That was sort of my reaction to a Dallas Morning News story on a Southern Baptist church “making history” by adding women deacons.
Here’s the top of the Morning News story:
As old-fashioned Baptists might say, Betty Rutledge has stars in her crown for all the church volunteer work she’s done in her 63 years.
She’s played the piano, taught Sunday school, directed vacation Bible school, served as church parliamentarian, and been on personnel, music and missions committees.
“I’ve been busy,” she understated.
Rutledge’s portfolio has expanded to include being a deacon at Community North Baptist Church in McKinney — and apparently to making local history.
The story goes on to explain that, by ordaining four women deacons, Community North apparently became the first — and only — church out of 110 member congregations of the Collin Baptist Association to do so. Collin County is a fast-growing area north of Dallas that includes one of the nation’s more prominent Southern Baptist churches: Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, where former SBC president Jack Graham serves as pastor.
The Morning News frames the “local history” this way:
The distinction has come with a cost, in the form of departed members who did not support the move.
“Several families did leave the church, which grieves me greatly,” said the Rev. Bruce Austin, pastor of Community North. “On the other hand, during the process several families joined our church, knowing many of us favored the election of women deacons.”
The rest of the piece follows pretty much the same matter-of-fact tone, as if the role of women in the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t a highly explosive issue with fiery, passionate positions on both sides.
Maybe that’s by design. Maybe the idea is to report the story in less emotional terms. But if you ask me — and maybe I’m too much of a journalistic rebel-rouser — I’d prefer a bit more spark in my religion news. A bit more reality.
I mean, people don’t typically leave a church — especially in a case like this — with smiles on their faces. I’d suspect there are some angry former members out there who believe this church has chosen the wrong path. Where are their voices? Why are their perspectives not included in the story? For that matter, more context on the church itself would be helpful. Readers never learn the size of the congregation, exactly how many people left, the total number of deacons or the function of the deacon board.
I noticed on the church’s website that it cites the “Baptist Faith and Message” 1963 as its statement of faith, as opposed to the controversial 2000 version. I was surprised that the story included no specific mention of that. (Just recently, I posted on former President Jimmy Carter criticizing the SBC’s “more creed-based and anti-woman” doctrinal positions.)
To its credit, the story does provide important background on how rare women deacons are in the SBC, quoting an expert from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The report also includes the Dallas area church’s pastor citing the “totality of Scripture” as a reason for the move. A dissenting area pastor claims his counterpart’s sermons represent a “rationale for a radical gender egalitarianism.” But there’s no elaboration on the meaning of either position. Maybe that’s just not possible in a 660-word news story that — in my opinion — deserved more space.
After reading this story, I felt like I had eaten a dry piece of toast.
I would have preferred a double-biscuit with gravy.