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Amid a #MeToo culture, Southern Baptists mull ways to increase women’s roles

Women greet Dorothy Patterson, seated with hat, before the Tea at 3 women’s event hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on June 11, 2018, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

DALLAS (RNS) — Over scones and chocolates, hundreds of Southern Baptist women gathered for tea in a convention center ballroom Monday (June 11) on the eve of their denomination’s annual meeting.

They were attending “[email protected]” a tradition of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school until recently led by Paige Patterson, the revered Southern Baptist leader who was terminated in May after reports he mishandled student rape allegations and made comments demeaning to women.

Patterson announced last week that he would not attend the annual meeting so as not “to detract in any way from the important business of our convention.” But at “[email protected]” Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, was seated at one of the front reserved tables, not commenting much on the recent scandal.

“We served at the pleasure of the board these years and they no longer have pleasure,” she told Religion News Service.

Though her husband was not mentioned by name, his seminary’s recent history of promoting women into gender-appropriate teaching roles  — but not preaching positions — were highlighted from the stage.

Long known for his resistance to feminist ideas, Patterson has boasted previously about the programs for women he established at Southwestern Baptist. In an interview at last year’s meeting, he told RNS that while he holds to the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy that a woman should not teach or have authority over a man, “that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing a woman can do except stay home and wash dishes,” he said.

“We believe that women have a tremendous impact on 51 percent of the population of the world that we men will never touch effectively.”

But others have wider expectations.

In the hallways of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center and in eateries and hotel lobbies nearby, messengers, as delegates to the meeting are known, are having heart-to heart discussions about future possibilities for women in a denomination that walks a “complementarian” line”: the  belief that women and men are equal before God but have different roles in church and home life.

The discussions, which come as the denomination marks 100 years since women have been welcomed as messengers, are already making their way to the meeting floor.

Rhonda Kelley speaks during the Tea at 3 women’s event hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on June 11, 2018, before the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

On Tuesday, the first day of the two-day annual meeting, Baptists were set to vote on a resolution in which they “call upon all Southern Baptists to encourage, cultivate, and celebrate the diverse gifts, callings, and contributions of women in biblically appropriate ways.”

Rhonda Kelley, wife of the president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who chaired a Women’s Advisory Council last year, said she hopes to see Southern Baptists move beyond having “token women on committees.” She would like to see more elected to serve on trustee boards, she said, where they can use their educational and professional expertise.

“What we discovered, more than anything, Southern Baptist women do not know about training opportunities and ministry opportunities, mission opportunities,” Kelley, who is Dorothy Patterson’s sister-in-law, said of her work with the council. “We need you all to be sharing with other women that you know, mentoring them and encouraging them, helping them to know how to use their gifts and abilities.”

The pro-woman talk buzzing in the halls has even included speculation about a suggestion, floated in a Christianity Today’s column last week (June 8), that a woman could be president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Citing “her qualifications and the current context the SBC finds itself in,” Pastor Dwight McKissic put forward the name of Beth Moore, a popular author and speaker, who herself has recently blogged about facing “misogynistic attitudes.”

McKissic, a Texas pastor known for prodding last year’s meeting to pass a statement condemning “alt-right white supremacy,” wrote that “a woman would not be usurping authority over a man by serving as SBC president.”

Moore declined to comment on McKissic’s proposal, but it may have helped make her something of a sensation. On Monday, she took part in a panel discussion about abuse in the church that drew hundreds to an exhibit hall space that had seating for about 25.

She declined to comment on a possible nomination for president.

On Tuesday, messengers elected North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear as the next SBC president, and its first top official from Generation X.

Bobbi Jackson at the Tea at 3 women’s event on June 11, 2018, before the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Bobbi Jackson, wife of a just-retired senior pastor in Huntsville, Ala. who served for years on Southwestern Seminary’s trustee board and has known the Pattersons for more than four decades, rejected the notion of Moore serving in that role.

“I would totally disagree just because I think that she does the best where she’s serving — writing books for women and Bible studies,” said Jackson, who described herself as “very sad” about Paige Patterson’s termination. “I don’t think she can have a higher calling than what she’s doing right now.”

Jackson said she doesn’t know any woman who has been the “help mate” of a Southern Baptist pastor who would want that role. “I know a lot of the strong minister’s wives in the convention,” she said. “I don’t know any of them that want to be president of the convention.”

Krissie Inserra, 36, the wife of the pastor at City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., takes another view.

“I don’t see why she can’t,” said Inserra, whose husband hired a woman as an executive director, a rare administrative role for a woman in SBC life. “This is not a church. And so I don’t know that that would happen anytime in the next few years but just the fact that it was even suggested says something, I think.”

Inserra, was one of the more than 3,300 women who signed a petition seeking action against Patterson after his statements about women came to light. She said Southern Baptist women are starting to band together in ways that could lead to more involvement in  leadership. Some male ministers, too, are beginning to speak up about the need to embrace the presence of women in prominent roles.

“When we see the men stepping up alongside the women, saying this is what we recognize in you and there’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t lead this committee or you can’t do this, that’s helpful,” said Inserra. “I’m encouraged.”

Within hours of Inserra mentioning male encouragement of women’s roles, suburban Atlanta megapastor James Merritt, speaking on a panel about “Gospel Sexuality in a #MeToo Culture,” mentioned women at his church who serve on teams dealing with personnel and finance. Complementarians, he suggested, can get too legalistic in their approach to Scripture.

“A woman could be the president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “I think sometimes we complementarians suddenly have gone into a Pharisaic mode of going beyond what the Scriptures teach and I think this is a good wake-up moment for us in that area as well.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

23 Comments

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  • As long as Southern Baptists remain staunchly conservative fundamentalists who believe that “every word of the Bible is the inerrant Word of God not open to interpretation” there can be no advancement for women in that denomination. That is of course based on St. Paul’s admonition for wives to submit to their husbands. Curiously, I never hear of Baptists denying themselves things like lobster, pork, and cheeseburgers which the “inerrant” Bible also condemns, only alcohol, which Jesus himself consumed at the Last Supper. Funny how selective they are in their biblical fundamentalism.

  • Southern Baptists are conservative, but I don’t see them as “fundamentalists”. Most Southern Baptist, for instance, seem to hold to old-earth creationism, viewing the universe and the Earth as billions of years old, while also holding to a direct creation of organism “kinds” and humanity. Southern Baptists would also vote for a woman for political office. Real “fundamentalist” Baptists tend to see the Southern Baptists as liberal heretics.

  • Dianna Anderson succinctly sums up the challenge facing the SBC and other churches that push a theology of complementarianism which inevitably subordinates women to men:

    Mohler, long a mouthpiece of the SBC, wrote in a commentary on his website that the events surrounding Patterson signal the wrath of God being poured out upon the SBC. And he asks: “Is the problem theological?”

    In a word, yes. It always has been, and always will be until the SBC and the larger conservative evangelical movement is willing to reckon with the fact that their theology lays the groundwork for abuse.

    She’s right. But I doubt that voices like this will receive any hearing in SBC deliberations, since the doctrine of biblical literalism espoused by the men running the convention manages — curiously — to pretend what Paul says quite literally as a summary of the gospel when he stated that in Christ, there is neither male nor female.

    http://religiondispatches.org/sbcs-metoo-problem-isnt-a-rotten-apple-its-a-rotten-theological-tree/

  • Look who speaks! You don’t either my dear. And every time you attempt to impress us with your profound biblical knowledge, you more loudly show how little you do know.

  • Of course St Paul also wrote that there is a hierarchy in both the church and the home, that different people have different gifts, and it is in dignity not power that all are equal.

  • “Bob Arnzen” as usual mines the bible for anything he can use to avoid equal rights for all people, in his bigoted BobWorld.

  • LOL at Sandi Luckins as usual.

    Actually, Elagabalus might be the only person who truly knows the “Bible Elagabalus.”

    Since the awful book of Christian nastiness, the bible, is so open to different interpretations, and so full of self-contradictions, you can pretty much find whatever guidance you want in it, but ultimately it’s a book of fairy tales and should go into the dustbin of history as one of the worst relics of an unenlightened, bigoted past.

  • “Of course St Paul also wrote that there is a hierarchy in both the church and the home.”

    Do tell.

    Would that be the St. Paul who states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”?

    Or would it be the St. Paul who states, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”?

    I’m well aware from things you’ve posted for a long time now at various religion discussion sites that it gives you great pleasure to announce that you control your wife and she is submissive to you (though, strangely, we never hear her side of the story).

    Whether that marital arrangement represents what Jesus teaches and what Paul points to as the gospel Jesus offers the world, I’m more than a little dubious — no matter what Opus Dei chooses to tell its epigones about how family life and gender relations ought to be conducted.

  • Actually I usually do quite well with it David. How many people have you directed toward homosexuality now David? That would explain the knowledge base your comment is made from.

  • What an ignorant comment. Nobody is directed to their sexual orientation. And you used that as a red herring to avoid admitting David’s point was correct.

  • Baptists tend to be divided into two camps: those who want to turn back the hands of time to the 1950’s and those who want to go back to at least 1850.

  • Because, David’s point is incorrect. And, by my assertion, I was showing that he doesn’t know Christ to make that determination about anyone else. Anything else I can clear up for you?

  • Fundamentalists ponder ways to be slightly less evil… I guess that’s progress, of a sort.

  • Yes tell.

    Btw, I have never, not once, posted anywhere that I control my wife and she is submissive to me.

    Nor does Opus Dei enter into the matter.

    Strangely we never hear from Steve, speaking of silent partners.

    Your comment does illustrate your propensity for trying to get personal in every forum in which you post – thankfully almost never outside Bilgrimage anymore – in lieu of coherent fact-supported discourse.

    Now that we’re done with the personals, back to St. Paul.

    The proof text you’ve snatched from Galatians is part of a larger message:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+3&version=NRSVCE

    Paul is concerned with the controversy surrounding Gentile Christians and the Mosaic Law in the Apostolic Age. Paul is instructing the Galatians that the Gentile Galatians do not need to adhere to the tenets of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision, by contextualizing the role of the law in light of the revelation of Christ.

    Chapter 3 exhorts the Galatian believers to stand fast in the faith as it is in Jesus. Paul engages in an exegetical argument, drawing upon the figure of Abraham and the priority of his faith to the covenant of circumcision. Paul explains that the law was introduced as a temporary measure, one that is no longer efficacious now that the seed of Abraham, Christ, has come.

    This verse continues the proof that all Christians are, in the fullest sense, “sons of God.” Galatians 3:27 showed why this was so; the present verse shows that there are no exceptions, no inequalities. All Christians alike, no matter what their race, status, or sex, stand on the same footing of sonship before God. There is a unity or solidarity in the Christian body. What is true of one is true of all.

    All are on a level; all are saved in the same way; all are entitled to the same eternal privileges. There is no favoritism in salvation on account of birth, beauty, or blood. All confess that they are sinners; all are saved by the merits of the same Savior.

    Some of the things it does not convey:

    – It does not justify the ordination of women, which it was used for in the ‘70s in the Episcopal Church.

    – It does not sanctify same sex marriage.

    – It is silent on political power.

    – It does not overturn the hierarchical foundation of the church.

    – It does not void the sacrament of Orders.

    – It does not void Ephesians 5:22-33.

  • Sandikins, there is no recruitment program. There aren’t LGBTQ folks trying to lure anyone into homosexuality or any other form of sexual minority status. I don’t rack up points and earn a toaster-oven or a food processor at the end of the year.

    I accept folks as who they are in their sexuality. I don’t try to convert and I don’t believe in a cure, because there is nothing to cure. But sometimes folks have been so messed up by people like you, they just need a friend. Someone who will come alongside of them, just like Jesus, and mostly listen, but also answer when they have questions.

  • Of course there are people trying to drag people into their immorality. Satan wanders to and fro all over the earth.
    Christ didn’t accept people “as they are in their sexuality” Are you saying you are better than Christ?
    Christ taught that He will forgive and cleanse us of our sin (1 Corinthians 6:11)
    Jesus would tell them to go and sin no more.
    Like I said, you don’t know Christianity

  • Strange interpretations of your Bible in English.

    I wasn’t aware God made you the arbiter of who is Christian.

    I suppose that you have some verse in English that you twist around to show that God elected you.

  • I think this verse applies to the conversation you are having with these posters, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,” So, if God has turned them over to a reprobate, or depraved or another translation calls it, a “worthless mind” – then should we even bother to debate these issues with them? It does no good – you will never be able to convince and convert those whom even God has washed His hands of. They are not here to seek understanding, but to disrupt and to destroy the chosen.

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