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The SBC and Me


I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. I could sing The Doxology and Just As I Am (all 6 verses) by the time I was ten. I went to church 2-3 times a week until I was a teenager. Between church and a Christian school, I had memorized hundreds of Bible verses.

I grew up in the midst of the Conservative Resurgence in the late 70s and 80s, but I think that I was in churches that were already pretty conservative. I've always "known" that men were in authority over women, particularly in marriage. I've always "known" that men and women have different roles, but the same value. I've always "known" that women could not be pastors or in other kinds of church leadership except as children's directors. These were things I learned as if by osmosis. That's what it meant to be a Southern Baptist. (And I was a bad one because I planned to be a doctor!)

I left the Southern Baptists in medical school, after some dismal experiences with the Baptist Student Union at LSU and churches in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Of course, I went from the frying pan into the fire as far as women's issues are concerned when Patrick and I started attending, and were eventually married in, a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church. But, after some turmoil during residency, we landed in an Evangelical Free Church here in Wisconsin. I don't think the church is that much better in regards to women's issues, but they don't talk too much about it and I'm just the weird egalitarian.

But I saw what Patriarchy was doing to the church. When I was a teenager, I knew a family whose wife was sexually abused by a pastor. The ordeal just about split the church. The pastor ended up leaving to go into missions, but still with the Baptist Association's blessings. Crazy! As an adult, I know a woman who was abused by an elder. The church handled that much more rationally, but I know it was difficult. Would those situations have happened in the first place if men and women were treated as equals? Maybe. But, the fallout would likely have been less traumatic. The women would have been believed more easily; the men dealt with more swiftly.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been rocked with sexual scandals over the last couple of months. The Paige Patterson scandal has exploded, with evidence of him giving women who have been abused the advice to stay with their abuser as well as, more recently, not reporting a rape victim at SWBTS to police. On Tuesday night, instead of firing Patterson, the trustees chose to make him President Emeritus and Theologian in Residence. He should have been fired. Another architect of the Conservative Resurgence, Paul Pressler, has been dogged with accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with men, including making hush payments to one man. (I'm not sure what that has to do with Patriarchy, but it's just appalling! If you're gay, just admit it!)

In addition, numerous churches over the years have had problems with sexual abuse of women or children, but have chosen not to bring those things to light, instead trying to keep them secret. Of course, secrets rarely stay secret. In some cases, the women weren't believed. In others, the offending man was fired or sent off to another church where he could offend again.

All these instances are simply the result of bad theology. When men are held up as higher than women, they are conditioned to believe that they can have what they want when they want. In complementarianism, men are taught that since Adam was born first, men are in authority over women. Granted, in soft complementarianism, this means that men are in charge only in the home, but there are many in the complementarian world who believe that women are always subject to men, in wider society as well as the home.

And this theology is part and parcel of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1998, a section called The Family was added to The Baptist Faith and Message which clarified the roles of husband as the head of the wife and the wife as submissive to her husband. They made sure to add that men and women have equal value in God's sight, though. Complementarianism was officially part of the SBC theology.

Now, Al Mohler has weighed in on things. And he's not happy. He sees the current situation with the Southern Baptist Convention as God's wrath. Unfortunately, he continues to doggedly assert the truth of complementarianism. He doesn't see how patriarchalism has pushed the Convention up and over the cliff. How the belief in male superiority made it easy for rape culture to flourish. How the "men in authority" view fed into abusive relationship dynamics.

So, here we are. The Annual Meeting is just a few weeks away. Will there be any resolutions about women's rights or women's roles? I'm not going to hold my breath. I haven't seen much from anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention (except Wade Burleson) that shows any understanding that women's place in the church and society are important and are a part of what is bringing down the SBC. I suspect the Convention will continue to hang on to their old theology until the denomination dies. Which is just fine. Jesus can build a new and thriving church on the ashes.

What say you?

Catherine