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CHAPTER VI CONCLUSION

There was the great romance of all America—the woman in the sun-bonnet. . . . Who has written her story? Who has painted her picture? No one! One might suppose that she would occupy a central place in the drama of the planting of religion in the west, but even here the records are largely silent as to the part she played. Her influence was like the wind which "bloweth where it listeth"; we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth, but we are conscious that it is all pervading.

William Warren Sweet, Religion in the Development of American Culture , 1976-1840 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952), p. 131.

This study of Texas Baptist women was undertaken with the conviction that the story of American women's role in religion had been neglected, but was important and needed to be told in well-researched increments. Particularly was this true of women in conservative religious groups. If, as I have contended, evangelical Christians have been ignored or cast in a derogatory light by scholars in the past century, the women among them have been, to an even greater extent, hidden or victimized by facile generalizations.

Texas Baptists represent but one facet of the conservative Christian mainstream, but, as a group that grew with a populous southwestern state, they offer important insights into American religious identity and development. Although Baptist women are key pieces of the "puzzle" that will ultimately reveal American women's influence in religion, that puzzle's completion yet depends on studies that should be undertaken regarding other mainline churches, sects that denied the culture, denominations in which women never organized, movements that offered women prominent or unusual roles, and the religious expression of various ethnic groups.

The church's influence on women cuts in two directions—it both fostered and resisted innovations in women's roles. In the Baptist tradition, democratic church government and individualistic theology provided avenues for women to act independently, yet the denomination's belief in male dominance in the family and the ministry kept women from exercising all the privileges that men were offered. Like other Christian primitivists who have claimed that their interpretation of the scripture forms the core of God's will, Baptists believed that constraints were derived from a literal reading of the Bible. But, as with the other groups, they were actually selective in their use of that document. While a claim could be made for inconsistency in this use of scripture, the point can also be made that the Bible has remained authoritative across cultures and times because it displays numerous aspects of a concept or condition, offering this flexibility of interpretation.

Between 1880 and 1920 the selectivity of Texas Baptist women with regard to the scriptures involved changing their emphasis from those portions that restricted women to those that supported women's freedom. Although lagging behind, this change duplicated the direction of movement in the general culture. Southern Baptist historian Leon McBeth agrees that

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Source:  OpenStax, Patricia martin thesis. OpenStax CNX. Sep 23, 2013 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11572/1.2
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