Earlier today, I saw that Scot McKnight posted an invitation to sign a statement affirming women as pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The group hosting the letter is called Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). Although I’m not aware of this group having any meaningful ties to the SBC any longer, this group has a history that was forged during the crucible of the SBC’s conservative resurgence. One early member of the group was Molly Marshall, former professor at Southern Seminary a well-known advocate for female pastors, and an advocate for “theological hospitality” toward those who affirm homosexuality.
BWIM tweeted about the letter before its release and gave a bit of a rationale for it:
BWIM is supporting and advocating for women on the SBC pastors list & is encouraging Baptist women to know that there is a bigger and more inclusive gospel than the one that promotes patriarchy as God’s design. Stay tuned for more details.*
The letter and signatures are designed to support the women and churches who dissent from what Southern Baptists believe. The SBC’s doctrinal statement says that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture, and this group doesn’t agree. Signers of the letter mean to express their disapproval and to show solidarity with those who have opposed the SBC’s beliefs on this matter.
I encourage you to read the letter for yourself. You will find that there is nothing new there. The doctrine expressed in it is boilerplate egalitarianism—a teaching Southern Baptists have time and again repudiated. What is new is that so many outside personalities are now taking such an interest in manipulating the SBC into abandoning its biblical beliefs about pastoral ministry. Scot McKnight, Beth Allison Barr, and over a thousand others have already added their signatures.
If the messengers’ reaction in Anaheim to Saddleback’s decision to ordain female pastors is any indication, I don’t think that the SBC is going to be subject to such manipulation. We actually do believe what we say in the BF&M, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” We want to see women flourish in Christian ministry, but we also know that such ministry does not include serving in the office of pastor. And we know that ultimately not because of the BF&M but because of the Bible (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12; 3:2).
Nevertheless, the faith of Southern Baptists on this point is undergoing profound challenges both from within and from without. That is why messengers to the June convention in New Orleans need to be ready to stand for what we say we believe. We will likely have an opportunity to do so if and when Saddleback challenges their removal from the SBC. Messengers may also have such an opportunity in their deliberations about Mike Law’s proposed amendment to the BF&M. It remains to be seen whether that amendment will make it to the floor. We’ll see.
In any case, I don’t think Southern Baptists are going to back away from the BF&M. The reason we won’t do that is because we are not going to back away from the Bible. And it won’t matter how many signatures are added to a letter that opposes the Bible’s teaching. We have staked everything on God’s inerrant word and won’t be turning back.
* I originally understood the “pastors list” refer to the recent action by the SBC to remove a number of churches for having female pastors. A reader informs me that I am mistaken and that the “pastors list” actually refers to a list of 170 female pastors in the SBC. I am not certain what it refers to now, so I have removed that sentence altogether from the essay above.