Opinion: What’s the Southern Baptists’ downside with ladies?



At their annual assembly in New Orleans this week, Southern Baptists doubled down on their campaign towards feminine clergy. “Messengers” (delegates) of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination ratified the expulsion of two congregations — one among them Saddleback Church in Lake Forest — for condoning the ordination of ladies.

The venue was vital. In New Orleans in March 1967, Paul Pressler, a Texas choose, and a seminary pupil named Paige Patterson met at Café du Monde and, based on sturdy legend, strategized the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Conference. Fundamentalists throughout the denomination insisted its membership was on a slippery slope to theological liberalism by permitting ladies pastors and by refusing to affirm biblical inerrancy.

Though I contend that the time period “liberal Southern Baptist” is an oxymoron, the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Conference within the ‘70s set in movement a purge of all vestiges of “liberalism” from the denomination. The fundamentalists, exploiting the powers of the denomination’s president, systematically started to populate church businesses and particularly seminary boards with like-minded conservatives.

Many lifelong Southern Baptists nonetheless bear the scars of these purges.

As soon as the denomination’s businesses and academic establishments have been locked down, the fundamentalists skilled their sights on the supposed scourge of ladies pastors. Abandoning the bedrock Baptist ideas of liberty of conscience and congregational autonomy, which vested the powers of ordination in native church buildings not the SBC, the brand new regime handed a decision in 1984 that restricted ladies to “work apart from roles entailing ordination.”

A decision isn’t a commandment, nevertheless, and a few congregations, asserting the Baptist precept of autonomy, refused to conform. Apart from, even an inerrant Bible affords multiple option to interpret ladies’s roles.

Saddleback Church went additional than most. Based in 1980 by Rick Warren, and one of many largest congregations within the denomination, Warren instructed me years in the past that the church wore the label “Southern Baptist” flippantly. “They want us greater than we want them,” he stated.

Not, apparently. After Saddleback ordained three ladies and introduced {that a} husband-and-wife pastoral crew would exchange the retiring Warren, the denomination discovered the church “not in pleasant cooperation” with the SBC. Warren appealed the ouster on the annual conference in New Orleans.

“If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are thought of sin, all of us get kicked out,” he reminded the famously contentious Baptists, including that the denomination’s doctrinal assertion incorporates greater than 4,000 phrases. “Saddleback disagrees with one phrase,” he stated, talking metaphorically. “That’s 99.9999999999999 in settlement! Isn’t that shut sufficient?”

The delegates roared again, “No!”

“The problem of ladies serving within the pastorate,” R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, instructed the gang, “is a matter of elementary biblical authority that does violate each the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Conference.”

It’s additionally a difficulty of fundamentalists’ cultural fears.

As Joshua Abbotoy, a pastor whose congregation left the Southern Baptist Conference as a result of it had change into too liberal, instructed the New York Occasions, conservatives regard ladies pastors “as an early harbinger of a raft of different adjustments,” together with questions on whether or not “the human particular person is differentiated between two genders.”

One other pastor prompt that allowing feminine clergy would quickly “enable the wedding of homosexuals, too, after which even permitting homosexuals to function pastors.” Slippery slope.

Because the New Orleans assembly ended, the Southern Baptists nonetheless hadn’t absolutely grappled with a damning 2022 report detailing sexual misconduct amongst outstanding figures throughout the denomination. However they overwhelmingly upheld the ouster of Saddleback and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., the place Linda Barnes Popham has served as pastor for 30 years.

The conference additionally for the primary time accepted an modification to its structure — taking the problem past a mere decision: All congregations will need to have “solely males as any type of pastor or elder as certified by Scripture.” The modification should move two years in a row to enter impact.

Why is it, I’m wondering, that conservatives consider “slippery slopes” apply solely to liberals? The unhappy historical past of the Southern Baptist Conference over the previous 4 many years means that slim, constricted readings of the Bible result in anger, condemnation and exclusion, even abuse.

The Jesus I do know stated, “Come unto me.”

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, teaches at Dartmouth School and is the writer of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America.”

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