Are Southern Baptists turning into feminists?

Margaret Bendroth has a provocative op-ed in the New York Times today titled “Could Southern Baptists Actually Become Feminists?” In short, she is reflecting on recent events in SBC life and what they might mean for Southern Baptists going forward. She focuses on what happened at the SBC annual meeting last week with the passage of a resolution on abuse and the election of J. D. Greear to the presidency of the SBC.

Her observations lead her to wonder aloud whether the SBC might be moving in a feminist direction. I think the answer to that questions is a resounding “no,” especially based on what I observed at the meeting last week.

It is true that J. D. Greear represents a younger generation of SBC leadership, but he is not a feminist. In fact, he has stated in no uncertain terms that he is a complementarian and fully affirms CBMW’s Danvers Statement. Greear writes, “The Summit Church is unashamedly and uncompromisingly complementarian. We affirm without qualification the Danvers Statement on gender roles in the kingdom of God.” Elsewhere, he has written: “Women are not to occupy that special, authoritative role of teacher in the church, either formally or functionally. That’s why Paul’s distinction of ‘teaching’ and ‘authority’ as two distinct things in 1 Tim 2:12 is significant.” Whatever one wants to call this, I don’t think it can be called feminism.

It is also true that the SBC passed a really strong statement against abuse, but this resolution can in no way be construed as a move toward feminism. As Bendroth notes, the resolution affirms “biblical headship.” But it is also important to note that the resolution affirms headship as that which “blesses, honors, and protects wives and children and does not require them to submit to sin or to abuse.” What does this mean? It means that complementarianism is not to blame for abuse. It’s the failure of complementarianism that is to blame for abuse. There’s no question that some people have tried to use good theology as a cover for abuse. But make no mistake. Abuse is a perversion and betrayal of biblical headship, not an expression of it. That’s what Southern Baptists affirmed last week.

Complementarianism is written into the confessional statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000. And that commitment was reaffirmed by messengers in a spontaneous way during Albert Mohler’s report on Southern Seminary. Dr. Mohler was asked about women teaching men in seminaries, and Dr. Mohler reaffirmed Southern’s complementarian commitments and explained that only men who are qualified to be pastors are allowed to teach in the school of theology. The response from the messengers in the hall was a rousing applause of affirmation (watch it here at 1:27:56). Again, there was no sign of some underlying feminist disapproval. The messengers liked what Mohler had to say on these points.

Is there diversity of opinion in the SBC about how complemenarian principles should be applied? Certainly there is. But the fundamental commitment to complementarian principle as outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message is not in question. On the contrary, the leadership and messengers reaffirmed it at every opportunity. And as long as Southern Baptists remain steadfast in their commitment to the authority of scripture, that is not going to change.