c. 2000 Religion News Service
A proposed revision to the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith reflects the desire of the denomination’s leaders to exclude women from the pulpit but at the same time be more inclusive of people of both genders and every race.
The proposed changes —not wholesale but significant —to the “Baptist Faith and Message” _ were announced Thursday (May 18) by a committee that will report its work to the annual meeting of the denomination in June.
New wording—which officials expect to be adopted —includes opposition to abortion, homosexuality and racism and says that “the gift of gender is … part of the goodness of God’s creation.”
“I think anybody who knows the Southern Baptist Convention will expect exactly what is found in this proposal,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and one of the 15 members of the study committee appointed to consider changing the document. “There are no real surprises here.”
But proposed changes in the statement’s article on the church prompted immediate controversy in some Baptist circles.
“While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” the revised statement of faith would read if approved.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Baptist Center for Ethics was among the critics.
“With this sharp change, the committee has pulled up the drawbridge into the 21st century and padlocked Southern Baptists into a 19th-century cultural castle,” he said.
“To limit the office of pastor to men in effect limits the individual in her ability to respond to God’s call,” added the Rev. Raye Nell Dyer, president of Baptist Women in Ministry, a Kansas City, Kan., organization whose members serve in Southern Baptist and other churches.
The group estimates that just under 100 women are pastors or co-pastors in Southern Baptist churches.
Members of the committee that drafted the new language respond to the critics by saying they believe the faith statement represents biblical teaching.
“Their disagreement is with the Apostle Paul, not with us,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, Tenn.
“It is those who ordain and call women as pastors who have to explain why they would move in a direction opposed to Scripture,” added Mohler, whose seminary is in Louisville, Ky.
While disqualifying women from pastoral positions, the statement affirms gender as a part of God’s creation.
Mohler and Land both said that stance simultaneously affirms both sexes as well as the appropriateness of their different roles.
“It was intended as an underscoring and emphasizing of the fact that man is created in God’s image, male and female, and that while he created us differently, one is not superior or inferior,” Land said. “That difference does not mean better or worse.”
The core statement of doctrine and faith of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was first adopted in 1925 and is not binding on individual congregations. It was revised in 1963. In 1998, Southern Baptists added a controversial article on the family that stated, in part, that “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
Adrian Rogers, chairman of the study committee and a prominent pastor from Memphis, Tenn., said the committee sought to retain the heritage of the previous editions while clarifying truths for a “postmodern culture.”
“Moral decay and assaults upon cherished truths dominate the arena in which we must now minister, and to which we must now proclaim the gospel,” he said in a statement released with the proposed new edition.
For the first time, the statement would include Southern Baptist opposition to racism, following by five years a resolution lamenting Southern Baptists’ role in slavery and calling for racial reconciliation.
“We specifically wanted to make it clear … that we understand racism is to be absolutely antithetical to the Christian witness,” Land said.
“Racism is listed first among items that Christians should oppose, along with “every form of greed, selfishness and vice.”
Also added to the list in the article on “The Christian and the Social Order,” are “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.”
In a separate sentence, the proposed article also would be amended to address abortion and euthanasia.
“We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death,” the new wording would read.
Mohler said the new statements “are speaking very clearly as Baptists to those issues that most definitely define us.”
The article on evangelism would speak of a Christian duty to evangelize MDUL“by verbal witness undergirded by a “Christian lifestyle,” rather than focusing on “personal effort.”
Land said Baptists must evangelize through words and not just lifestyle.
“You have an obligation to share the gospel in word as well as deed,” he said.
The article on “The Lord’s Day” would no longer speak of “refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments” but would instead say that Sunday activities “should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
“This is a far higher standard but a far less legalistic one,” Land said. “It doesn’t try to set down a code of the things you can and can’t do.”