Here is an interesting development in the debate over female pastors among Baptists. At last week’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), messengers considered a motion that calls the BGCT to…
Affirm women in all ministry and pastoral roles, and that the BGCT Executive Board be instructed to have staff create programs, resources and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming appointing and employing women in ministerial and pastoral roles.
This motion is no surprise in the context of the BGCT. While the BGCT still has theologically conservative churches in its ranks, it also has a good number of progressive churches as well. It is the progressive wing of Texas Baptists that has historically opposed the SBC’s position on pastoral qualifications and that has kept the BGCT open and welcoming to churches with female pastors.
Nevertheless, the motion did not pass as submitted. After some debate, messengers approved an amended motion that removes the affirmation of women serving as “pastors.” The amended motion reads as follows:
Request the BGCT Executive Board to resource BGCT staff to continue developing more strategies, resources, and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming, appointing, and employing women in ministry and leadership roles.
So what happened here? Why was a female-pastor-welcoming convention unable to pass a formal affirmation of women serving as pastors? I was able to listen to a recording of the entire debate, which lasted just over 30 minutes. You can listen to the entire debate here:
Texas Baptists Debate Motion about Female Pastors
The bottom line is that some of the progressive messengers wished for the BGCT to go on the record affirming women serving as pastors. Conservative messengers spoke against this and argued that such a view is directly at odds with Scripture. Other messengers struck a moderate tone and argued that the BGCT shouldn’t make this a point of division and should accept both views among their cooperating churches. One of the “moderates” even suggested that the BGCT will eventually get to full affirmation, but it is too soon to do that now. Give it some time, and Texas Baptists will get there. But not right now. Progressives strongly opposed the watered-down amendment. They wanted the formal affirmation of female pastors. But in the end they lost, and the moderates carried the day.
The debate is illuminating in more ways than one. And I think there may be some lessons in it for the Southern Baptist Convention as we continue our own debate concerning female pastors.
1. The doctrinal dividing line concerns the office of pastor, and the progressives understand this. They made this very clear during the debate. Another progressive made it clear after the vote in an editorial for the Baptist Standard:
Texas Baptists’ denial of unilaterally affirming women as pastors reveals something deeply troubling about their lack of precise language… A woman’s calling by God will not change if we, Texas Baptists, choose to call her something else. However, our inability to call a woman what she is demonstrates our disregard for precise language… Why is this inaccuracy allowed to continue within Texas Baptist life?
While some celebrate the decisions made at the Texas Baptists’ Family Gathering in McAllen, others look at the situation soberly.
The decision to omit the word “pastor” from the original motion reveals a harsh double standard not placed on Texas Baptist men, denies women peace of mind to freely express their calling, downplays the work of the Holy Spirit, and reveals a deep flaw in the way Texas Baptists accurately address ministers in their care.
They all seem to understand that the office of pastor is the Rubicon. Once you cross that bridge, the doctrinal die is cast. The progressives know this, and it is why they objected so vociferously to the amended motion. They want the BGCT on record supporting women as pastors. Without that affirmation, their egalitarian vision can never be realized.
Lesson: Realize that the Bible’s qualifications for pastors cannot be jettisoned without serious damage. If you grant in principle that one or more of the qualifications for pastor can be set aside (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:2; 3:4; Titus 1:6), only worse things will follow in the wake of such a decision. The BF&M faithfully reflects the Bible’s teaching that while men and women are both gifted for ministry, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture. We MUST hold the line there.
2. Compromise always involves moving to the left, never to the right. To use a football metaphor, the difference between some moderates and progressives is that the progressive wants to move the ball into the endzone in a single play. The moderate is content to run numerous 5-yard plays. Both are headed toward the same endzone, and given enough time the moderates will land in the same place as the progressives. Conservatives need to beware of compromises that sound “moderate” but that in reality are slowly backing them into their own endzone.
Lesson: Some wish for Southern Baptists to create governing structures to create space for churches that have women serving as pastors. They believe this to be a moderate/non-extreme position because they only mean to include churches that have female pastors serving in associate roles. What they don’t seem to realize is that once the SBC accepts the theological principle that women can serve as pastors, there would be no grounds for saying they cannot serve as senior pastors. The one will inevitably lead to the other. In other words, today’s “moderate” position eventually leads to the same place the progressives want to go, albeit a little bit slower. And in any case, the moderate position already falls short of what we believe the Bible says about the office of pastor.
3. The proponents for female pastors by and large do not ground their arguments in scripture, but the conservatives do. This is no small point. Two of the messengers speaking against the motion took their stand on scripture. They quoted specific verses about pastoral qualifications and encouraged messengers not to question God’s word. Given the context, these two men showed great boldness and conviction. What a contrast to messengers who argued for female pastors and who made broad appeals to justice and equality. They talked about how women will be traumatized and damaged if they aren’t allowed to serve as pastors. But there was very little appeal to scripture.
Lesson: Southern Baptists need to remember that egalitarianism guts the functional authority of scripture among God’s people. I don’t have in mind here egalitarian theological books that have full affirmations of inerrancy. I’m talking about how the teaching often cashes out in practical settings. The hermeneutics of egalitarianism are unstable and eventually lead to the kinds of arguments that occurred on the floor of the BGCT. Broad appeals to justice and unfairness end up trumping specific statements of scripture. Southern Baptists have been right to reject the hermeneutic that interprets “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” as “I do allow women to teach and exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). That kind of reading undermines scriptural authority, whether our egalitarian friends realize it or not. That’s why you will never find a complementarian church that affirms LGBTQ. But all churches that affirm LGBTQ have already endorsed an egalitarian position. Again, the hermeneutics of egalitarianism are unstable and do not lead to good places. Southern Baptists would do well to continue their rejection of that approach.
- Eric Black, “Editorial: Women are integral to Texas Baptists’ mission,” Baptist Standard (July 19, 2023).
- Hannah Brown, “Voices: Women pastors: The title should match the call,” Baptist Standard (July 25, 2023).
- Ken Camp, “Texas Baptists avoid vote on ‘pastoral roles’ for women,” Baptist Standard (July 18, 2023).
- George Schroeder, “BGCT messengers adopt amended motion to affirm women in ministry,” Baptist Press (July 18, 2023).
- Meredith Stone, “Advocacy Update: Behind the Scenes,” Baptist Women in Ministry (July 21, 2023).
- Mark Wingfield, “Given opportunity to affirm women in ministry, BGCT punts,” Baptist News Global (July 18, 2023).