(RNS) — Organizers of a major Southern Baptist pastors conference are standing by their choice to feature a spoken word artist and pastor named Hosanna Wong despite a growing controversy over whether Wong's presence contradicts the Southern Baptist Convention's doctrine on women pastors.
Wong, who is scheduled to perform a spoken word selection at the June meeting of the SBC Pastors' Conference in Orlando, Florida, serves as a teaching pastor for a San Diego church. She is the only woman included in a list, released Monday (Feb. 10.), of speakers and guests set to appear at the conference.
Her presence on the list was met with protests on social media.
Critics have demanded that Wong be disinvited from the event, citing the Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination's doctrinal statement, which states that "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
"The powers that be are ticked off — and they believe there is an agreement for her to drop out," said the Rev. Wade Burleson, a prominent pastor from Oklahoma who supports Wong's appearance and believes she will remain on the program. "Let's see what happens."
At least two other speakers at the conference come from churches that allow women to serve as pastors on their staff, according to critics.
In a press release Friday (Feb. 14), Rev. David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, admitted that he disagrees with the theology and methods of some of the speakers and guests scheduled to appear at the annual Southern Baptist Pastor's Conference, which draws thousands of pastors and meets prior to the SBC's annual meeting.
But he appealed to his fellow Baptists to give the speakers a chance.
"The irony of this is that my direction with the conference has created more division and hostility than I ever could have imagined," wrote Uth, who is president of the pastor's conference. "Could I appeal to you to be open and give God a chance to speak through every person who is a part of this program?"
Earlier this week, Uth told Baptist Press that Wong has spoken at several Baptist churches in the past and that she was not preaching at the event.
"She's not preaching. She's not coming as a preacher," Uth said. "She's coming as a musical artist."
In Friday's press release, Uth said that Wong would perform a spoken word selection and described spoken word as an art form of "sharing contemporary poetry in front of a live audience oftentimes performed with a musical background."
Uth left the door open for changes in the program.
"I have no desire to bring anyone into an environment that is not welcoming to them," he wrote. "I am communicating with our invited program guests and together we are determining the best plan going forward for each."
On Thursday (Feb. 13), Burleson, a Baptist pastor and blogger from Oklahoma, claimed on social media that Wong had been disinvited. Now, Burleson told RNS, he might have been wrong. The pastor told RNS that he has not received any official word about Wong's status.
But he now predicts that she will be on the stage at the conference.
"Kudos to David Uth for sticking by his convictions," Burleson said, adding that Southern Baptists who support women leaders in the church to show up at the pastor's conference.
"Show up and be inspired," he said.
The controversy over Wong and other speakers is part of a larger dispute among Southern Baptists over whether women can preach in services and whether the role of senior pastor is only reserved for men. Evangelical pastor John MacArthur made headlines last year when he accused the SBC of "caving" on the issue of allowing women to preach and said that popular Bible teacher Beth Moore should "go home."
Author Emerson Eggerich, who is also scheduled to speak at the conference, has been the subject of controversy of his own in recent months. Critics claim his best-selling book, "Love & Respect," can be harmful to women in abusive relationships.
This week, a group of Southern Baptists who say they are worried about the SBC's "apparent emphasis on social justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and the redefining of biblical gender roles" — issues that have roiled the SBC in recent months — launched the Conservative Baptist Network of Southern Baptists.