This letter appeared in the Baptist Standard this week.
Now that the fight is over in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the moderates have won, it will be business as usual. No women deacons and “senior pastors.”
We have a long way to go before we lose the “fundamentalist” label. At some point, the individual churches must stop acting like fundamentalists. If we drop the ball and do not allow women to become deacons and ministers, then the Southern Baptist Convention will have won.
First of all, I don’t think that the issue of churches ordaining women should be seen as a win-lose situation between the BGCT and the SBC. This is not a contest, and to view it as such creates the impression that churches should ordain women to make a political statement. No one, male or female, should ever be called to serve the local church for that reason.
For Baptists, the calling of a pastor, or the choosing of deacons, has always been, and always will be, a matter of local church autonomy. No denominational entity has the authority to interfere with those decisions or make those choices for us. To my knowledge, only two BGCT congregations have called a woman to serve as their pastor, and one of those is now pastorless. I could not begin to guess how many congregations in the BGCT have ever considered calling a woman, or ordaining one to the gospel ministry, but I would guess it is a very small number. The number of churches that have ordained women as deacons is probably larger, but I wouldn’t guess by much.
“Moderate” leadership and the ordination of women do not necessarily go hand in hand. The BGCT has leaders that might be characterized as “moderate” in the denominational political spectrum that has developed in the Southern Baptist Convention. They have retained control of the BGCT not necessarily because they are the majority in the churches, but because they learned how to organize and get out their vote successfully. To keep the exodus of more conservative churches to the SBTC from getting worse, they negotiated and made some concessions. Hot button issues, like the ordination of women, have been put on the back burner, so to speak.
It is, however, unlikely that the convention leadership could promote the issue of ordaining women without backlash. The churches have, by and large either accepted moderate leadership of the convention, or ignored it and went on about their own business. It is clear that most of them are not going to ordain women as deacons, or call women as pastors, by conviction. The convention is powerless to change that fact. On this issue, at least, it is clear that the BGCT is far more conservative than some people would like to think it is.
The SBC has made the ordination of women, particularly their service as “senior pastors”, a test of fellowship. In doing this, they have drawn considerable objection and protest from “moderate” Baptists in particular, who correctly point out that Baptist conventions do not have authority over matters that are left to autonomous, independent churches. Likewise, it is not the business of a state convention, even one with moderate leadership, to influence churches with regard to whom they choose to ordain. The reason there has not been any noticeable increase in the number of women serving churches as pastors is simply because the churches do not feel led to ordain or call them. It is not a convention matter, and as far as this writer is concerned, it never should be.