Home Pastors Articles for Pastors How Women in the Southern Baptist Convention Have Fought for Decades to...

How Women in the Southern Baptist Convention Have Fought for Decades to Be Ordained

But by this time, fundamentalist Southern Baptists had a begun to wrest control of the Southern Baptist Convention from more moderate voices.

This controversy set up a bitter dispute within the Southern Baptist Convention over the role of women, especially in ordained ministry. From the early 1980s, some local churches ordained women as pastors. However, some local Baptist associations ousted such churches.

A year after the formation of Women in Ministry, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution entitled “On Ordination and the Role of Women in Ministry.” This resolution stated that women should be excluded from pastoral leadership “to preserve a submission God requires because man was first in creation and woman was first in the Edenic fall.” The resolution concluded by encouraging “the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.”

Nonetheless, by 1987, Southern Baptist churches had ordained nearly 500 women, 18 of whom served as pastors. Women in Ministry, SBC changed its name to Southern Baptist Women in Ministry to highlight the organization’s independence from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Women’s Submission

Women’s ordination sparked a backlash from fundamentalists who gained control of the Southern Baptist seminaries, mission boards and publishing house. Their views on women’s ordination became a litmus test for faithfulness to Christian belief.

As Bill J. Leonard, a historian of religion, wrote in a 1995 paper, scholars who supported women’s ordination were removed from teaching positions, and new hires had to affirm women’s exclusion from ordination.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary barred women from preaching and pastoral care classes. Mission boards stopped appointing women to equal positions with men. Southern Baptist publications asserted women’s submission.

By the late 1990s, women’s ordination among Southern Baptists seemed a settled issue in favor of exclusion. A 2000 revision of the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith reaffirmed this: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Controversy Reemerges

Finding themselves no longer aligned with the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention, many individuals and churches left it to form the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the progressive Alliance of Baptists, both of which support women’s ordination and women in the pastorate.

In 1995, Southern Baptist Women in Ministry again changed its name, this time to Baptist Women in Ministry, to reflect its complete break from the Southern Baptist Convention. Today Baptist Women in Ministry supports and advocates for women in ministry through educational and networking opportunities and awards that recognize preaching and pastoral leadership. As of 2017, nearly 2,500 Baptist women had been ordained, and 174 served as pastors in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Alliance churches.

For Southern Baptists, most of whom likely thought the issue of women’s ordination was settled, the ordinations at Saddleback Church renewed the controversy over women’s roles in the church. Saddleback is the largest and most prominent Southern Baptist church to ordain women since the fundamentalists gained control of the denomination.

Already, a number of Southern Baptists are calling for the Southern Baptist Convention to investigate and possibly expel Saddleback Church for its ordination of women. When asked about the ordinations, one of the candidates standing for election as Southern Baptist Convention president when it meets in June responded, “The BFM [Baptist Faith and Message] is clear that Southern Baptists do not believe in women serving as pastors. Churches which ordain or call female pastors are not acting in friendly cooperation with the SBC and should either change, withdraw, or be subject to our disfellowshipping processes.”

The upcoming annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will certainly test Southern Baptists’ willingness to exclude even an eminent church and its celebrated pastor over the issue of women’s ordination.

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by Susan M. ShawOregon State University

This article originally appeared here