|SBC Women: Image by Melanie Grizzel, Christianity Today
Like American culture as a whole, we Christians want answers to complex problems in 140 characters.
Especially Southern Baptists.
But there are no quick solutions to the problems that Southern Baptists now face regarding resistance to gifted Christian women in ministry and church leadership.
"In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy'" (Acts 2:17).
Every Christian is called "to use whatever gift you have received in order to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms" (I Peter 4:10).
But some Southern Baptists leaders now teach that Christian men have “spiritual authority” over God's people, and only Christian men should lead others in the home and church. Christian women, they say, are to have “submissive attitudes” and stay in the background - not exercising their gifts - while the Christian males "take the lead."
That teaching is directly contradictory to the infallible and inerrant teaching of the New Testament which states that Christ alone has all spiritual authority in His Kingdom (Matthew 28:18), and that leadership in His Kingdom is based on a spiritual gift, not a specific gender; humble character, not hubistric control; and a spirit of service, not a position of power.
Jesus called His disciples together and said:
"The Gentiles exercise dominion over people, exercising great authority over them. But it shall not be so among you (Matthew 20:25-26).
The Bible clearly states that all Christians - both males and females - are to “submit to one another” and are to ”love one another” (Ephesians 5:21; John 13:34).
Nobody rules over anybody in Christ's Kingdom but Christ.
Shared leadership between men and women in the home, the church, and the Convention is the New Testament norm.
So what happened to the Southern Baptist Convention?
The Southern Baptist Convention and Female Leadership Prior to 1998
Southern Baptists have always been known as "people of the book." That's why from its formation in 1845 to the end of the 20th century, gifted and humble Southern Baptist men and women shared leadership in our Convention.
American Baptists revered Ann Judson (1789-1826). Her grave is still maintained by a small Baptist church in Myanmar, where she and her husband Adoniram Judson served as missionaries to the Burmese. While her husband was imprisoned and awaiting execution during a war with Britain in 1824, Ann kept Adoniram alive for two years through her constant advocacy of his case. During this time, Ann taught men the Scriptures, translated the Bible into Thai, and served the Burmese for Kingdom purposes on an equal basis to that of her husband.
In 1863, the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed Joanna P. Moore as the first female SBC Home missionary. Her assignment was to go to Island #10 in the Mississippi River. It was there Joanna P. Moore taught "African American pastors encamped on that island the truth of the Scriptures."
Lottie Moon (1873-1912), a gifted Southern Baptist evangelist among the Chinese, is so revered today that the Southern Baptist Missions Offering is called "Lottie Moon." Her church in China, Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, is protected by the Chinese government as a "historical and cultural site."
I could go on and on. From Annie Armstong to Beth Moore, from Alma Hunt to Paige Heard, from Hazel Brannon Smith to Sheri Klouda, Southern Baptist women have used their gifts to encourage God's people.
The graph to the right shows the growth in the average church membership per church from 1920 - 1990. 70 years of growth and 70 years of women leading according to their gifts.
The Effort to Remove SBC Women from Kingdom Leadership Began in 1998
Paige Patterson's views of women are well-documented. He believes "it indicates a wicked society when women lead."
For over 150 years, Southern Baptists were doing fine with shared leadership of Christian men and women. But in 1998, things began to change.
Paige Patterson appointed a Committee, a group of 13 men and 2 women to "rewrite the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message." The men on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Committee included Al Mohler, Richard Land, T.C. Pickney, and Jerry Vines, men who strongly aligned themselves with Paige Patterson's doctrine.
Al Mohler's article "A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity" shows how he advocates for the concept of "doctrinal triage," an intellectual method by which different doctrines are sorted into various priority levels, like a doctor would triage patients according to the severity of their sickness. The word "triage" comes from the French language and means "to sort."
“A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world's framework for medical priority.
First-order theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith (examples: the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, etc...)
Second-order theological issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism (which separates Baptists and Presbyterians) as well as other issues that resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach.
Third-order theological issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations (examples: eschatology, church governance, and other issues where believers are able in a Convention to accept one another when third order issues are in question.”Al Mohler and his fellow committee members moved the question of gifted women serving Christ's Kingdom in leadership roles from a third-order theological issue to a second-order theological issue.
I call this a theological triage tragedy.
Never before in a Baptist Confession of Faith, from a time period that encompasses AD 1500 to AD 2000, did a Baptist confession ever limit the role of gifted women in the Kingdom of Christ.
Other denominations like Anglican, Episcopal, and Presbyterian have systematized their limitations of women. But never Baptists - until AD 2000.
Shared leadership of gifted men and women is the New Testament way, and it also has been historically the Baptist way.
I understand that some in the Southern Baptist Convention today disagree with me on the role of women being a third-order theological issue.
I can - and do - cooperate with those Southern Baptists. However, those who have wrongly made "the role of women" in the SBC a second-order theological issue have a hard time cooperating with those of us who disagree with them on this issue.
It's a problem of their own making.
Let's review what has happened in the last twenty years in the Southern Baptist Convention (2000-2020) since a third-order doctrine was suddenly elevated to a second-tier theological issue level.
Southern Baptist Convention membership has declined precipitously.
Attendance is at historic lows.
Paige Patterson has been terminated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for treatment of women that the chairman of trustees called "antithetical to the core values of our faith."
The Southern Baptist Convention has endured the largest sexual abuse scandal among pastors in the history of the evangelical church. Spiritual power trips often end in sexual predatory trysts.
There are many more issues, but I'll stop listing them.
Southern Baptists have a long and strong history. I am a third-generation Baptist preacher, and the Burleson extended family has even more historic roots in the Southern Baptist Convention than my immediate family.
I care about Southern Baptists.
When God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy" (Acts 2:17), but Southern Baptists say "NO!" to God's Spirit, then one might expect to see what we are seeing in the SBC.
I saw the same thing in 2005 when the trustees of the International Mission Board tried to limit those they sent to the mission field by exalting third-order doctrines (e.g. "who baptized you?" and "do you have a private prayer language") to the second-order doctrinal triage tier. I warned the SBC then, and I'm warning the SBC again.
Christian Fundamentalists get their identity from fighting "others." Fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention were successful in ridding the convention of alleged "enemies" in the 1990s. Most everyone opposed to their control left the SBC.
There was nobody else to control or to fight in 1998. That's when Paige Patterson turned the SBC toward controlling the "others" among us - our women.
In 2007, I predicted the Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse crisis and tried to do something about it.
Today, the Southern Baptist Convention is facing another crisis. We are subjugating, stifling, and silencing our women.
Twenty years ago the Southern Baptist Convention leadership elevated “the role of women” in the
SBC from a third-order doctrinal issue to a second-order doctrinal issue.
Until "the role of women" in the Southern Baptist Convention is reverted back to the third-level doctrinal tier to which it belongs, the Southern Baptist Convention will continue its precipitous decline.
If you are a Christian man and you can't listen to a woman teach the Scripture, then you may have a hard time hearing the Spirit for yourself (see Acts 2:17).
At this year's Pastor's Conference, Hosanna Wong will speak the Word of God to pastors who gather for the annual Southern Baptist Pastors Conference.
Followers of Jesus who gather to hear Hosanna will be blessed by her proclamation of God's Word and the exaltation of Jesus Christ through the spoken word.
Some Fundamentalists are upset. That's expected. They have to fight someone.
This conservative, Bible-believing pastor is thrilled that finally the SBC is beginning to recognize the truth that when the Spirit moves, "your sons and daughters shall prophesy."