The “Narrative” vs. the Reality of SBC ‘23

It’s been nearly a week since the SBC annual meeting finished up in New Orleans. I have been fascinated to read all of the “reports” and commentary that have come out over the last seven days. One thing that has become very clear. Even some of the “straight news” reporting has been beholden to a narrative that distorts what actually happened.

According to the narrative, abuse reforms “slowed down” while Southern Baptists reasserted the “patriarchy” by excluding female pastors. The New York Times published a “report” that amounts to little more than thinly veiled contempt. The article frets about an “ultraconservative” take-over and reduces the SBC’s relevance to being “a key Republican voting bloc ahead of the 2024 presidential election.”

TIME magazine warns of “The Southern Baptist Convention’s Long War for the Patriarchy.” Beth Allison Barr wrote for that the SBC is “ignoring” the abused in order to “increase the power of men.” Barr even alleges that our complementarian theology amounts to “beliefs that rationalize and enable abuse against women.”

This is no surprise. The SBC is a complementarian convention. It’s written into our governing documents. The world hates this teaching and will try to paint the teaching in the worst possible light. Egalitarians and feminists have been levelling the abuse-slander against complementarians for decades. It is the worst sort of ad hominem, and egalitarians have found it a useful tactic when they are otherwise losing the biblical argument.

And make no mistake about last week. Proponents of female pastors were losing the argument. The SBC voted overwhelmingly to exclude two churches with female pastors. The convention also amended its doctrinal statement to clarify that the terms pastor, elder, and overseer are merely three ways of referring to the same office. Also, the convention voted to approve an amendment to the SBC Constitution which defines a cooperating church as one that “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” None of these votes were close. They were all 80-90% supermajorities.

These overwhelming votes likely provoked the distorted narrative in the media. But what has gotten lost in the coverage is that Southern Baptists not only removed two churches for having female pastors but also removed another church for having a disqualified male pastor. The church’s pastor had admitted to “a pattern of sexual misconduct with women who were under his pastoral care and supervision.” The messengers of the SBC were having none of it, and voted against that church by a margin that exceeded the other two churches that were removed for having female pastors.

Not only that, the SBC voted to renew the abuse task force another year. Even with all of the controversies surrounding Guidepost and the “credibly accused” category, Southern Baptists recommitted to abuse reform. And again, the vote wasn’t even close.

During the debate on the Law amendment, I spent half my speech affirming women in ministry. Likewise, Juan Sanchez argued, “This motion states what we believe positively. We agree that both men and women are gifted for service in the church. Women are a gift to the church. And we affirm their vital roles in the ministry of the church and church staffs.” We were making an appeal to our fellow messengers knowing that we all share together a commitment to affirming women in ministry.

Moreover, the SBC overwhelmingly passed a lengthy resolution affirming the vital ministries of women within the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Have you read about that resolution in media reports? Probably not. Doesn’t fit the narrative. You need to read it. Southern Baptists rightly wanted there to be no mistake about the fact that we believe in and affirm women in ministry. Our complementarianism doesn’t diminish that commitment one iota. Here’s an excerpt:

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to equip women in their congregations “for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we exhort all Southern Baptists to work together to commission, train, and support women to go and make disciples while serving courageously, giving sacrificially, and praying continuously, in order to effectively impart the faith to the next generation; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we commit ourselves to cultivating an environment within the Southern Baptist Convention where women are fully respected, valued, and mobilized as co-laborers for the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission and the glory of the Triune God.

Critics in the media are trying to weave a narrative that Southern Baptists chose their complementarian theology over abuse reform and women in ministry. That narrative is a lie. It’s also theologically and practically a false choice. We don’t have to pick between our complementarian theology and abuse reform/women in ministry. We can do it all at once, and we did.