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Religious Tolerance logo

The ordination of women

By conservative Protestant denominations

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC):

The SBC is by far the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. They have about 1,600 ordained women filling various roles. In recent years, a fundamentalist faction won a power struggle with moderates in the denomination.

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2000-MAY-18: The SBC released a document that states: "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 statement cites 1 Timothy 2:9-14, which says in part, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man."

 There is no consensus among Christian theologians over the validity of this passage:

  • Fundamentalists accept the truth of the preamble in 1 Timothy which states that Paul is the author of the book. Most believe that the book was written by him, perhaps circa 62 CE a few years before his execution. 
  • Most religious liberals reject the authorship of Paul. Arguing from internal evidence, they have determined that the book was written by an unknown Christian circa 100 to 150 CE -- some 35 to 85 years after Paul's death. One of the anonymous author's goals was to reverse some of Paul's and Jesus' policies, including the equal treatment of women.

The SBC statement is consistent with their 1998 ruling that a wife should "submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband."

The SBC's Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee issued a statement in response to questions raised about their recommendations. 1 They explained that they dealt:

"... with the issue of women in the pastorate [at this time because they] were driven by biblical authority, a sense of urgency, and the near unanimous verdict of our churches....There is no biblical precedent for a woman in the pastorate, and the Bible teaches that women should not teach in authority over men... Far less than one percent of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention have ever called a woman as pastor."

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2000-JUN-14: The committee recommendation was ratified at the SBC annual meeting.

An unknown Methodist minister in Charlotte, NC concluded that the root cause of the SBC prohibition against ordaining women could be traced back to Genesis where Eve is said to have brought sin into the world. The minister said, with tongue solidly in cheek:

"Men can be ordained because Adam blamed Eve; however, women can also be ordained because Eve blamed the serpent; But under no circumstances should we ordain snakes."

To which Bernie Cochran of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church said:

"Especially, I would add, since they speak Hebrew with a forked tongue and tend to lisp -- terribly." 2

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2000-JUN: A resolution which expresses concern for the status of women in the SBC was presented to the  General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as Resolution 00-25. It was titled: "On Expressing Concern for Women in the Southern Baptist Church Denied the Exercise of Their Pastoral Gifts." It was referred to their Catholicity and Ecumenical Relations committee for review. 

The Assembly approved the resolution after extensive revisions. References to the SBC were deleted. The resolution:

"Reaffirms the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s support for women’s pastoral roles at a time when many religious bodies worldwide continue to restrict the hopes, education, and roles available to women.  Believing the empowerment of women to be part of Christianity’s gift to the world, we grieve when women with gifts for ministry are blocked from exercising them." 3

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2000-OCT-21: Jimmy Carter, former President of the U.S. and a Sunday school teacher with the Southern Baptists since the age of 18, severed ties with his denomination. He said that he and his wife Rosalynn have felt "increasingly uncomfortable and somewhat excluded, in recent years." The denomination's statement that prohibits women from serving as pastors and which requires women to be submissive to their husbands was the final straw. Carter said: "I think there ought to be the ability for Baptists who have slightly different commitments to Christianity to get along, work together and love each other." 4

Baptist commentator Mark Coppenger has written a defense of the SBC decision. 5

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  2008-SEP-19: USA: Lifeway Book Stores pulled magazine from displays: Lifeway stores, a division of the Southern Baptist Conference, has decided to not display the latest issue of Gospel Today magazine. The latter is the largest and most widely distributed urban conservative Christian publication in the U.S. with a circulation of a quarter million. Although the edition will not be on display, anyone can go to the cash register and request a copy.

Teresa Hairston, the magazine's publisher, said:
"They basically treated it like pornography and put it behind the counter. Unless a person goes into the store and asks for it, they won't see it displayed."

The reason why this edition was found so offensive is that its cover featured five clergypersons who are all women. Inside was an article about the trend towards gender equality among Christian clergy.

Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, said:

"The buyers said the statements that were in it took positions that were contrary to what we would say. It wasn't so much that there were women on the cover."

Pastor Tamara Bennett, pastor of This Is Pentecost Ministries in Sacramento, CA was one of the women on the cover. She said:

"It's a story that needs to be told. Sometimes we forget that ministry is God's business. It's not a man's business. God gives gifts to whomever he sees fit." 6,7
The Southern Baptists disagree. They feel that the ministry is very much the business of males only. On 2000-JUN-14 their annual meeting approved a statement saying that: "... the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

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Other Protestant denominations and para-church orgainizations:

  • Association of Vineyard Churches This group allows individual congregations to decide whether to allow all qualified candidates to be ordained in the offices of elder and pastor, or to restrict the offices to male candidates. An article in their periodical 7 supports women in a broad range of functions. "A woman can preach, teach, evangelize, heal, prophesy, counsel, nurture, administrate, and build up the flock of God."
  • Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship This is a university-based conservative Christian group. They issued a position paper in 1993-OCT which reversed their previous stance. The paper states that "gifts, character, essential theological faithfulness, and experience" are more important than gender in selecting employees for leadership.
  • Pentecostal Denominations: Although Pentecostals are conservative in theology, approximately 8 denominations ordain women. Two were actually founded by women: Amie Semple McPherson (1890-1944) started the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Ida Robinson founded the Mount Sinai Holy Church.
  • Seventh-day Adventist: This denomination has implemented a compromise policy. They do not ordain women as ministers, but do grant them most of the authority given to ministers. They do allow ordination of women to the lower post of elder.
  • Other very Conservative Denominations: Essentially all forbid women from the ministry, on theological grounds. Most also advocate that family decision making power be concentrated in husbands.
  • Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW): They promote a "complementarian" position which promotes male leadership at home and church. 8 Women are expected to "forsake resistance to their husband's authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husband's leadership." They oppose the "egalitarian" position which would allow female ordination and equal sharing of power within the family.

    The organization maintains a list of Christian denominations which have adopted the complementarian position, including: Presbyterian Church in America, Southeastern Seminary-Lake Forest, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-Louisville, Southern Baptist Convention, and the Westminster Theological Seminary. The Louisville seminary is notable because they carry discrimination against women to an extreme position. They enforce doctrinal purity by refusing to hire male faculty members who favor the ordination of women.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Baptist Faith and Message Committee: Response to feedback since report release," at: http://www.sbc.net/response.html 
  2. Bernie Cochran, "On serving God with mirth," 2001-JUN-10, at: http://www.pullen.org/
  3. "Commissioners' Resolution 00-25," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2000, at: http://index.pcusa.org/
  4.  News item posted by Covenant News. They disseminate "Today's news for today's church." See: http://www.CovenantNews.com/index.html 
  5. Mark Coppenger, "Women Pastors and the SBC," at: http://www.comeletusreason.com/
  6. "Magazine Featuring Female Pastors Pulled From Shelves, 'Treated Like Pornography'," Associated Press, 2009-SEP-19, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  7. "Gospel Today, Southern Baptists, and theology in the pew," Women of Faith in Culture, 2008-SEP-20, at: http://flashpointfiles.blogspot.com/
  8. John Wimber, Article in Vineyard Reflections, 1994-MAR/APR
  9. Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood maintains a web site which promotes male leadership. See: http://www.cbmw.org

See our news feed on women's issues.
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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-SEP-24
Author: Bruce A. Robinson

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