Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers


Remember all the times that Southern Baptist leaders attacked centrist and progressive Baptists for ordaining women? Well, now they are attacking for . . . not hiring very many female pastors. Excuse me! I have made that criticism, but how does someone who doesn’t believe in women pastors AT ALL make that statement with a straight face? Thanks to Brian Kaylor for this story. Sometimes you must laugh rather than cry.


August 22, 2006 - Posted by | Baptists, blogs


  1. Michael,
    I have been busy lately and haven’t had the time to write or interact with anyone, but I wanted to post a short note about this particular issue.

    The main thrust of the criticism that Russell Moore and others make is that if Egalitarians are so sure that women are equipped to do the task of Senior Pastor, then why don’t they put their money where their mouth is? I think it is a fair criticism. After all, you said yourself that you have made the same observation. I don’t think that being a Complimentarian excludes one from making this point. To borrow an illustration inspired from your most recent post (which I hope to comment on when I get the time – though lot likely in the way you might think I would) this is very much like Drudge Report pointing out that Barak Obama drove away in a gas-guzzling vehicle after giving a speech on global warming and fuel-conservation. Obama certainly wasn’t putting his money where his mouth was.

    Clearly many, many Baptist don’t really believe that women are uniquely equipped for the Senior Pastorate and this is reflected in their actions by those churches not hiring women to fill their pulpits (some even still advertise for those positions using gender-specific language). And that is what the articles on this were point out. I think to make that connection is fair and appropriate and something that left-leaning Baptists should answer for. And I think you would at least agree with the second part of that sentence.

    Comment by D.R. | August 24, 2006

  2. D.R., I think it is a more appropriate critique from within egalitarian Baptist circles than from without. Believe me, being married to an ordained Baptist woman who has been an interim pastor and held several other staff positions, and having a woman as my pastor, I think so-called “moderates” haven’t done enough. The Alliance has done pretty well. We only have 117 churches nationwide and 20 of them have women pastors or co-pastors, with many more women on pastoral staff. But I have repeatedly told the CBF that it should do better.

    Every male CBF pastor could specifically recruit women for pulpit supply and for revival preaching. That would accustom their people to more than the “idea” of women pastors.

    I don’t, however, think this is a simple case of hypocrisy. I think in many cases, church pulpit committees are more conservative than the church as a whole. One or two influential families have blocked many a woman from serving as senior pastor. That does NOT mean that the rank and file centrist Baptist is opposed to women serving in this role, but that conservatives have more power in local churches than is warranted by their numbers.

    Another problem is the “good ol’boy” or word of mouth way that Baptists in the South still fill pulpits–with haphazard advertisements too. If the CBF had a system like the American Baptists in which ministers seeking positions could submit profiles and churches seeking ministers could do the same and computers generate a wider pool of candidates, I think we would see a steady increase in the number of women finding senior pastorates. As it is, many posts are filled before qualified women even find out they are open! (No, this is not a “sent” system, just more organization to a “call” system!)

    I also find that women serve as senior pastors in 10% of the 200 churches (Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico) listed as partner congregations of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America–with considerably higher numbers having women in ministerial staff positions. So, apparently there is a connection between a church’s strong commitment to peace & justice issues and their openess to women pastors.

    But what I find weird is that Mohler, etc. seem obsessed with the CBF. They have to say something about them all the time. Why?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 24, 2006

  3. It seems glaringly apparent though that women are still not treated with so-called “equality” if only 10% are senior pastors in those churches you mentioned. Surely at least half (if not more if national numbers of male-female churchgoers holds true in them) of the members of these churches are men, but only a measly 105 are senior pastors. And this is problematic for those who claim this is a “discrimination” issue. Though I agree that this isn’t an issue of simple hypocrisy (which is where the Obama illustration falls short).

    I also agree that the criticism is MORE appropriate coming from people like yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fair game for anyone to make, given that organizations like the CBF have assaulted the SBC with criticism after criticism over this same issue. Which brings me to my last point which regards your last paragraph —

    The CBF from its inception has been a critic of Southern Baptists. It basically started because of a knee-jerk reaction to the conservative resurgence. I admit some of their original aims were noble, but at times they have been downright nasty in their attacks. If you ever read Baptists Today, you will certainly see something in the monthly magazine (usually from its editor) criticizing Southern Baptists for one thing or another. I find it interesting that CBF’ers are so up in arms when the tables are turned on them. And I have yet to hear anyone say (besides you, but you are not a part of the CBF), “Hey they have a legitimate critique – we don’t have many women in the pastorate.” This lack of acknowledgement of a legitimate critique, regardless of the source, is what might be most hypocritical about the entire bruhaha, given that CBF’ers constantly and consistently charge the SBC leadership with being nearsighted and close-minded to criticism.

    When I was in seminary in New Orleans (and given we stayed out of the political fray most of the time), I heard little to nothing from SBC’ers about the CBF, but I constantly heard things from CBF church leaders or read things in their magazine that indicated they were more interested in bashing Southern Baptists than actually trying to build a denomination. Now that some glaring problems like their actual numbers of members (which I openly admit the SBC has problems with as well – I would have voted for the Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership, as well as almost all of my fellow SBC Calvinists) and the issue of walking-the-talk concerning women as Senior Pastors, it seems they are unwilling to admit that they unprepared to function as a fully-operational denomination.

    Comment by D.R. | August 24, 2006

  4. Are women 50% (or more) of Alliance churches? Yes. But shall we ask 50% of the male pastors to resign in order to make room for an instant equality to take place? The numbers of women pastors are growing, even though not as fast as I would like. 10% is not yet equality, but it represents tremendous growth from ZERO. Yes. More could be done by the male leaders. I’ve repeatedly said so.

    But the SBC has no moral high ground here. As Philip Wise says here: http://www.ethicsdaily.com/../article_detail.cfm?AID=7799
    the SBC renounced its racist past more than a decade ago–so how many African-America, Latino or Asian pastors have been called to serve as preaching pastors for Caucasian SBC churches? And, AT LEAST the Alliance and CBF have made plenty of room for women in their denominational leadership structure and the seminaries they support. So how many African-American, Asian, or Latinos serve in high SBC positions?

    Historic patterns of discrimination take time and much effort to reverse. I am the first to say that the Alliance and CBF ought to be doing more for the equality of women (and to become multi-racial and multi-ethnic for that matter), but until I see the SBC living up to its own stated moral norms, I think they should shut up about others–especially about norms they don’t share. (The CBF hasn’t been booing the SBC for renouncing racism and then laughing at it for failing to be more inclusive–the equivalent of the double message to the CBF and others about women.)

    Also, you champion “complimentarianism” and say that it is different from sexism and patriarchy. Mohler and Moore say the same. Fine. Then where are the female deacons in your churches? That’s a complimentary role. It’s not “senior pastor” (an office which didn’t even exist in the NT). It is about serving, not authority.

    You know full well that 1 Timothy 3:11 following says not “their wives also” but “the women likewise,” giving qualifications for female deacons along with male. And, long before the rise of feminism, Baptists have had female deacons as early as 1609. But always only a few. But surely complimentarians would say, “Okay. We’ve ruled out one office for women on the strength of biblical authority–but every other office is open. We encourage godly women to listen to the Spirit and see if you are called to the diaconate like Phoebe (Rom 16:1) and we urge every member to consider prayerfully women’s names as well as men’s when you are considering nominating deacons.”

    I mean even R. H. Carroll’s church had female deacons, but today it is taboo in SBC life–with no complimentarian justification and no biblical rationale. I find women deacons in every Alliance and CBF church I visit–sometimes they are the majority of the diaconate!

    I will continue to push Alliance and CBF folk to “walk the talk.” But people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 24, 2006

  5. Michael,

    You would make a solid point about African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians if that were true, but unfortunately while there is little data available and hardly any antedoctal evidence (therefore what you said is more of a matter of perspective than actual statistical data), there are some major signs of multi-ethnicity and multi-culturalism in the academic realm of the SBC. In fact, it’s quite prevalent today to see African-American seminary professors (2 profs and one administrator reside at Southern) and Latino seminary professors (I believe Paige Patterson hired 3 Latinos immediately after taking his position at Southwestern. And likely within 3 Presidential elections we will see an African-American president of the SBC, either Fred Luter of New Orleans or Voddie Baucham of TX. Also, NAMB has been strategically reaching out to African-Americans and Latinos in church planting for almost a decade now and we are beginning to see more and more fruit lately.

    The difference in these two issues comes down to demographics. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos don’t make up half of the Seminaries (or SBC churches for that matter), as do women in CBF-affiliated seminaries like BSR and Truett. And most of those in diverse ethnic groups enter seminary with the intention of going back into congregations of their ethnicity, as is the same with Caucasians. That is obviously not the case with women. Additionally, all things equal I would like to see any data that suggests that the CBF is any more culturally diverse. So, unfortunately the critique doesn’t hold up as you are comparing apples to oranges here.

    Restated again, it is legitimate for SBC’ers to critique a denomination that basically split from the SBC largely over this very issue for not being proactive in acting upon it. If you don’t believe me look at the organization prior to the release of the BF&M 2000 and after it — totally different goals and rhetoric. This was the crux of the CBF’s march into separation. Thus, to not act upon this while hundreds of women clamor to seminaries believing they will be welcomed into churches afterwards is cause for critique.

    Now, to address some of your other points here. You said,
    Also, you champion “complimentarianism” and say that it is different from sexism and patriarchy. Mohler and Moore say the same. Fine. Then where are the female deacons in your churches? That’s a complimentary role. It’s not “senior pastor” (an office which didn’t even exist in the NT). It is about serving, not authority.

    The church my wife and I are about to join, Clifton Baptist, has one female deacon and previously had another before she left with her husband to pursue a ministry position. At the recent membership meeting, I asked the executive pastor about female deacons and why there were not more. He noted that the church has sought out more but there are few women available and willing to accept it due to either time restraints or lack of desire to have an official office (we are very much a transitional church with many seminary students and others pursuing degrees in academic fields). Furthermore, my home church in New Orleans had 4 women deacons (2 shy of the number of male deacons). And others like Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC (Mark Dever’s church) and Grace Bible Church of California (John MacArthur’s church) are influencing Southern Baptists greatly in this area. So, among the Calvinists who are “raging” Complimentarians, deaconesses are not an oddity at all and in fact, encouraged. And just another note, Dr. Thomas Schreiner is the pastor of Clifton, wrote a book on Complimentarianism, and Bruce Ware who is on the board of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Woman is an elder at Clifton as well. So again, this critique doesn’t hold much water, except again those in the pews of SBC churches who don’t know enough Greek to understand anything more than what the KJV says. And if you want to compare those types of folks, not the leadership, then you have us on almost every fault that could exist in church life. But I dare say the same thing is happening with the typical CBF pew-warmer as well.

    Which brings me to the root cause of that deacon problem – a misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching on elders, deacons, and pastors. But hopefully the academic force that is Calvinism in the SBC will get that squared away in the next 20 years of Seminary graduates. They had bigger problems like the denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth to deal with first. Thankfully, that’s all taken care of now.

    So, again Michael, going back to the original point, the CBF has been a denomination of dissent and criticism toward the SBC. Now they are whining about the SBC pointing out problems that are glaring about it. I honestly don’t think the CBF will exist in 60 years given their left-leaning tendencies and their declining birth rates and poor evangelistic fervor, so I don’t care if we criticize them or not. The CBF and other liberals are becoming more and more political. And if there is one lesson that can be learned from conservative Christians over the past 30 years, it’s that politics can quench the Spirit. That is why you see so much Evangelical retreat from politics right now. And certainly more is to come after the midterm elections.

    Comment by D.R. | August 24, 2006

  6. “The CBF and other liberals are becoming more and more political.”

    1. You say that as if it were a bad thing – to be concerned about a nation’s policies. Of course, the pharisees probably complained that Jesus was too political, too.

    (“What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.”

    But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

    -John 11)

    2. You say that as if it weren’t true that “conservative”-ish churches aren’t becoming more political.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 28, 2006

  7. D.R. said:
    “They [SBC fundamentalists] had bigger problems like the denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth to deal with first. Thankfully, that’s all taken care of now.”

    Umm. This is wrong on both points. As huge as the SBC was and is, I have no doubt that some pastor or professor or denominational bureaucrat SOMEWHERE denied the VB or the Resurrection. But I went to the seminary most often attacked as liberal (SBTS) and took all the most controversial professors on purpose to check out the charges against them, and never found a single example of this.

    It was claimed repeatedly that E. Glenn Hinson didn’t believe in the resurrection because of a book he wrote in the ’60s called _Jesus Christ_ where he, as a historian, was asked to give what historians could confirm about Jesus. Considering the state of historical Jesus research at the time, it was a very conservative book and that may explain why it didn’t sell well. In it, Hinson said that historians AS historians cannot affirm the resurrection because of the nature of the discipline vs. the nature of the event. But he said explicitly then and later that he, as a believer, did hold to the bodily resurrection. It is central to his faith.

    Fundamentalists were mad because he wouldn’t rubber stamp the popular apologetics of Josh McDowell and agree that historians could prove the resurrection. He may have been wrong. Certainly sophisticated theologians like Wolfhart Pannenberg (and, following Pannenberg, Baptists like Frank Tupper and the late Stan Grenz) and biblical scholars like Anglican bishop N.T. Wright, have tried to push the boundaries of historiography and say that historians as historians can affirm the likelihood of resurrection as the best explanation.
    But notice that the disagreement is not over whether or not the resurrection occurred, but over whether it can be proven by the historians tools rather than just taken on faith. That’s a debate between orthodox believers, not between believers and skeptics.
    It was also claimed that some NT profs at Southern didn’t believe in the resurrection, but everyone I asked said otherwise. None of their writings suggested they were lying.
    It was the same story with the virgin birth. I heard many STUDENTS question this, but no professors. I did here professors question it as a “fundamental of the faith,” necessary for salvation, but I heard that questioned by conservative evangelicals like Craig Blomberg, too. Again, that’s a disagreement over where to draw tests of orthodoxy, NOT a debate on what happened. And I met no one who said the VB couldn’t have happened.

    This was all a rightwing smokescreen to mask the powergames of political takeover.

    On the other hand, I have heard every kind of liberalism espoused by laity in SBC pews when they think they won’t be overheard by tyrannical pastors or other authority figures. Laity, especially youth, are very good at hiding their true views from dictator pastors and disapproving parents. But, skepticism abounds about the VB, the resurrection, etc.–and more so in conservative churches where doubts cannot be aired in a safe atmosphere than in more open churches.

    And the rigid, unbiblical, dogmatism that is Calvinism just increases those doubts. Those young people who are attracted to authoritarianism because free inquiry (and high school) is scary, love it. Those who are seeking honest wrestling with real questions are being quietly lost to churches everywhere, but especially hyper-orthodox ones. Sometimes, those of us in more progressive churches are given a chance at repair and to return those to faith–often no one is given a chance.

    Who is to blame for this? Not liberals, but the pablum that passes for Sunday School materials past 4th grade, the absolute drivel in most “Christian bookstores,” and the corporate church growth movements. In fact, I think scholastic Calvinism (not the wide Reformed tradition of which Calvin was a vital part, but the rigid scholastic Calvinism of Boyce, Manly, and modern copycats like Mohler) is as popular as it is simply because it offer SOME kind of intellectual answers.

    They aren’t great and if folks have a chance to compare them to other non-pablum answers and methods of exploring questions, they are usually left behind. But they are better than the drivel being offered by the Paige Patterson types.

    Sorry, friend, the new SBC is growing far more closet liberals in its pews than it ever stamped out in seminaries.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 28, 2006

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