Remember a couple years ago, when the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement telling women they should “submit graciously” to their husbands? Well, they’re at it again.
In a decision that smacks of the same misogyny, the Southern Baptist Convention declared that women should no longer be ordained as pastors of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Leaders at the fellowship’s annual conference, held on June 13 and June 14, 2000, recognized women as helpers of the church, but declared them unfit for leadership of a congregation.
Delegates representing the approximately 16 million members of the Southern Baptist faith overwhelmingly approved a revision to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement, claiming that the Bible forbids women to serve as pastors. Nearly 12,000 delegates, comprised of leaders representing individual congregations, voted on the revision. The result was the addition of a passage that reads: “While both men and women are gifted and called for ministry, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.” The convention’s decision to limit the office of pastor to men marks the first major revision to the church’s confession of faith since 1963.
Those who oppose the new provision say the decision devalues the important contributions that women make to the church. They believe the revision to the statement is an embarrassment to the faith and its members. Certainly, it is a step backwards for women who struggle to establish equality between men and women in their religion, family, and society.
“By asserting women are not qualified to be pastors, it padlocks the Southern Baptists into a nineteenth-century castle,” Robert Parham told the Washington Post. Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, a group supported by the moderate members of the fellowship.
Church leaders say the prohibition of women as senior pastors is not a mandate, but is instead an advisement for the faith’s 40,000 congregations. Opponents of the statement argue that even though the decision is optional, it will have far-reaching impact because current female pastors will be unable to find work in churches which comply with the discriminatory advisement. Opponents also say that over time, fewer women will be available to serve as pastors, because the church will have discouraged the next generation of women from entering seminary.
The decision follows closely with the tradition of conservatism and male dominance that has plagued the church in recent years. A 1998 amendment that a woman should “submit herself graciously” to her husband’s leadership drove about a dozen congregations out of the fellowship, according to the Boston Globe.
Some members of the church fear this revision, which trivializes women’s role in religion, will further antagonize the growing number of progressive churches that are drifting away from the denomination and lead to a similar split. Church leaders, however, feel that opposition will be minimal and dissent from the fellowship insignificant.
Other resolutions adopted by the church included the condemnation of abortion and homosexuality, and the affirmation of capital punishment as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder. Leaders expressed the church’s opposition to all forms of sexual immorality and denounced homosexuality as a sin, while over 100 gay rights protesters reportedly demonstrated outside the conference and pleaded for an end to “scriptural violence.”
Rev. Adrian Rogers, the Baptist Faith and Message Study committee chairman, said he does not believe the decision will cause a division along gender lines. “Not even a splinter. Less than one tenth of 1 percent [of Southern Baptist churches] have a female for a pastor …. That would not portend any kind of split at all.”