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

Fmr. First Lady Ordained as Baptist Deacon

As early as 1611, some Baptist confessions of faith permitted women deacons and we have evidence of women deacons as early as the 1630s. Baptists have also had women preachers from early in our history, but female deacons have been more widespread, though always controversial. Still, since the assault on any form of women’s leadership by the so-called “conservative resurgence” (i.e., the Fundamentalist Takeover) of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptists in the U.S. South have created a global impression that women are forbidden these offices by all Baptists. That makes the following press release even bigger news. MLW-W

December 20, 2006
Rosalynn Carter ordained as deacon by Plains church
By John Pierce
PLAINS, Ga. — Former First Lady Rosalynn Smith Carter was ordained as a deacon Dec. 10 by Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. Though raised a Methodist, Mrs. Carter, 79, has been active in Baptist congregations since her marriage to former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime Baptist deacon, more than 60 years ago.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Mrs. Carter of the Sunday evening ordination service. “I’m just kind of overwhelmed about being elected a deacon at the church.”

Mrs. Carter said being a deacon will open new opportunities for leadership and in caring for the church families assigned to her.

“I’m looking forward to being more involved in the affairs of the church, the decision making,” said Mrs. Carter. “We have a great church and a wonderful ministry.”

Mrs. Carter has long been involved in behind-the-scenes ministries such as working with children and delivering meals to families in need, said Maranatha pastor Jeff Summers.

“She is very shy and doesn’t like the spotlight,” said Summers, “but people have seen her leadership and compassion.”

The Carters are well known for their involvement in the small, rural congregation that welcomes thousands of worldwide visitors each year to attend the Sunday school class taught by President Carter.

Maranatha is among a growing number of Baptist churches to include women as deacons — a laity role noted for its service to the congregation. Mrs. Carter is the second woman elected as a deacon at Maranatha. The first was Sue Askerzada in 2003.

In December 2005, Jessica Summers, a graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology who assists her husband with the church’s ministries, became the first woman ordained to ministry by the church.

The issue of women in church leadership continues to be debated in many Baptist congregations and organizations. Most churches aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention do not ordain women as ministers or deacons.

The SBC revised its Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement in 2000 to include stated opposition to women as pastors. Some related agencies and associations have expanded that restriction to apply to women in other leadership roles such as female chaplains and, in one case, to a church’s associate pastor.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches, USA, are more affirming of women in church leadership. [Blogger’s note: This is also true of many other Baptist groups such as the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland; La Fraternidad Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba, etc.] However, Baptist polity, particularly the concept of local church autonomy, gives each congregation the freedom to call out and ordain its ministers and deacons without interference from any other church body.

“I’m encouraged,” said Mrs. Carter of the growing inclusion of women in all aspects of church leadership. “In our church, it has slowly evolved.” Since her election as a deacon, Mrs. Carter said she has been searching the Bible to learn more about being a servant of the church. Women like Phoebe, she noted, were called to places of service in the early church.

“It’s obvious that women were always included,” said Mrs. Carter. “Jesus, I think, set an example for having women in leadership roles.” As for her own term as a deacon, she added: “I’m looking forward to it.”
(John Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today, an autonomous, national news journal based in Macon, Ga.)

December 23, 2006 - Posted by | Baptists


  1. Awesome. If some Cooperative Baptists had gotten to me first, I might not have gone Congregational UCC. But I so loves my church and the UCC. Go Carters! Jimmy, I honestly believe, is a true prophet of our age.

    Comment by Erudite Redneck | December 23, 2006

  2. BTW Michael, I just put you on my blogroll. Shoulda done it a long time ago.

    Comment by Erudite Redneck | December 23, 2006

  3. The UCC has many strengths, E.R. My wife, Kate, was an interim pastor at Salem UCC here in Louisville and she still has “privilege of call,” since her ordination has “dual standing” with the Alliance of Baptists and the UCC. I need to put you on my blogroll, too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | December 23, 2006

  4. Thanks for this news. Baptists in the UK are also congregational but don’t seem to tend to be fundamentalist on the whole. I know a number of female Baptist ministers. Its too bad that the voice of British Baptists (and British Methodists) can’t be heard a bit louder in the US.

    Comment by PamBG | December 24, 2006

  5. I also wish that British Christians of all stripes were more influential in the U.S., Pam.
    I also knew that British Baptists had more women ministers than Baptists in the Southern U.S.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | December 24, 2006

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