Before becoming a Southern Baptist, I knew the SBC mostly as a convention that believed in “once saved, always saved” and had strong opinions on women in the pastorate. I was saved in a Baptist church in Irving, Texas at the age of 14 but would not have considered myself a Baptist (much less a Southern Baptist, really) at the time, mainly because I did not know enough about Scripture, theology, tradition, or history to have an opinion.
I worked as a Bible study leader and then youth pastor at a Congregational Methodist church for a total of about 18 months. During this time, I studied Scripture, theology, tradition, and history. To make a long story short, I became a complementarian, charismatic, Baptist Calvinist and stand firmly there today.
As I became more acquainted with Baptist history, one issue stuck out to me like a sore thumb: how we got to the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message’s statements on women in ministry and the home. I am thankful for the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence and our Biblical stance on manhood and womanhood, but not as thankful for the up-and-down events leading up to it.
First, here is the BFM2000’s statement:
Article VI. The Church. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
Article XVIII. The Family. The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
I strongly and openly affirm the BFM2000 on these issues. For a very basic idea on how I feel about women in ministry, see my post about the controversy at Irving Bible Church.
Now, let’s take a look at the timeline of events regarding women in the SBC:
- 1885: Women are refused admission as messengers at the annual meeting.
- 1888: The Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) forms in the basement of a Methodist church since they could not meet in a Baptist church.
- 1904: Women are allowed to attend classes at Southern Seminary, but could not earn credit or participate in class discussion.
- 1918: Women are allowed to serve as messengers.
- 1929: Women allowed to give the WMU report at the annual meeting (previously delivered by men).
- 1963: Marie Mathis is elected as Second Vice-President, the first woman to hold office.
- 1964: Addie Davis becomes first ordained woman to SBC ministry.
- 1984: A vote in Kansas City passed to adopt a resolution against women in the pastorate, the rationale being that “man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.” This was a pivotal moment in, and probably my only real problem with, the Conservative Resurgence.
- 1995: The WMU is renounced in a letter by Jerry Rankin for cooperating with the CBF missionary education resources and the chairman for the International Mission Board likened their cooperation to an adulteress.
- 1998: The family portion of the BFM is amended to include that women should “graciously submit” to their husbands. Dorothy Patterson, wife of Paige, said, “When it comes to submitting to my husband, even when he is wrong, I just do it. He is accountable to God.”
- 2000: The BFM is revised with the above statements included.
As you can see, there are some highlights and lowlights. This, by no means, is an exhaustive timeline but I believe it outlines the struggle of women in the SBC.
Two events in this timeline were most troubling to me:
- The wording of the 1984 Kansas City rationale – I do believe that the role of women is due to the creative order of Adam first, Eve second; but I would argue that it has nothing to do, at all, with Eve taking the first bite in the Garden. Actually, I believe that it was due to Adam’s lack of God-ordered leadership in the situation. Guess who is blamed in Scripture for the Fall? Adam.
- The Paige-Pressler, Rankin led attack on the WMU – The WMU should be commended for offering help to the CBF, not called an “adulteress” for not submitting to the SBC solely.
Thankfully, I believe this is well behind the SBC. The BFM2000 clearly states the equality and importance of women while describing the role of men and women in the home and ministry. I do think that Mrs. Patterson is a bit off when saying that she submits regardless of her husband’s validity. There are times when the husband should love his wife enough to be wrong and go the way she believes is right (as long as sin or detriment to the family isn’t involved). We must lead strongly but gently.
I pray that we would love our wives and our sisters in Christ as God’s most wonderful creations and not treat them as second-class citizens. I’d even go so far to say that we can learn much from them!