An Open Letter to Southern Baptist churches – and the SBC’s new President

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Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was a leader of Israel at that time. She would sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the Ephraim highlands, and the Israelites would come to her to settle disputes. – Judges 4:4-5

The Summit Southern Baptist Church here in Raleigh/Durham made a big news splash recently when senior Pastor J.D. Greear was elected president of the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). “Congratulations!” The position is a huge honor and an even greater responsibility.

I read a number of news reports and then listened to a few of Greear’s comments regarding the recent unraveling of confidence in SBC leadership. The church has seen “a dizzying amount of revelations,” he said, in response to the “Me Too” movement. The new president went on to make a number of important observations, some of which I’m quoting in the bullet points below:

  • “There is a deep problem in the heart of our leadership and the heart of our convention. I believe God’s trying to get our attention.”
  • “We need a new culture and a new posture… there are things about the culture of the SBC that grieve the Holy Spirit.”
  • “We must recognize the gifts God gives to women and seek to empower them. Women are equal in spiritual giftings. We need to recognize and raise up women in leadership and ministries.”
  • “We have failed to include women (and minorities) in top leadership roles. We need them. God has gifted them… We have been neglectful and lax.”
  • “We have guarded our positions of leadership to our detriment.”
  • “We need to protect the vulnerable and expose the abuser. God hates abuse.”
  • “We need to develop cultures in our churches that refuse to tolerate abuses of power.”

Men, men, men, and more men:

That last bullet point is critically important – developing alternate cultures.

What Greear says is all very well, but unless and until the Southern Baptist Church faces the fact that its values nurture a culture that facilitates and encourages male chauvinism, sexism, inequality, and even misogyny, there will be no progress to end the abuse of women other than lip service.

Take a look at the pastoral directory at Summit Church (or any Southern Baptist congregation): Pastors, Executive Team, Elders, Deacons – men, men, men, and more men.

The only way to shift a denomination away from a culture that makes the abuse of power a defining characteristic of male-female relationships is to include women as pastors, elders, deacons, Bible-teachers, and decision makers at the highest levels.

The only way to shift a denomination away from a culture that makes the abuse of power a defining characteristic of male-female relationships is to include women as pastors, elders, deacons, Bible-teachers, and decision makers at the highest levels.

“Put up or…”

If there is no radical and foundational change in how Evangelical Christian churches (and Americans in general) value, respect, talk about, categorize, employ, and deploy women, then we will continue to see inequality, male-centric power dynamics, and consequent endemic abuse: widespread, sweeping, prevalent, native.

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Derek Maul writes (and speaks) from Raleigh, NC

That’s my challenge, Pastor J.D. Greear. Let’s see it begin to happen right here at home, at The Summit Southern Baptist Church in Raleigh/Durham. Women in top leadership, pastoral, executive, and decision-making positions. Like you said, “We guard our positions of leadership to our detriment.”

Always believing, always having faith that progress is possible – DEREK

8 comments

  1. Derek,

    I completely agree with you. I at one time attended a Southern Baptist church and I remember a sermon about how only men should be in leadership. It felt wrong at the time. I looked around the church and the women appeared sad and defeated. That began my journey to the belief that women should be included in all levels of leadership in the church. What about Deborah, Hannah and Junia? Are their leadership roles in the bible to be neglected? Thank you for your continued thoughtful work.
    Sincerely,
    Aaron V. Lopez

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also absolutely agree, Derek – nice challenge to the new leadership! That said, this is a tough problem, and as can happen so frequently, the Bible is both clear and ambiguous on the topic. There are many social norms that have changed since the time of Jesus – which ones are we privileged and expected to adopt into religious and church doctrine, and which are we not? I think that is at the heart of the struggle for some. That said, in this case, WWJD seems pretty clear to me! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! It’s a classic example of “what else does the Bible say.” Too often the word is used to bolster our own insecurities and prejudices. Fortunately, and for all of us who claim Jesus as Lord, Grace abounds…

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  3. I grew up in a time when “women should be silent in church” was still being preached, observed, and enforced. It always seemed wrong to me especially when I saw how some of the women were treated by their husbands. I’m not talking about physical abuse, or anything quite as extreme as that. (Although I know that battery happened.) But I think what I saw was just as insidious: women silenced or dismissed, being told how they should feel, having their dreams and ambitions denied or minimized, and then being told that this was the will of God…Who loved them. I don’t recall Jesus infantilizing any person He met–male or female–but He does call husbands to sacrificial love that both honors and cherishes. I agree with you, Derek, that the church needs the voice of its female membership. It contributes equilibrium.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well said, Derek. Whenever I check out a church’s website and see a wall of only white, male faces on the leadership page, it tells me pretty much everything I need to know about their orientation toward God and the world. I was a Southern Baptist for the first 30 years of my life. I hope they will let the Spirit continue to transform them as a convention.

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