In the 1970s, greater numbers of women entered the six Southern Baptist seminaries, many professing a calling to the pastorate, even though most churches still refused to ordain them.
I grew up Southern Baptist and was a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1980s. By that time, women were about a third of the student body, although very few women were professors.
This was also a time when fundamentalists took charge of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention owns six seminaries and numerous publishing and missionary agencies worth billions of dollars.
Fundamentalists used biblical inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is without error in history, science or theology, as a test for theological faithfulness.
Beginning with the denomination’s annual conference in 1979, these fundamentalists were able to inspire voters to elect fundamentalist leaders. They claimed that moderate Baptists who did not accept inerrancy were also the ones who did not believe the Bible.
The new leaders purged the moderates from Southern Baptist Convention employment and leadership.
While fundamentalists claimed this takeover was about biblical inerrancy, in reality, it was as much, if not more, about women. As historian Barry Hankins also concludes, the “gender issue” eventually became a central issue for Southern Baptist fundamentalists as their takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention proceeded.So even as these Baptist leaders claimed their movement was about the Bible, they specifically targeted women and worked to reverse women’s progress in church and home. …
In my view, Southern Baptists’ history in relation to women provides important context for the current moment and helps explain the denomination’s inaction on sexual abuse by pastors.
The Southern Baptist Convention has fostered a culture in which sexual abuse and inadequate responses are not at all surprising. Apologies will likely do little to change that culture as long as beliefs about women’s submission stay in place.
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