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Growing Number of Southern Baptist Women Question Gender Roles

“Is it about protecting women — or is it really about protecting your power and covering up sexual abuse in the church?” she asked. “That’s caused a crisis of faith among a lot of women and men.”

Snook gained some attention — and criticism — in Southern Baptist circles when she posted an article in January on a blog called SBC Voices describing how she found herself admiring Vice President Kamala Harris despite her support for abortion rights. Now, Snook and others in her circle are pondering whether they have a future in the SBC.

“Do we stay and work for what we’re supposed be?” she asked. “If we all leave, are we abandoning our responsibility?”

Katie McCoy, a professor of theology in women’s studies in the undergraduate branch of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, tells her female students there are meaningful roles they can play in the SBC even if pastoring is off-limits. But she says many Southern Baptist women, including students of hers, were unsettled by the criticism of Moore.

“There are a lot of women who will never have the scope and reach of a Beth Moore but believed they had something to contribute because of her,” McCoy said. “It’s those women who look at the online vitriol and feel discouraged before they even begin, thinking, ‘If this is what they say about Beth Moore, what will they say about me?’”

Melissa Edgington, who is married to an SBC pastor in Olney, Texas, and describes herself as a stay-at-home mom of three children, says she’s had lifelong devotion to her denomination. She also has been an admirer of Moore.

“I have lost count of the number of times I have seen evangelical men on social media repeating that awful command ‘Go home’ to Beth Moore,” she said via email. “I wonder if they realize when they say those two words with such glee, they are sending a message to all women that our giftings and opinions and ideas may not be all that welcome in our denomination.”

Under certain circumstances, women can make professional strides in the SBC world — teaching at seminaries, working at SBC missionary organizations or, like Moore, carving out a niche as Bible teachers for a female clientele.

At First Baptist Dallas, the outspoken conservative pastor, Robert Jeffress, has encouraged daughter Julia Jeffress Sadler to be active in ministry, even though he cautioned her at age 11 that she couldn’t hold the title of pastor.

“He explained to me, Julia, you can’t be a head pastor for the same reason I can’t have babies. That’s not God’s design,” Sadler said.

Sadler, 33, directs a program at her father’s megachurch called Next Generation that develops ministries for teens, college students, single young adults and young moms. She says there are about 1,500 participants, with a 60%-40% female-male split.

“A lot of times we focus on the one thing that the Bible says women aren’t supposed to do, which is be the head pastor, instead of looking at all the things we can do,” she said. “We’re going to miss out in churches, miss out in ministries, miss out in Christianity as a whole, whenever we take women out of the equation.”

Sadler said her husband, Ryan, who oversees some of the church’s education programs, “understands that women are called to ministry, and that some of us really hate cooking. We have other things we’d like to do.”

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David is a New York-based reporter with The Associated Press, covering national social issues. His past postings include Nairobi, Johannesburg, Paris, Sarajevo, and Toronto.