Misogyny Wins the Day at SBC’s Annual Meeting

Misogyny Wins the Day at SBC’s Annual Meeting June 15, 2024


(Courtesy of Pixaby / jaefrench) 


Misogyny has prevailed once again in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which held its annual meeting in Indianapolis June 11-12. Although a constitutional amendment to ban female pastors failed by a small margin, the organization’s new president, Clint Pressley of Charlotte, NC, assured the world that the SBC’s complementarian beliefs remain strong. In other words, misogyny wins the day.

Complementarianism is the belief that God gives men and women complementary roles in the home and church. Translated, it means that only men are allowed to hold leadership positions, and women must remain in secondary roles and in submission to men.

Some 61 percent of delegates voted in favor of constitutionally banning female pastors, which was a mere 5 points short of the two-thirds majority needed. The penalty for defying the ban would be expulsion from the SBC. But even without the amendment, the SBC can oust churches that have female pastors.

Losses for the SBC

In recent years, the SBC has expelled several churches with female pastors, which is ironic given the fact that SBC churches are losing members. Lifeway Christian Resources announced in May that membership in SBC churches had declined for the 17th straight year and fell below 13 million members for the first time in roughly 50 years.

My point is that Christians alienating Christians isn’t helpful in an era when church membership and attendance are declining across the board. Infighting, sex abuse scandals, hateful rhetoric and suppression of women are evident to anyone who looks at the Christian faith. Who can blame non-Christians for deciding they want no part of Christianity?

The most prominent expulsions by the SBC include First Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, Fern Creek Baptist in Kentucky and Saddleback Church in southern California. First Baptist’s “sin” was having a female pastor of women and children.

Fern Creek Baptist Church’s “sin” may have seemed worse, as the church has had a female pastor in some capacity for more than 40 years. That pastor is Rev. Linda Barnes Popham, who began her ministry as the congregation’s minister of music and youth in 1983. She transitioned to minister of music and education and then became interim pastor in 1990. Popham was called as the church’s senior pastor in 1993 and continues to lead the church and even preach to men.

Saddleback’s founder, author and pastor Rick Warren, appointed a man to lead the church when he retired, and the new pastor’s wife came onboard as a teaching pastor. Three additional women became pastors in the church in 2021. Saddleback is one of the largest in the U.S. and was previously the second largest SBC church.

Misogyny Wins the Day

The SBC doesn’t care that God calls a woman to the ministry. Nor is the organization interested in whether she’s a talented preacher and church leader. She may be well-trained for a leadership role and more well-versed in the Bible than her male counterparts. None of these factors matter. In the SBC’s eyes, she is unfit for the pulpit.

I daresay the SBC would insist that God didn’t call our hypothetical woman to pastor a church. It also might disparage her training and raise questions about her knowledge of Christian theology. Anything to disqualify her from being the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church.

In denying a woman’s call by God, convincing her that she misinterpreted God or slamming the door in her face, the SBC is inserting itself in a place it has no business being: between the woman and God. It’s almost impossible to imagine the organization coming between a man and God.

The SBC may argue from now until kingdom come that women have no business in the pulpit. It may insist that God does not call women. But it cannot know what happens between a person and Almighty God. Consequently, it should not presume to tell God who he or she may call to the ministry.

“God would never call a woman to the pulpit,” some may argue. How do they know? Did God descend from heaven and announced that women are inferior? Or are these misogynists basing their stubborn beliefs on a misunderstanding of scripture, which is more likely.

Out of Context

The scriptures that people usually reference when preventing women from being pastors are 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:12-15. There are several problems with their interpretations, especially when they take scripture out of context.

In fact, the early church was a grassroots movement that saw many women assume positions of leadership. Among other things, they hosted church meetings in their homes, preached in what could be considered a pastor-like role and traveled with men as teachers and preachers. They played a crucial part in getting the fledgling church off the ground.

However, there is no point arguing these issues. The role of women in the church has been hotly debated for at least 2,000 years, and many Christians are firmly entrenched on one side of the issue or other.

A Baptist & Southerner Explains

Rather than take the word of a woman who left the SBC a lifetime ago and never looked back – namely, me – let’s see what a Baptist man has to say about misogyny in the SBC.

In a guest column for the Nashville Tennessean several years ago, Jonathan Siktberg introduced himself as a Baptist and southerner who has never been a Southern Baptist. He wrote the piece shortly after the SBC held its annual meeting against the backdrop of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the denomination.

“Sadly, these horrific events are no surprise given the policies fundamentalists have implemented since taking over the SBC in the 1980s and ‘90s,” Siktberg wrote. “Many Baptists, especially those in my younger generation, do not know about those events, but that history is essential to understanding how the SBC got here.”

Siktberg explained that “the SBC was a thriving denomination focused on missions, education and service, with theological diversity among its members and equality among its genders” prior to its takeover by fundamentalists. That’s as it should be in a Christian church.

“However, that all changed starting in 1979 when fundamentalists Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson hatched a plan to take over the denomination and purge its churches, institutions and seminaries of all those who did not toe the far-right line.”

A Battle for the SBC’s Soul

“What ensued was an all-out theological war for the next 11 years,” Siktberg wrote. “The fundamentalists clouded their agenda in the rhetoric of the ‘inerrancy of the Scripture,’ the idea that every single word of the Bible is literally true, even out of context.

Some 1,900 moderate SBC churches left to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, leaving fundamentalist leaders to remake the SBC in their own image rather than God’s, Siktberg said.

“In doing so, they abandoned the Baptist foundations of congregational authority, autonomy of the local church and separation of church and state by inserting pastors as the rulers of churches, removing churches that didn’t agree with (them) and embracing far-right wing American politics.

“But the most disgusting change they made was regarding women,” according to Siktberg. The fundamentalists who had seized control of the SBC made it clear they considered women inferior to men.

Today’s Southern Baptist Convention believes that “the absence of a Y chromosome” deprives women of the right to serve as pastors, lead missionaries and deacons. In fact, the SBC thinks it’s “morally wrong for a woman to teach a man anything about Scripture, (unless, of course, he’s in the nursery). In 2021. Think about that,” Siktberg said.

Misogyny Wins the Day in the Home

“But the misogyny doesn’t stop at church. It extends to the home,” he added. In 2000, the SBC changed one of its official statements to say a woman must “submit herself” to her husband because he is above her. It also fired any seminary president, missionary or Lifeway employee that wouldn’t sign the statement.

Siktberg hit the nail on the proverbial head when he said that fundamentalists who engineered the takeover were actually seeking power – “Power over the churches, power over the missionaries and, most disgustingly, power over women.”

An Environment Ripe for Sexual Abuse

In gathering power for themselves and forcing women into subservient roles, the men created an environment that was ripe for sexual abuse. In that men’s world, some even found marital rape acceptable.

News of a massive sex abuse scandal within the SBC came as no surprise to many.

An independent investigation uncovered decades-old sex abuse at all levels of the organization. There were allegations of child sexual abuse, sex abuse and sexual assaults against women, and grooming of adolescents.

When victims complained of abuse or assault, SBC leaders covered up the crimes. Keep in mind that many of these male leaders were the same men who insisted that women are inferior to men.

A similar situation exists in the Roman Catholic Church, whose patriarchal leadership is even more entrenched than that of Southern Baptist churches. In the Catholic Church, nearly 4,400 priests have been accused of sexually abusing children, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

An Empty Database of Abusers

The 2024 SBC annual meeting did little about the sex abuse scandal. Delegates affirmed priorities recommended by the organization’s volunteer task force on sexual abuse reform, but their vote was meaningless.

Training materials have been expanded. However, the online database of abusers contains no names, and the SBC hasn’t created “a permanent home for abuse prevention and response,” various news outlets have reported. And there it ends for the task force, as its job is done.

Lack of funding, insurance concerns and other unnamed problems have been roadblocks to additional progress. “The process has been more difficult than we could have imagined. And in truth, we made less progress than we desired due to the myriad obstacles and challenges we encountered in the course of our work,” the task force said.

One of the task force’s achievements was the creation of a nonprofit organization called the Abuse Response Committee to oversee the website. Unfortunately, the committee has been unable to publish abusers’ names because of objections from SBC leaders.

Task force leaders have said they raised $75,000 outside the SBC to vet the initial list of abusers, which included sexual offenders who have been found guilty in criminal court or have had a civil judgment against them. Yet, the database remains empty.

Empty Hopes for Funding

The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission recently designated $250,000 for abuse reform, and the SBC’s two mission boards have pledged nearly $4 million to help churches in responding to abuse. However, leaders of both mission boards have said they will not help fund the Abuse Response Committee.

“SBC leaders have long sought to shield the denomination and especially the hundreds of millions of dollars given to Southern Baptist mission boards and other entities from liability for sexual abuse,” Christianity Today reported.

“The 12.9 million member denomination has no direct oversight of its churches or entities, which are governed by trustees, making it a billion-dollar institution that, for all intents and purposes, does not exist outside of a few days in June when the SBC annual meeting is in session,” the publication said.

“As a result, abuse reform has been left in the hands of volunteers such as those on the task force, who lacked the authority or the resources to complete their task,” Christianity Today concluded.

A Reason for Hope

Despite these disheartening events, Nashville Tennessean guest columnists Jonathan Siktberg and Veta Sherman wrote last week that they are hopeful. And their hope gives me hope – not necessarily for the Southern Baptist Convention – but for the women whose godly calls to preach have been suppressed and for women who have been sexually abused or assaulted by SBC leaders.

“Baptist women who feel God’s call to serve in ministry as missionaries or pastors have the opportunities to do so thanks to Cooperative Baptists, Texas Baptists, Virginia Baptists, American Baptists, Baptist Women in Ministry, thousands of moderate Baptist churches across America, and the high-ranked Baptist university in the world (Baylor),” the guest columnists stated.

Misogyny wins the day in the Southern Baptist Conference and some other Christian organizations, but thankfully, Christian women have other options, and many are taking advantage of them.

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