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’60 Minutes’ segment on Anne Graham Lotz muddied SBC stance on women in ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–With the Southern Baptist Convention scheduled to meet one week later, CBS’ “60 Minutes” program profiled the ministry of Southern Baptist Anne Graham Lotz in a segment titled, “The Preacher’s Daughter.” Questions posed by broadcaster Morley Safer positioned Lotz in opposition to the views of the SBC, although two women involved in language revisions to the SBC Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs believe she and Safer have misunderstood the Southern Baptist position.

The June 3 segment opened with evangelist Billy Graham welcoming his daughter backstage before he was to preach, saying, “I feel a lot better knowing that you’re here because if anything happens to me, you can just step up and take over.” From there the CBS program went on to describe Lotz’ giftedness as inherited from her famous father who was described as “the closest thing American Protestants have to the pope.”

Although son Franklin has assumed leadership at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Safer described Lotz as “the child whom Billy Graham claims is the best preacher in the family.” Calling her “part southern housewife and part global guru,” Safer added, “In a Southern Baptist culture where men typically run the house and the church, she cannot be ordained. She is a preacher without a church, but a preacher nonetheless who has a gift, her father’s gift.”

Safer reported the success of Lotz’s recent nationwide speaking tour, noting that she is “delivering her unwavering down home message that Jesus is the only way,” observing that the audience for the popular events is mostly composed of “women who may have spent their lives hearing a man deliver the Word of God.”

Lotz responded, “I think maybe for many of them they may not have ever heard the kind of message I give from a woman because I think a lot of women speakers are very experiential. They give funny jokes. They give personal stories. They’re not as hard-hitting and bottom line as I am.” She continued, “So I think it’s sort of refreshing for them and also that I am a woman and there’s a tenderness and sensitivity there.”

In addition to hearing Lotz speak during her multi-city revivals, Southern Baptists have been exposed to her ministry through the “Vision of His Glory,” an eight-session video-driven study sold through LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC. The examination of selected passages in the Book of Revelation is based on Lotz’s book by the same title.

While Lotz has attracted a wide audience, Safer argued, “In the culture of conservative Christianity, being a woman still has serious disadvantages.”

She told Safer of an experience 14 years ago when invited to a convention of preachers from different denominations. “I stood up to speak and not all of them, but enough of them that it caught my attention, put their backs to me.” That experience drove her to examine from God’s Word whether women are permitted to teach men, asking God to settle the issue for her.

Safer described her conclusion by saying, “Sure enough, the Bible confirmed her mission for her in the person of Jesus asking Mary Magdalene to give her testimony to his disciples.”

Switching to video footage of Lotz addressing a huge arena, she is heard explaining the instruction to Mary Magdalene as the basis her calling and openness to addressing men. “He told them to go to Galilee and she was to give those men his Word. And when people have a problem with women in ministry they need to take it up with Jesus because he’s the one that put us here.”

She elaborated on her study by telling Safer, “I felt like the Lord was just showing me, ‘Anne, I have commissioned women to give their testimony with the risen Christ and to give out my Word. Don’t you worry about the audience.’ He told me that from Jeremiah, ‘Don’t be afraid of their faces or their backs,'” she said, smiling at the adaptation of the passage to fit what she experienced. “‘You stand up and you say what I tell you. You go where I command you.'”

Safer contrasted the opportunities Lotz has had to lead 12,000 Christian leaders in prayer and addressing the world’s religious leaders at the United Nations with the lack of an invitation to fill the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church like the one pastored by SBC President James Merritt.

In a tightly edited interview, Safer establishes that Merritt believes it would not be improper to have a woman to serve as head of a company, professor at a university or president of the United States. But when asked if Lotz could preach from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., on a Sunday morning, Merritt said, “I would personally not have her.”

Asked for a reason for the restriction, Merritt said, “There are two institutions which God said the leadership is male only. One is the home where the Scripture is plain where it says the husband is to be the head of the home. And the other is the church where the Scripture says a man should be in the role of a senior pastor.”

When Safer sought a rebuttal to Merritt’s remarks from Lotz, he couched his question with the statement, “The man who made this decision recently said that there will be no women preachers in the SBC.” Lotz responds to the reference with the continued assumption that the SBC committee that framed new wording for the Baptist Faith and Message was composed entirely of men.

“I think they’re sincere men of God,” she responded. “I think that’s the way they see the Scripture and I think it’s been passed down from generation to generation. I’d love to sit down with some of them and show them the way I’ve seen the Scripture and bring a little bit of fresh air in there.”

Safer then stated in his narration, “That would be a Southern Baptist idea of feminism, though she bridles at the word. It’s an interesting contradiction. She accepts her church’s dictates about the ban on women pastors, but she maintains her right to be heard.”

Susie Hawkins of Dallas, a member of the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, shares Lotz’s desire to see women empowered for Christian service. But Hawkins suspects the characterization that there can be no women preachers in the SBC as a misstatement of the SBC’s doctrinal statement. Instead, she said, Article 6 of the BFM, dealing with the Church, states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Hawkins added, “Nowhere does it say that women can’t proclaim the gospel. In fact, it is in this article that women are affirmed in the statement as being ‘gifted for service.'” Hawkins noted that Lotz “never pressed the issue of women pastoring” in the 60 Minutes interview, but related the example of Mary Magdalene bringing the message of Christ to others.

Her suspicion seems to be confirmed in an interview of Lotz by Jim Jones of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last year. Lotz stated that she agreed with conservatives who say a woman should not be a senior pastor. “I know Christians disagree on this issue, but I believe God has called me into the ministry where I am,” she said.

Hawkins added, “In our own Southern Baptist tradition we have the obvious examples of missionaries Lottie Moon and Bertha Smith who were used greatly by God. But Mary Magdalene was not the spiritual authority for the disciples. She was their co-laborer, their partner in spreading the gospel.”

From other interviews, Lotz has stated that she does not see herself as assuming an authoritative role when teaching. “I feel when I stand up in a pulpit I’m not coming from a position of authority,” she said in an April 5, 1999, Christianity Today article. “Everywhere I go, I’m invited; if men have invited me [to speak], I’m under the authority of that committee. But I don’t accept the fact that as a woman I can’t preach to or teach men. My authority is the authority of God’s Word.”

Hawkins also disputed the characterization of the BFM Study Committee as “an elitist group of men that issued some decree.” Instead, she reminded, the committee was appointed in 1999 by then-SBC President Paige Patterson and included theologians, ministers and laymen, with two of the participants being women. “Upon the discussion of the issue of women in ministry, I am eager for others to know that the men on the committee were more than willing to hear the women’s perspective.” Once the revised statement was submitted to Southern Baptist messengers meeting last June in Orlando, Fla., it was approved overwhelmingly as the new doctrinal statement for the largest non-Catholic denomination.

Bill Merrell, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention relations, agreed that the reference to the decision by messengers to last year’s convention was misapplied in the case of the 60 Minutes interview. “The Southern Baptist Convention position is plainly stated in the Baptist Faith and Message that we understand the pastoral office to be reserved to men as qualified in the Scripture. To my knowledge, Anne Graham Lotz makes no claim to be a pastor. She exhorts and teaches and does so, I think, with a high degree of excellence.”

Lotz related that her mother’s example in studying and praying over Scripture inspired her at mid-life to spend more time studying God’s Word. Though uncomfortable as a teacher, Lotz began leading a Bible study in her home church of Providence Baptist in Raleigh, N.C. Franklin Graham praised his sister’s commitment to “spend 16 hours [preparing] for one hour of Bible study.” He added, “You’ll meet people with Ph.D’s that won’t know a third of what Anne knows because she studies the Scriptures. She hasn’t been studying what other people say about the Scriptures. She’s studying what God himself has said. Big difference.”

Dorothy Patterson, as assistant professor of women’s studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, encourages women who find opportunities to teach, though lacking formal theological training, to surround themselves with people who have formally studied and understand the original languages in which the Scripture was written. Whether they are teaching a Sunday school class, home Bible study or on a public platform, “They can not only glean essential insights from such counselors, but they can also test some of their intuitions.”

Patterson added, “Thank God for the host of women who spend hours pouring over commentaries and biblical resources, preparing themselves to teach the Word of God. Women Bible teachers would put some pastors to shame with the time they spend in prayer and preparation for teaching.”

Safer, in the 60 Minutes segment, related in the interview that Billy and Ruth Graham initially “did not approve of her preaching,” but later changed their attitude after hearing Lotz teach.

“They saw my home was clean, my children were well-behaved, my husband was happy and were very supportive,” Lotz shared. “They just backed off and could see that God had called me and I was where I needed to be.” She dismissed Safer’s inquiry as to why her father selected her brother, Franklin, to take over the reins of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, stating, “That’s not what God has called me to, and my Daddy recognizes that. I could never be the administrator or head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.”

Praising Lotz’s ability as “a gifted expositor,” Patterson agreed that the conditions set forth in the Baptist Faith and Message were misrepresented to the popular Bible teacher. “The Baptist Faith and Message addresses what Scripture addresses. It is a confessional statement and we are not trying to address 50 situations,” Patterson explained. She said she does not believe the directives about women teaching or “ruling over men” cited in 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 or 1 Corinthians 14 address para-church organizations like seminaries, evangelistic organizations, or other ministries outside the church. “They are talking about church order.”

However, Patterson questioned, “When God gives me a principle, am I looking for ways to get away from that principle or do I let that principle permeate every area of my life?” Instead, she said, “I want to take that principle, obey it as given in Scripture, and be careful that in every decision I make in life that I am letting the spirit of that principle permeate and direct me so that no one would misunderstand or perceive that I was doing something outside the boundaries of Scripture.” For her personally, that translates into refusing opportunities to teach men in any setting except for occasional guest lectures she has provided in seminary classrooms on the subject of biblical womanhood.

“There are more women who are responsive to the gospel of Christ all over this world than men by far,” Patterson added. “If a woman wants to go where there are open doors, just look at these Bible studies for women that are exploding in attendance and the huge conferences being offered.”

During the 60 Minutes interview, Safer noted that while Billy Graham’s health is failing, he plans to continue preaching as long as he is able. “But with daughter Anne establishing her own ministry the name seems secure,” Safer said.

Hawkins is grateful for the ministry Lotz has had. “She is speaking to thousands of women at once, in diverse locations, which most pastors will never do. There are many venues today that allow a woman to be heard other than a pulpit on Sunday morning.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter