Why one female pastor left the Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention – the nation’s largest Protestant denomination – overwhelmingly voted to oust women from church leadership.
It also recently expelled a handful of churches for having female pastors.
The total ban on women in leadership won’t take effect until another majority vote next year by the convention’s members. But it’s already having a big impact on congregants.
“There is still something sort of sad about seeing the denomination that … had such an impact on my childhood kind of say out loud that … that they don’t believe that I am called to the job that I believe God has called me to,” associate pastor Carlisle Davidhizar says.
Today, On Point: The Southern Baptist Convention, women of faith, and the future of a denomination with an already declining population.
Carlisle Davidhizar, associate pastor for families and communities at the May Memorial Baptist Church in Powhaten, Virginia. Her church voted unanimously to leave the SBC. Author of the op-ed “I’m one of the female pastors on the SBC’s hit list,” published in the Baptist Global News.
Daniel Darling, author, pastor and Christian leader. Director of The Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Assistant professor of faith and culture at Texas Baptist College. Author of “Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loved.”
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. It counts more than 13 million members, attending more than 47,000 churches in the convention, with an average in-person worship attendance of approximately 3.8 million.
The SBC was first organized in 1845, in Augusta Georgia. Its churches then supported racial segregation and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Southern Baptists officially believe that the Bible tells the absolute truth “without any mixture of error.” An edict that dates back to the mid-19th century. So the SBC brought the full force of the Gospel to its long support of slavery.
One Virginia pastor in 1860 wrote: “Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command.” And that slavery was not a sin, but a gift, as he believed it brough millions of enslaved people “within the range of the gospel.”
In 1995, the SBC officially apologized for its racist history, repudiating slavery as a “historic act of evil.”
Though the SBC no longer believes in a Biblical justification for slavery, the convention remains unmoved from its belief in the “unerring” words of the Bible. And it is to the Bible which the Southern Baptist Convention turns again and again, in justifying its ongoing prohibition of women who wish to serve their faith as pastors.
This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. Last week, members of the Southern Baptist Convention met in New Orleans. 12,000 attendees voted to officially ban women from serving as pastors.
As many as are in favor, would you indicate by raising your ballots? OK, you may lower them. As many as are opposed, would you indicate, by raising your ballots? Would you lower them? The affirmative has it. And the motion carries. (CHEERS)
CHAKRABARTI: The ultra-conservative wing of the convention calls the vote nothing more than a reiteration of rules that have been in place since 2000. Todd Stinnett, senior pastor at Black Oaks Heights Baptist Church in Talbott, Tennessee, told the delegates that the Baptist Faith and Message document from 2000 already states that, quote, “Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons,” And therefore:
STINNETT: That while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.
CHAKRABARTI: Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that a constitutional amendment banning women from church leadership was required by scripture.
ALBERT MOHLER: In the year 2000, the words the office of Pastor is limited to man is qualified by Scripture was inserted because 30 years ago this issue threatened to tear this denomination apart. The definition of friendly cooperation came down to the fact that that was an issue that would endanger the cooperative cohesion and faithfulness of the church. And in particular, we look to this issue because Southern Baptists decided this is not just a matter of church polity. It is not just a matter of hermeneutics. It’s a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment to the Scripture that unequivocally, we believe, limits the office of pastor to men.
CHAKRABARTI: The call for the ban coalesced around a letter written by Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. In a letter to the SBC Executive Committee, Law points to several biblical passages, including, 1 Timothy 3:1, that says, “This is a true saying If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.” Law insists that terms such as bishop and overseer are synonymous with pastor. He also points to 1 Timothy 2:12, which says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. Rather, she is to remain quiet.”
The SBC took another step last week. Delegates overwhelmingly agreed to keep two churches out of the convention, specifically because they have female pastors. One of them is what might be considered one of the best-known SBC churches in the world. Rick Warren’s Saddleback [Church] in California. Warren is the bestselling author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” His church has 23,000 members. At the New Orleans meeting, Warren tried to make his case about why Saddleback should be reinstated.
RICK WARREN: We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sin, racial sin, financial sin, leadership sin, sins that harm the testimony of our convention. But the 1,928 churches with women on pastoral staff have not sinned. If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin, we all get kicked out. You’ll never get 100% of Baptists to agree 100% on 100% of doctrine. That’s why our Constitution says that churches must closely identify, not completely identify with our confession.
CHAKRABARTI: The delegates were unconvinced. Almost 90% voted to keep Saddleback out of the SBC. Fern Creek Baptist church in Louisville, Kentucky, also sought reinstatement. Linda Barnes Popham, a pastor at the church for more than three decades, told her fellow Southern Baptists:
LINDA BARNES POPHAM: We’re not here to convince any of you to allow your church to have women pastors. That’s not the issue here. We disagree with some of you in your faith practice. I mean, look at you, extreme Calvinists. I don’t agree with you. Look at all of you who closed your churches during COVID. I don’t agree with you, but I don’t want to kick you out because you are a part of the family. And we at Fern Creek Baptist Church love you very much.
CHAKRABARTI: 91% of the delegates voted to keep Fern Creek Baptist Church out. In an interview with CNN last week, Popham reacted to her church’s banishment.
POPHAM: On one hand, it feels like being kicked out of the family, and perhaps even like a divorce, as one of my friends said. But on the other hand, there’s something liberating and freeing, bound no more to the traditions and opinions and the power of those in leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention.
CHAKRABARTI: Popham also says she will continue to be a pastor at Fern Creek. The ban on women leadership is not yet officially in place. It will need to go through another vote, which at this point seems to be potentially successful, as last week’s vote was. It also comes at a time when membership in the Southern Baptist Convention is declining, while simultaneously the convention seems to be responding with a push against that decline and a push against broader changes it sees in U.S. culture. They are reaffirming its belief that women are not qualified to be church leaders.
And the SBC continues to do it with what it believes is a biblical truth, just as it did with racism for more than a century. Well, joining us now is Carlisle Davidhizar. She’s an associate pastor for family and communities at May Memorial Baptist Church in Powhaten, Virginia. She’s also the author of an op-ed that appeared in the Baptist Global News about being one of the female pastors on the SBC’s hit list. Carlisle Davidhizar, welcome to On Point.
CARLISLE DAVIDHIZAR: Hi, Meghna. Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
CHAKRABARTI: Is your church still willingly a member of the SBC right now?
DAVIDHIZAR: So as of last Wednesday evening, we are not. We had a regularly scheduled business meeting. Most Baptist churches have quarterly business meetings. We do, as well. And in the wake of that decision by the Southern Baptist Convention that morning, we had a spontaneous vote that evening and voted unanimously to break all ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because of that.
CHAKRABARTI: It was a unanimous vote. But was it an easy vote, or an easy decision?
DAVIDHIZAR: I don’t think so. There’s a lot of identity that’s wrapped up in being a Southern Baptist. I mean, for me personally, and I think for churches like mine that have been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention for well over 100 years. And my church is unique, maybe in this case, in that our ties to the Southern Baptist Convention have not been particularly strong for the last couple of decades. That Baptist faith and message of 2000 that you mentioned earlier, that is the piece about women not being qualified as pastors is something that my church has never affirmed.
We have been ordaining women as pastors and deacons for decades now. But the relationship that we did have with the Southern Baptist Convention had to do with some of our mission-giving. Churches tithe, and we give money to state organizations and national organizations and special seasonal mission offerings. And so our connection to the Southern Baptist Convention was kind of through those things and not necessarily as closely tied, identity-wise, maybe as some other churches would be.
CHAKRABARTI: Okay. But as you’re saying, though, in a sense, though, the church has been in defiance of a core belief of the SBC, you know, willingly, as you say, for quite some time. About the prohibition of women in church leadership. I wonder what you think about the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, you know, points to very specific passages of the Bible that it says are clear evidence, not just of the SBC’s will, but in the SBC’s reading of the Bible, of God’s will. As not having, not wanting women in church leadership or believing women are qualified for church leadership, that seemed to be very convincing to thousands of delegates last week. And it’s not convincing to you?
DAVIDHIZAR: It’s not. And the reason that it’s not, is because I have been given the incredible privilege of a theological education. I attended Truett Seminary, attached to Baylor University, on a scholarship. I graduated in 2022. And one of the first things that they teach you in Scripture is that it is a very unwise thing to build an entire doctrine or an entire church governance system on one, or two or even three verses, pulled fully out of their historical and cultural and linguistic context. So the process by which folks, you know, dig into scripture and really study it is called exegesis. And when we do exegesis, what we do is we try our best to bridge the gap between our 21st century world and the first century world in which these texts were written.
CHAKRABARTI: Today we’re speaking with Carlisle Davidhizar. She’s associate pastor for families and communities at the May Memorial Baptist Church in Powhaten, Virginia. And last week, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to ban women from church leadership. And following that ban, Pastor Davidhizar’s church opted to remove itself from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Now, you were talking about this practice that you studied deeply in seminary, Pastor Davidhizar, about bringing or pulling relevance from Jesus’s first century teachings into the 21st century. But I would add a little, even a little further wrinkle to that. It’s like the third and fourth century interpretations of Jesus’s first century teachings that ended up in the Bible. So those are the words that people of faith and seminary are trying to interpret for today. And so in that practice, what is it that you have determined does not disqualify women from pastoral leadership?
DAVIDHIZAR: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The Bible is an extremely complex document that was written over hundreds of years and from lots of different perspectives. And part of the work of bridging the gap is looking at the entire narrative of Scripture instead of just playing one or two verses, that if they’re pulled out of their cultural context, may seem as if they are saying something that would not be applicable for all people, all time, everywhere.
So the specific verse that I think gets pulled a lot is that 1 Timothy 2:12 that where the writer says that they do not permit a woman to have authority over a man. So most of the biblical scholars that I have consulted and the ones at my seminary agree that that is not a ban on all women pastors everywhere for all time. It was a specific letter to a specific church, and the Greek word that’s used there authentic. So is referring not so much to authority, but to someone who is like loudly shouting someone else down. It’s one specific correction for one specific church in one specific historical context.
And so the work of exegesis is placing these very complex, ancient documents in their larger narrative, which I think when we look at all of Scripture, I see so many places where women prophesy and lead. And where Jesus trusts women with ministry and with the gospel message and even other places in the New Testament where Paul, who was the same author in 1 Timothy, commends women as being first among the apostles and as being leaders and teachers right alongside of men. So context is important and placing verses inside of their historical context instead of calling them out is very important.
CHAKRABARTI: I think one of the sort of immortal struggles of any great human religion is that almost all of them have primary scriptures that contain passages that are self-contradictory with other passages.
DAVIDHIZAR: Right? Exactly. Yeah.
CHAKRABARTI: But, you know, you grew up in the SBC, is that right?
DAVIDHIZAR: I did.
CHAKRABARTI: So it’s been a huge part of your life from your childhood. What specifically drew you or called you to pastoral work?
DAVIDHIZAR: So I had the opportunity as a young person in a youth group, through programs with the Southern Baptist Convention to be involved in a lot of different types of mission work. There are groups that give teenagers the opportunity to do good work in their communities and in communities down the street and all sorts of places where they can do good work in the name of Jesus Christ. And in doing some of that work, I felt what I would call the call of the Holy Spirit on my life to make that work, my life’s work, my vocation. And I was a sophomore in high school, is kind of where I can put my finger on when that happened for me.
CHAKRABARTI: And when you say you felt the call of the Holy Spirit, how did that manifest within you?
DAVIDHIZAR: So in this specific instance, I was teaching at a vacation Bible school, and I was 15 years old and I was giving a lesson to students younger than me, and I could tell that they were hearing me, and hearing what I was teaching them and responding well. And something in me knew that this was something that I was capable of. And at the time, I thought that it was specifically focused to children’s ministry, youth ministry, things like that. That still very much is part of my calling. This week I’m calling in from youth camp with my students this week. So that has remained true.
But I feel like my calling has widened as I have grown and matured. And now I do some preaching at my church. And I’ve been dipping my toe into the pool of writing and some of that kind of stuff. So I think it has grown as I have grown, and it has always just been sort of a sureness in my soul that that is something that is the work that I am called to do in the world.
CHAKRABARTI: Has anyone in your congregation ever told you, or has there been any discontent ever communicated from the congregation somehow that because you’re a woman, that there’s something inadequate about that, that is, let’s say, hampering or their relationship with God? Right? Because, I mean, it seems like to me that that’s one of the fundamental insinuations in what the SBC is saying about women in pastoral leadership, that they just can’t do a good enough job for their congregation.
DAVIDHIZAR: So at my current church, never not once. And the other churches that I have been at in my life, I think it’s important to say that not all churches are a monolith. And that there are, you know, a wide variety of opinions in churches. And I have found support in all of the churches I’ve been in in my life. And I have also found folks who probably wished I would sit down and be quiet in all of my churches in my life. I think maybe some of the most disheartening things you hear is people seem kind of surprised when you preach a message or teach something, and they think that you did a good job. You get some occasional, “That was pretty good for a woman.” Or things of that nature.
After I experienced that calling as a teenager, there were a couple of men at the church I attended at the time who told me that I misheard God, that God did not call women to be pastors, that perhaps I was being called to be a pastor’s wife or something of that nature. And I, to this day, believe that those men thought that they were telling me the right thing. I have come to disagree since then, and I have grown and my faith has deconstructed and reconstructed a lot over the past few years. Seminary will do that to you. But I think the majority of folks in my life who know me and love me have been supportive, which is good and kind. And I appreciate them being in my corner, maybe even if they don’t always understand.
CHAKRABARTI: Right. Well, in a minute, we’re going to hear from a pastor who takes a different view.
CHAKRABARTI: But before we get there, you know, a little earlier, you heard me. We heard us play that tape from Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
DAVIDHIZAR: I did.
CHAKRABARTI: Who reflected on the fact he, you know, he says that this issue threatened to tear apart the convention 30 years ago. And so therefore, there was the year 2000 language added. And now once again, this vote for a constitutional change. But what do you think is driving this focus on female leadership right now in the SBC?
DAVIDHIZAR: I think some of it is centered on the fact that, you mentioned this earlier, too, that the Southern Baptist Convention is seeing a decline recently. And I think as humans, I don’t think that this is a uniquely Southern Baptist problem. But I think that our instinct when we feel threatened is to batten down the hatches and to attempt to, I don’t know, control things maybe more than we would be able to otherwise. And I think that there are some leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who feel strongly that this is an issue of biblical authority, that if we are taking our Bible seriously, we have to do what it says.
And I think the important thing to remember is that while we believe that the Bible is perfect, we have to be very careful not to say that our own biblical interpretations are perfect. That those can be fallible. Certainly. Right? Like you mentioned earlier, that the Southern Baptist Convention used the Bible to justify slavery and racial segregation for many years. And that is a shameful part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s past. And, you know, that error has been realized, but not before it did very real damage. And so I think, yeah, it’s important that we don’t sanctify our own opinions or our own biblical interpretation and be open to new ideas.
CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So Pastor Carlisle Davidhizar just hold on here for a second because I want to note that we did ask Bart Barber, who is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, if he could join the show today. He was unable to and declined. But last week Barber was asked at a press conference at the SBC’s annual meeting in New Orleans about his thoughts on the choice to ban women in church leadership.
BART BARBER: The fact is, there has never been a moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention that the Southern Baptist Convention was supportive of the idea that women could occupy the office of pastor, elder and overseer. It’s just that I think we’ve had hope that people who had come to a different conclusion from us would rethink that and would have an opportunity to change.
Obviously. Linda Popham made a passionate argument from the floor to suggest that there are no limitations based on sex for people being able to serve, in any role in the church. And for them, I think what we would say is Southern Baptists and your church are in different places, and seem also be moving in different directions. And so that’s the kind of thing that causes the convention to look and ask whether it’s important for us to clarify who we are, and to clarify where we’re going. And churches will need to assess how they fit in the direction and then the position that the Southern Baptist Convention has.
CHAKRABARTI: That’s Bart Barber, president of the Southern Baptist Convention just last week. Well, joining us now is Daniel Darling. He’s an author, pastor and Christian leader. He currently serves as the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also an assistant professor of faith and culture at Texas Baptist College. Daniel Darling, welcome to On Point.
DANIEL DARLING: Well, thank you for having me today.
CHAKRABARTI: So tell me a little bit more about what it is about women or perhaps even more broadly, womanhood that the SBC sees as disqualifying them from pastoral leadership.
DARLING: Sure. Well, I first want to take a little bit of issue with even the framing of this conversation, because the SBC hasn’t necessarily banned women from leadership in the SBC. What we’ve done is kind of reaffirmed our long-standing position. You know, through our entire history of believing that men and women are equal. They’re made in the image of God, image-bearers. They serve side by side in the church, that women have full participation in the body of Christ and the ministry, but that for the position of a pastor, elder and overseer, that the Scriptures have reserved that for men, not because men are superior by any stretch, not because men are better teachers. That’s not always the case.
But because God has given men that responsibility. He has laid the weight of that responsibility on them. He holds them responsible for how he views and judges the church in that way. And so this is something that we’ve always believed. So some of these current flashpoints are really not necessarily the Southern Baptist Convention moving in a certain direction, but folks who, Christians who have a different view of the text than us, who we feel are still Christians, and believe our brothers and sisters in Christ, but nevertheless have a different view. Those folks, you know, probably are not folks who want to be part of the SBC in terms of participation in some of the things that we do together.
But women are leading in the SBC, in many ways. Women are leading trustee boards, women are leading in the marketplace, are leading in our churches. We’re in the middle of vacation Bible school season. There’s not a church that could function in the SBC without female leadership. But we feel like this one office, this one position, because we really take the scriptures seriously. Believe that is reserved for men.
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, well, so, just I totally take your point and just for clarity for listeners, I just I want to reiterate that the specific vote that was taken last week was regarding a motion to amend the SBC Constitution enumerated sixth item under Article 3, Paragraph 1. And I’m just reading the motion as it appeared in Pastor Mike Law’s letter here. Right?
And he says, as offered and referred to you at this past June’s annual meeting, the enumerated six item would read that essentially the Constitution does not affirm or appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind. So to your point, we’re talking about pastoral leadership. But you said, Mr. Darling, a second ago, you said that Southern Baptists believe that God reserved this form of service to the church for men. What do you interpret as the reason for that?
DARLING: Well, we take this from the New Testament, from several passages. First of all, we believe that the office of pastor, elder, bishop are interchangeable. And so you see this throughout the New Testament. You see it restricted to men in many passages. You also see the sort of pattern. Jesus’ ministry, he had 12 disciples there, all males, 12 apostles. And I think, you know, in the New Testament, it’s rooted in the creation order, that God has given men this kind of form of servant leadership. It means that men and women are equal, but they have distinct roles, distinct roles both in the home and in the church.
This doesn’t preclude women from leadership. It just precludes, it just says that this office, specifically in the church, specifically this main pastoral, overseer, teaching role. Elder, pastor, bishop is reserved for men. Now, there are, as I said, there are Christians who disagree with this position and there are other denominations that think differently, that are doing great work. But this is a distinctive that Southern Baptists have had really for all of our history. We’re not the only ones to have this distinction. There are others. You know, even the Catholic Church has always reserved priesthood for men. And there’s other denominations that do that, as well. But this is one of our distinctives. And I think we just reaffirmed that this year.
CHAKRABARTI: Pastor Davidhizar, I just wanted to get you to respond to something that Pastor Darling had said before the break about. About, he pointed to the new Testament’s creation order, presumptively regarding Adam and Eve as one of the reasons why the SBC sees pastoral leadership specifically as reserved for men. What’s your thought on that?
DAVIDHIZAR: My thought on that is that those accounts, I’m assuming he’s talking about Genesis 1 and 2, the creation accounts that happened there. And my thought on that is that I believe that God created men and women equal in that situation. There are two creation narratives there. In one of them, Adam is created first. In the other, Adam and Eve are created at the same time, and both said, as made in the image of God.
And in my reading of Genesis, and in the reading of Genesis of lots of the biblical scholars that I met and interacted with in seminary, God’s design for men and women was mutual mutuality, mutual submission to one another. Equality. And patriarchy, which comes later in the story, I read as a result of the fall of man, as a result of sin entering the world. And I believe that those of us who are living on this side of the cross in Jesus Christ are free to let go of a system that places men above women.
CHAKRABARTI: So, Pastor Darling, I’m glad that Pastor Davidhizar explained that, because obviously my knowledge of the Bible is nowhere as deep as both of yours. But I had sort of had this recollection that there were multiple creation stories in Genesis. And to the point where it seems pretty clear that, you know, the SBC has said the Bible is unerring in in its words.
But Pastor Davidhizar a moment ago said, the words of the Bible may be perfect. But it’s our interpretation of it, which is not necessarily always perfect. I mean, doesn’t the seemingly contradictory stories in Genesis just lay that out? So how do you know which one to follow in matters of choosing, you know, if the convention should recognize women as pastors?
DARLING: That’s a great question. I mean, I think she’s right in that our interpretation of scripture can be culturally conditions, because we all are situated in a place in a time. This is where while we place the authority of Scripture as Protestants, as the highest authority, we also consult tradition, church tradition, and what the churches believed.
And I think on this issue, really for most of the church’s history, the church has believed in the sort of position that the Office of Pastors reserved for men. And I do want to say that in rooting this in the creation narrative, it’s not saying that men are placed above women, but men are placed alongside women in a servant role.
And you see the way that Paul grounds his view of marriage, where he calls men to sacrificially give his husbands, to sacrificially give their lives for their wives. That’s the kind of leadership men are to provide. Pointing to Christ, who in his leadership, literally gave his life for the church.
That’s the example. And so when we talk about the sort of complimentary envision, men and women living side by side, serving side by side, it’s not that men are superior to women or women are superior to men, but it’s that God has gifted them with different unique roles, and they complement one another.
But again, we want to stress that this is not to say that women don’t possess these gifts and exercise these gifts in many ways in the church. And don’t lead, don’t prophesy, don’t teach. But in this primary pastoral shepherding role, we believe that God has reserved this for men, not because men are superior. But because it’s a servant, servanthood role.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, you said something a minute ago, which I want to just understand a little more deeply. You talked about tradition. Now, you don’t have to be, no one has to be the member of a church or a tight knit community to fundamentally understand the importance of tradition. Right? The importance of community of ritual, of fellowship. These things are the things that define us and ground us as people who live amongst each other. But tradition and church tradition in particular.
You could look to that as the same thing that led the SBC to have a racist doctrine for 100 years until it decided to apologize for it in 1995. So, tradition also perhaps hampers a kind of positive cultural conditioning that could happen and should happen amongst people of faith. I wonder what you think about that.
DARLING: Well, it’s true. The Bible has been weaponized in service of evil ends before and the position of the antebellum South. You know, white slave owners using the scripture to justify slavery. But if you look historically throughout the history of the church, that’s actually historically aberrant position. And we would argue that folks who used scripture to justify slavery were not going further into the word and further into the Christian gospel, but were a departure away from it.
And if you look through the history of the church, while there are glaring errors and there are times when the church has used, or Christians have used the scripture to weaponize, to justify evil, the thrust of the Christian tradition is not to have used the Bible to justify slavery. What you saw in the American South was kind of a historically abhorrent position.
In fact, there are Christians, contemporary Christians around the world, even people like Charles Spurgeon, other people in other countries who were looking at American Christians justifying slavery and saying, “Wait a minute, you are using the Bible in a in a wrong way. This is not how the scriptures should be interpreted.” So I don’t think that historical analogy works for this conversation.
CHAKRABARIT: Well, I take your point about Christendom, global Christendom writ large. But I mean, factually speaking, the SBC was born just prior to the Civil War in, you know, in a South that was willing to secede from the union in defense of slavery. That is the context in which the SBC emerged. But there’s another point that you made that I want to turn back to, Pastor Davidhizar, because earlier in the conversation, Pastor Darling said, this is regarding women as pastors and the prohibition thereof.
This is something important to the Southern Baptist Convention. It is the SBC’s interpretation of what it desires its convention to believe. It’s not necessarily something that its saying should be true for Christians overall. Your church just left the SBC. Pastor Davidhizar, I mean, is that not just a simple solution to this tension that for those churches who wish to have women as pastors, they should leave and no longer identify themselves as Southern Baptists? Or what do they lose if they have to do that?
DAVIDHIZAR: It certainly is a valid option and it’s the option that our church chose. I think that my understanding of Baptist history must be a little different than Daniels’, because based on my understanding, there were women being ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention through the 1960s and 1970s. Addie Davis was the first woman who was ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor, minister in 1964.
And I know a great many women who were students at Southern Baptist seminaries who were ordained in Southern Baptist churches through the ’60s and ’70s, and then a more conservative faction sort of took over the Southern Baptist Convention.
And about the 1980s, the early 1980s is when that position really began to change, is my understanding of that. And not to mention that local Baptist churches should be, historically have been autonomous and who they call in to ministry in their churches, so churches can leave. Our church did leave. At this point in my ministry. I feel comfortable stepping away from tables like that.
CHAKRABARTI: But Pastor Davidhizar. Yeah. Painful. I can hear that in your voice, but just let me just put a finer point on the question. Do you believe the SBC itself loses something or will lose something if it goes through with finalizing this amendment to its constitution? I mean, what would you tell Daniel Darling that the SBC loses if it does indeed ban women, end up fully banning women from pastoral leadership?
DAVIDHIZAR: Think if the Southern Baptist Convention bans women from pastoral leadership, they lose valuable voices in the conversation. If this faith is everyone’s, if we take the priesthood of the believer seriously, if we believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian, then all of the voices in Baptist circles, in Christian circles, the world over should be included, should carry the same authority and should have input when it comes to the direction that things are going.
And I think that when you say that women are disqualified from one particular office, that cannot be equality. It cannot be equality if there is one thing just based on femaleness that is barred. And I think that the SBC runs the risk of becoming more of an echo chamber.
CHAKRABARTI: Daniel Darling, how would you respond to that?
DARLING: Well, we certainly don’t want to lose the voices of women. And in our convention, women have a very prominent voice and serve a variety of roles, particularly leadership roles, both denominationally and in our churches. I think the SBC will always have a complementary position. Now, the amendment is, you know, may or may not pass in Indianapolis, and may be or may not be one expression of how we adjudicate that.
But I do also want to say that, you know, sometimes this conversation reduces the calling and life of Christians down to one single position in the church. The fact is, most of the body of Christ will not be in pastoral leadership positions. Most Christians will not be. And we don’t believe the only way to exercise gifts, and the only way to serve and the only way to view a part of what God is doing in the world is to have that leadership position.
There’s so many other ways that men and women can both exercise their gifts. So I think sometimes when we say that this is the only way that women can serve, the only way they can be seen. I think it actually doesn’t do justice to the manifold ways that women and men exercise their gifts in the church.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, a couple of minutes ago you pointed out that obviously the Southern Baptist Convention is not the only one that seeks to bar women from being pastors. Right? But you mentioned the Catholic Church as well. This question has been, especially in recent years and decades, a longstanding point of contention in some parts of the worldwide Catholic Church. I think there perhaps are, there’s at least one more sort of meaningful analogy I might draw between these two very influential bodies of faith. And it came up last week at the New Orleans convention.
It has to do with the Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse crisis. So I want to just play a moment from Christa Brown. She’s been described as the public face of the SBC clergy sex abuse survivors. In the 1960s, she was a teenager when she was raped by her minister repeatedly, and she spoke up about the abuse but was silenced by the church. And so here’s Christa in an interview on the Speaking Out on Sex Abuse podcast a couple of years ago.
CHRISTA BROWN: I really, really still thought that if only I could show the extent of the problem, that surely they would do something. And I was wrong. I was really wrong about that, because it’s not a matter of them not understanding the extent of the problem. It is a lack of will on their part.
So I was just flat out wrong about them. You asked how difficult it was. I would just say I was absolutely, completely unprepared for the depth and the breadth of the fury. And misogyny that I encountered. You know, I got heaps of hate mail, obscenity-laced rants, hate filled screeds. Just a few real threats. It was really awful. For a long-extended period of time.
Now, the Houston Chronicle has reported that since 2007, leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention kept a secret list of abusers, known abusers within the church. Now, at the annual meeting last week in New Orleans, the SBC voted to renew their abuse reform implementation task force for another year, giving that body additional time and resources to complete its mission. Here’s President Bart Barber speaking at a press conference about the issue.
BART BARBER: While there is no diocesan bishop to fire a local pastor, there’s also no diocesan bishop to protect him. While there’s no regional presbytery to defrock a pastor, there’s also no presbytery to reassign him while covering up his villainy. If we will inform one another as churches and help one another as churches, I believe we can solve the problems that have brought us to this day. Predators have realized the vulnerabilities of our system. It’s time for Southern Baptists to realize how nimble and resilient our Baptist polity can be to put sexual predators on notice that Southern Baptist churches are a dangerous place for them.
CHAKRABARTI: Carlisle Davidhizar, we’ve just got about 30 seconds left. One of the arguments that’s been made within the Catholic Church that if more if women were allowed to be Catholic priests, perhaps there would not be such a huge sexual abuse crisis there. Do you see some resonance in that in the Southern Baptist Convention?
DAVIDHIZAR: I think that certainly not all men or all leaders who subscribe to complementarianism are looking to be sexual abusers, I don’t want to say that at all. But I do think a system that places men above women does lead to a place where abuse becomes more of a possibility, and I think a more egalitarian leadership, while it wouldn’t fix it right away. And while it won’t ever fix, you know, bad actors who are going to do bad things, I think those are voices that are important in the conversation.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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