Roman Baptist Convention, Pt 4…


Part One

Part Two

Part Three

6. The exclusion on women from the priesthood.

Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics are alike in their views on women clergy. Except Roman Catholics are at least consistent in their view, whereas Southern Baptists press the point to the absurd.

Here’s what I mean: Roman Catholics believe that the apostolic succession of the Petrine office necessitates that the supreme pontiff, the college of cardinals, and all the bishops down to the smallest parish priest are men. When you are Roman Catholic, you are very clear on what the Church teaches about women’s roles and religious orders.

But Southern Baptists are victimized by ad hoc theology as it relates to women clergy. For most Southern Baptists, the New Testament does not allow a woman to serve in the ruling and teaching office of pastor. For the most fundamentalist of Southern Baptists, the Pauline instruction to suffer not women to teach or exercise authority over a man extends to the seminary classroom, the counseling office, the administration of institutional resources, and elected convention office. Some of our seminary administrators have even taken to hiring men only to serve as their private secretaries, presumably because even that role involves a little too much authority for the weaker sex.

In fact, I’m fairly certain that most Southern Baptists would be appalled if they knew the trajectory of misogynist theology influencing denominational life today. Watching the exegetical hoops through which Paige Patterson, for instance, leaps to justify women teaching pastors in the School of Educational Ministries while denying them faculty status in the School of Theology – except his wife, of course – is quite amusing to me. I suspect it will be amusing to accreditation agencies and a federal jury as well.

For years, women have served in every support staff capacity within Southern Baptist life, even at the most conservative of churches. The Sunday School ministry of First Baptist Jacksonville, FL, would never have become a convention model if not for the labors of Miss Guynelle Freeman. First Baptist Church of Dallas would have been short over a million dollars per year if not for the Sunday School class of Betty Criswell. Three pastoral tenures at FBC Dallas would have bankrupted the church if not for the tight fiscal controls of Church Administrator Sherryn Cates.

The list of women who serve in vital pastoral roles in Southern Baptist churches could go on and on. To salve their tender fundamentalist conscience, many of these churches’ pastors call them “directors” instead of “ministers” or “pastors,” but the differences between a pastor and a ministry director is hard for them to explain. Indeed, the difference seems to be one of spelling rather than function.

Southern Baptists were hijacked into adopting a confessional clause regarding the role of women in the churches with ominous threats about the feminist agenda, which in most messenger’s minds means lesbianism. In fact, the appeal to include the statement on women’s roles was made with sweeping statements about the so-called feminist agenda, as if armies of bra-burning Wiccans were lined up waiting to present letters of membership at your church and mine.

Never in the history of Christendom has a confessional statement moved gender roles from the periphery of doctrinal affirmations to the centerpiece of ecclesial identity. That is, until the Southern Baptist Convention felt threatened by fourteen women pastors in 150 years. “The feminist movement is on the move,” we were told back in 2000 by men who – had they taken the time – would have discovered that feminist ideology and Mother God worship predates the advent of the Nazarene.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely affirm that the Lord intends his church to be led by men, though I do not believe such an affirmation is even tertiary to my Christian identity as a Baptist. I most certainly deny that such an affirmation necessitates the narrow interpretation afforded it by some Southern Baptist leaders.

For one, I’m grateful that a woman named Winky Foote led me to Christ. I’m grateful that a woman named Jessie Norman taught me the Bible. I’m grateful for a woman named Mary Cowen who regularly encourages and corrects me. I shudder to think where I would be without the Ollie Colliers and Roberta Wibles and Joann McLeods and Lib Rhodes in my life. I become anxious when I think of my church without the Lindas and Pats and Genoas and Berthas that serve in various leadership capacities. I cannot imagine a Southern Baptist Convention without a Bertha Smith or a Joyce Rogers or a Lottie Moon.

And quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing a recitation of the list of things that Southern Baptists won’t allow women to do. More tomorrow on this as I continue my reflections on Roman Catholicism and trends in Southern Baptist life.

3 thoughts on “Roman Baptist Convention, Pt 4…

  1. Ben,

    I hear what you saying. The only problem is that I will not be able the get the phrase bra burning Wiccans out of my mind.


  2. It was nice to read about Winky Foote and her faithfulness in sharing the Gospel. I have known Billy and Winky most of my life, and my dad has counted Billy among his friends since before their marriage.

    I don’t think Winky helps in making your point. She certainly doesn’t see herself as a pastor, but as a faithful helper to her evangelist husband. And they both are pleased to carry out their God-assigned roles under the authority of their excellent pastor Dr. Gary Orr. Again, I just don’t think mentioning her helps your case here.

  3. Debra Kenney:

    Wow. When the two become one flesh they must share a brain.

    I never suggested or even hinted that Winky Foote was a good illustration of female pastoring. Although, I will tell you without qualification that she was used of God to find this lost sheep.

    Is anything more pastoral than that?

    You may retreat to your husband’s blog at this point, but thanks for stopping by.

    Oh, and please convey my love to Wes.


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