Denise McClain Massey, who earned three graduate degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, left the SBC after it formalized the no-women-pastors rule in 2000 and is now a professor of pastoral care and counseling at Mercer University School of Theology.
There are “painful, disorienting double-messages for women in the SBC,” she said. “You’re created in the image of God, but if you experience God leading you to be pastor, you get told there are limits to what you can do — sit down, go home, be quiet. There’s kind of a crisis where women feel shut down and dismissed and attacked.”
Christa Brown, a Colorado-based author and retired attorney who attended Southern Baptist churches from infancy until college and says she was sexually assaulted by a youth pastor as a teenager, has long been an outspoken critic of the SBC’s response to revelations of sex abuse by clergy.
Brown sees a link between the abuse and the doctrine that women should submit to male leadership.
“It sets up interpersonal and institutional dynamics that help to foster abuse and cover-ups,” she said. “The SBC’s pervasive misogyny inculcates attitudes that, at best, are limiting of female potential, and at worst, are disrespectful and dehumanizing.”
She expects most Southern Baptist women will stay loyal to their churches but hopes others will “stop graciously submitting and start graciously walking.”
In some cases, entire congregations have walked away. Joel Bowman, pastor at Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, recently abandoned plans to move the congregation into the SBC fold. Bowman, who is African American, had differences with SBC leaders on racism issues and also gender roles — his wife, Nannette, is an associate minster at the church.
Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, is being expelled by the SBC for accepting LGBTQ people into its congregation. Its pastor, Jim Conrad, also opposes the SBC’s gender rules and is likely to affiliate with a Baptist denomination that allows female pastors.
“Tradition is fine,” said Cheryl McCree, a deacon at Towne View. “But when it comes to faith, we follow Christ. … We have to reach out to everybody.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
The article originally appeared on APNews.com.