connection to Martha Stearns Marshall! That's great! I'm proud to pastor a church that not only hired a female interim pastor but wonderfully supported my invitation to be a part of the Preaching Day. We're having a female student from ABSW preach for us at the end of the month!!

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterleanngjohns

Amen. My mother was a state WMU president in the 1960s, and I attended a lot of WMU meetings, both before her election and after her term of service. I heard some of the best preaching, even if it wasn't called that, all with a call to mission service, sacrificial giving, and a Christian life that would testify to the presence of Christ in us.

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArce

Great story, Tony! Thanks for posting.

jack birdwhistell

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous


What high profile CBF churches within 50 miles of Campbell Div School will have Women in the Pulpit on MSM preaching Day???
Have you heard Fleming Rutledge Preach?

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Fox


1. I have no idea: you'll have to ask someone who's a lot nosier than I am, and has a lot more time.

2. No.

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTony W. Cartledge

Unlike you, I think the scriptural prohibitions against women preaching are undeniable and the texts used against it are extraordinarily weak. I've seen all the arguments and can't understand how a right-thinking, unbiased exegete could see otherwise. That argument won't be solved here, of course.

That said, I think it's hilarious how conservatives (of which I'm one by conviction) allow women like Ann Graham Lotz, Beth Moore, and Dorothy Patterson to "preach" in audiences full of men while calling it something different. They don't "preach," of course. They just give a "talk" or a "message" or simply "speak." Hey, even I can admit that if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, you know....

Oh, the things we overlook or redefine or rationalize when our experience conflicts with our understanding of Scripture. Another example is the relative paucity of female pastors (last I heard there were only about 100 in the SBC/CBF world) even among those "moderates" who so loudly proclaim the "right" and "calling" of women as preachers. Saying is one thing. Doing is another. That, too, is more than a little funny.

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDC

An instance, perhaps, of people who talk like a duck but don't walk like a duck.

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTony W. Cartledge

Say what you will about women. If not for women, we would not be here in the flesh, would we? I think a lot of people are bothered by that fact. God created woman especially for her role to help man, and to make children who are allowed no other way to approach the flesh, inhabit it, and live a life that chooses God over Satan. This is why we are here in the flesh.

Without women, there'd be no us. None of us. Sorry to have to state that, but it's true. I think we need all the good preachers we can get, bar none because of gender. If God has called someone, male or female to preach, who can argue against God? I certainly won't.


Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstarduster

Delightful mix of family heritage and the value of women preaching--both of which makes sense to me.

My own Madison County, GA, family history is the same mix of agony and ecstasy!

My Great-grandfather was Redden Scarborough, reputed to be the wealthiest man in the County. How did he get that wealth?

By gollies, he was the official brewer of spirits for the Federal troops stationed in the South before the Civil War--pretty good ancestry for us T-totaling Baptists!

Along with that heritage comes a situation of 2 families--the first brought about 5 children into the world with wife dying in childbirth. My Great-grandmother brought 1 son into the world. Great grandaddy died under mysterious circumstances with the house burning down around him. Many speculated it was a fire set on purpose to cover his murder!

Next, the Civil War took my already dispossessed grandfather into further ruin. He remembered playing with chests full of, now worthless, Confederate money. He became a tenant farmer and married a woman from the Graham family, distantly related to the Billy Graham family. The Scarborough name distantly relates us to L.R. Scarborough of SWBTS fame.

My father grew up in the Moon's Grove Baptist church outside Athens. It was a fundamentalist country church where the women told him going to Mercer would ruin him from his preacher calling.

Daddy ignored them, hitchhiked to Macon and arrived with .10 in his pocket to be told he could not matriculate on such. When he broke down in tears the President took pity, gave him a job in the kitchen, and a referral to a couple who often loaned students enough to pay their fees.

From there he matriculated to Andover-Newton for what he perceived to be the best theological education avilable at the time. Upon graduation, his Southern Seminary rivals for a prominent pulpit always got the word from their referring Professor that "how can you really trust someone not from Southern."

As a result my single preacher father had to take a school teaching position and a small church. He refused to be stopped or to grovel in the position of being an "outsider." He rose, despite adversity, to pastor the FBC Clarkston, GA in a growing community outside Atlanta.

Integrity, then became his nemesis as a corrupt Deacon Chairman / Lawyer / Mayor was refusing to pay a steel bill for the church because he was in a lawsuit with the steel supplier and wanted to use the bill as leverage in his lawsuit. With all integrity, my father told him he would resign and tell it like it was unless the bill were paid by Friday. That man ultimately pushed to have my father fired with all personal accusations "thereunto apertaining."

Daddy lived a life of integrity and respect, especially to women. He taught me to respect all people no matter their sex or color. Between the lessons of respect and integrity, I found myself fired twice by corrupt congregants who sang in the chior, got elected Deacon, but had little real religion!

Women are tender and preach with intelligence, as a rule. They have to be better preachers because of the put down environment. It is the same with women firefighters / paramedics / police officers. Doing things in the face of adversity more often brings out the best rather than the worst in any of us!

Thanks for the family history, Tony, and thanks for your intelligent integrity as you Edited the Biblical Recorder.

Long live people of integrity and courage under fire and discrimination. Jesus faced the same--and rose victorious over the grave!

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGene S

Dr. Cartledge,
Thank you for your support of women in ministry. Though I've left the Baptist church for the Methodists, I will be preaching next week on Valentine's day. I'm proud to be a minister on staff in a church that is in full support of women in the pulpit!

Feb 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara's Ponderings

The Cartledge and Scarborough family histories here provoke me to share a much shorter version of my own.

My first cousin's daughter on my Mother's side, Jordans of Collinsville, Alabama; Cousin Dixie Lee was the Martha Stearns Shubal pulpit preacher two years ago at Williams Baptist, just outside Jacksonville, Alabama. Her grandfather James, Momma's brother, was a preacher in Illinois, Tn and Alabama; a graduate of Midwestern Seminary.

Dixie Lee is a graduate of McAfee.

Grandfather Jordan, born 1881, was a Lincoln Republican, who soundly lost his bid for school superintendent of Dekalb County, Alabama in the 2nd decade of the 20th Century.

Collinsville Baptist, the church where Momma was baptized circa 1936 about four years ago had a stout conversation on a Sunday evening about women in ministry. I was practically shouted down; got several adversarial Amens when the preacher stopped my civil entry in the discussion about a young woman on staff at Baylor who endorsed women in ministry.

Since then I have asked the Baylor woman if I broke some kind of etiquette, offended her or protocol for broaching her name. She said of course not as she had long been known at Baylor to be supportive of SBWIM, and thought of then Waco Pastor Julie Pennington Russell as one of her heroes, Julie later to make some national news when she became pastor of FBC Decatur.

It is frustrating when good folks like those in Collinsville fear doing the right thing. It is a church with several school teachers, a NE Alabama Girl Scout Woman of the Year Honoree, and deservedly proud of shaping a woman who was the first in the county to earn a doctorate. The pastor has four sons, two of whom went to UVA and one to Duke. One of the UVA sons went on to Yale Div School, and the Duke son is a fan of William Willimon.

Even in the church meeting that night, five folks raised their hand in support of ordaining women for the pulpit.

My Grandfather Fox's Church was just outside Rome, Georgia, Dykes Creek. It is the home church of Doug Carver, Chief. Chaplain of the US Army. Carver's testimony is my Grandfather WD Fox was a key example, mentor and prayer warrior in his salvation experience and guidance as a boy and young man.

Three churches in Southern hamlets within 50 miles of each other, yet only one of the three has the wherewithal to explore the thicket of BFM 2000 and as Marney would say, Go Towards the Light.

It remains a mystery to me.

Feb 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Fox

I suspect that even the "moderates" will be aghast at my suggestion to read the book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan entitled "The First Paul". However, if you do, you may come away with an attitude of affirming and welcoming women preachers in your church.

I thank God every day, whether they are men or women, for those who have the ability, patience, and talent to fill the role of pastor/theologian/preacher in Christian churches. It is not an easy task.

Feb 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn King

Mrs. Ruby Fulbright will preach both services (8:45 and 11:00 AM) at First Baptist Church, Clayton, N.C. on Sunday, February 21, 2010.

Feb 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBucky

The world has been getting further and further away from God, hence, female preachers. Women are from men, not the other way around.

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Been in a delivery room lately?

May 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTony W. Cartledge

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