For Popular Twitter Seminarian, Sassiness Is a Spiritual Gift
Written by The Ministry of Jesus Christ on June 13, 2021
Going to seminary was Leah Boyd’s “Plan F.” A music education major, performer, and pageant winner, she had planned on becoming a professional opera singer. But now Boyd’s seminary education has become the most prominent thing about her—at least among the 17,000 followers who know her as “Sassy Seminary Student,” @LeahBSassy on Twitter.
The Mississippi State University alumna and student at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary shares reflections on theology, evangelical culture, and gender dynamics with one-liners, pop culture riffs, and memes through her popular account, which launched in February 2020.
“How I, a seminary student, know exactly how to fix every issue in the church today and I can’t believe no one has thought about this stuff before: a thread 1/245,” read one sarcastic tweet.
Sassy Seminary Student began as a way to inject humor into online evangelical debates, and her approach worked, boosted by her sharp wit, Gen Z sensibilities, and lighthearted approach to everything from politics to contemporary worship.
Boyd responded to a new christian dating site that dismissed singleness as a gift and promoted women’s dominion as “housemakers and helpmates” with a picture of her dressed as a “a docile 1 corinthians 11 woman” in a long dress and shawl.
And, of course, her tweets reference telltale markers from church and youth group culture.
As a recent seminary graduate, I see her as representing a larger trend: While many of our predecessors in theological education had to fight to be taken seriously in evangelical spaces, sometimes the only one or one of just a few in an MDiv program, more women are finding solidarity online today. Boyd’s freedom to poke fun at evangelical culture is refreshing for a generation who doesn’t want to rehash the same gender-role debates and baggage they’ve inherited.
Boyd’s journey to seminary was, like many women’s, a winding one. Her passion for music had always included church music and a desire to put more theological attention around the songs that shaped a congregation. She began serving as a music minister at a Southern Baptist church in Valley Mills, Texas, in 2020 and enrolled in a dual master’s degree program at Baylor, where she will complete an MDiv at Truett and a master of music in church music.
“I didn’t just want to go into music ministry and not have the theological equipment in order to do that well,” Boyd said.
While her account centers around gender conversations in the church, Boyd’s scholarship focuses on topics such as the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, the power of hymns to shape the spiritual lives of a community, and whether or not congregations should use a drum in worship.
“I’ve been put in a box to talk about gender issues,” she said of her Twitter personality, “which is fine, as long as I get to focus on the things that are more in line with who I am.”
At 22, Boyd is part of a new era when female seminary students find community, connections, and their own voices online and alongside each other.
“She’s told a lot of pieces of her story that are pieces of many evangelical women’s story,” said Beth Allison Barr, Baylor historian and author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood. “She’s doing something that many evangelical women would also like to do, but because they were unable to pursue seminary education or were in places where it wasn’t encouraged, they haven’t.”
Barr noted that throughout history, women have always carved out their own spaces when christian churches or institutions did not give them a space to learn or exercise their gifts. Social media has often been touted as the place where women’s voices can be elevated outside of the constraints of gatekeepers and institutional politics.
While previous generations found encouragement from women leaders without formal theological training, ordination, or local church support, many women today are learning from seminary-educated leaders like Kat Armstrong, Marlena Graves, Sharon Hodde Miller, Tish Harrison Warren, Sandra Glahn, and Carmen Imes, who runs a Facebook group for women members of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Boyd said that while she has been given support as a woman in seminary and as a minister in the SBC, women sharing their experiences online opened her eyes. “I saw the way that other women had been hurt, the sex abuse scandals coming out,” she said, “and I realized that just because my individual churches have been wonderful doesn’t mean all churches have been wonderful for women.”
In the wake of another SBC reckoning over mishandling of sexual abuse cases, Boyd felt it was time to share her own story in a recent tweet. She wanted to add her voice “in solidarity and support of sexual abuse survivors in the SBC” and help shed light on the prevalence of sexual abuse in the church and the failure of leaders to seek justice. “As Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, ‘there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.’ I usually try and keep it the latter, but this is so deeply important that now is the time for the former,” she said.
Eric Schumacher, pastor and coauthor of Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women, applauded Christians like Boyd who are able to make personal connections across theological divides on social media. “While Twitter can allow us to depersonalize our neighbor, it can also remind us that our neighbor is made in the image of God,” he said.
Boyd began her account anonymously, but within months a friend recognized her and she put her real name to it. Beyond the original jokes that inspired Sassy Seminary Student, Boyd continued using the account to reflect on her seminary experience and the way that her theological education shaped the way she interacted with evangelical culture and church politics. And as a 22-year-old who “grew up on the internet,” she naturally used humor to do that. “Some of these things that people take very seriously are just funny to people my age.”
As an article on “Weird Evangelical Twitter” in CT last year explored, humor can be a corrective to the “political polarization and self-serious posturing” so prevalent in evangelicalism, especially on social media. But many of the figures known for their funny jabs at christian culture or clever twists on theological debates are men.
Author and fellow Twitterer Hannah Anderson says that might be because women have worked so hard to be taken seriously in ministry spaces that humor was functionally off the table. “You had to prove yourself, so you can’t undermine that with lightheartedness,” she said.
But the popularity of Boyd’s account might be a sign that things are changing for women in conservative spaces. When it comes to Boyd’s account, Anderson says, “There’s no angst, no defensiveness, maybe because there’s nothing to defend.”
Whereas women in the past had little room to treat the gender conversation with humor, Boyd once tweeted that instead of asking seminary professors about complementarianism, Christians should be asking TobyMac if women can rap from the pulpit.
While Boyd says she hasn’t faced any “sexism or weirdness around women” at her moderate Baptist seminary, she has faced plenty of it online, especially from people within her own denomination.
After an SBC pastor tweeted that sassiness was not a quality men should look for in a wife, there were a flurry of tweets about Boyd and her account, both supportive and critical.
“christian Twitter can be very bitter and angry,” Boyd said, “and so I try to make things humorous, though there might be a larger point I’m trying to make as well.”
Some women feel she is not taking the problems seriously enough. Some Christians are generally uncomfortable with using humor to address serious topics, a dynamic comedy writer Ben Fort addressed in his podcast series Funny Beliefs, with Christ and Pop Culture.
He suggests that christian humor, like all creative endeavors, should be “rooted in the larger story of Creation, Fall, and redemption,” and he sees that in Boyd’s humor. “She believes women are made in the image of God, but because of sin they aren’t being treated like it. Her jokes are an act of hope, a belief that broken things can be made new.”
Boyd says that her approach might seem novel only because Christians aren’t known for doing humor well: “We take ourselves too seriously.” Anderson adds that in evangelicalism, where everything must be communicated in a propositional way and certainty is prized, humor struggles to have a place. “A lot of humor just says, This is one weird world, and evangelicals are uncomfortable with things that don’t come with an answer.”
Twitter conversations about gender have moved the needle in the broader conversations happening in churches, seminaries, and denominations, from the debates about gender and the Tri