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Indiana convention to address church’s call of a woman pastor

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The executive committee of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana has drafted a recommendation for action concerning University Baptist Church in Bloomington as a result of the church calling a woman as senior pastor in July 1998.
The committee will present its recommendation to the convention during the Oct. 26-27 annual meeting in Madison.
The recommendation, adopted by the committee last May, reads: “The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana chooses not to remove the University Baptist Church from membership within its Convention, specifically in honor of its long-standing cooperation in the Convention, and prayerfully for the purpose of holding open avenues of reconciliation, but at the same time chooses to voice its strong conviction that the University Baptist Church stands in violation of the principles of Scripture and outside the commonly held beliefs of Indiana Baptists in calling a woman to be senior pastor and further chooses to no longer seat the messengers and no longer receive funds from University Baptist Church, Bloomington, Indiana, until such time as the church repents of its current course and the Convention votes to rescind this action.”
A similar action was taken Sept. 21, 1998, by the Metropolitan Baptist Association, of which University Baptist Church had been a member. A special called executive board meeting of the association was held at Arlington Avenue Baptist Church in Indianapolis to determine whether University Baptist Church was in cooperation with the association.
The association’s moderator at the time, Gary Stump, made the following motion: “Because of the doctrinal dispute which has arisen as a result of University Baptist Church, Bloomington, Indiana, calling a woman to serve as the senior pastor of their church, and since this is in direct conflict with clear Biblical teaching, it is moved that the Metropolitan Baptist Association not seat their messengers nor receive their monies until such time as the doctrinal dispute is resolved.”
“I wanted to make sure of two things,” Stump said of the meeting. “That we handle this is a way that honors Christ and that we give them every opportunity to present their case.”
In an effort to see this accomplished, Stump spoke to the motion for 15 minutes, allowed a representative of the church to speak to the motion for 15 minutes and then allowed three-minute presentations alternating for and against the motion for one hour. After the period of debate, the vote was taken, with 41 in favor of the motion and five against.
During his opening remarks Stump outlined the association’s basis in Scripture for seeking the proposed action, including the association officers’ efforts to bring about reconciliation.
“There’s no biblical gray area here,” said Stump of University’s decision to call a woman as pastor. “That’s when it was important for the association to take some action.”
Stump and Dave Richards, pastor of Beacon Baptist Church in Shelbyville, reported they had visited Annette Briggs, pastor of University Baptist Church. “They were in doctrinal error,” Stump recounted, “and we were calling them back in repentance the way Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20.”
After the action was taken by the Metropolitan Baptist Association, Stump wrote a letter to John Rogers, then-president of the SCBI, to inform him of the action. The letter sparked a series of attempts on behalf of the state convention to reconcile the doctrinal difference with University Baptist Church and eventually to the course of action to be recommended to the convention.
Briggs was contacted several times for the purpose of an interview concerning this situation and refused to grant such an interview. In a letter to the Indiana Baptist, she stated her reasons. “After several days of reflection, prayer and good counsel I have decided not to give the Indiana Baptist an interview regarding the controversy between University Baptist Church and the SCBI. While I appreciate your desire to write as informed and balanced an article as possible, suffice it to say the denominational relations committee of University Baptist Church is invested in a process that makes such an interview highly inappropriate at this time.”
SCBI President Woody Cumbie, of the process followed to date, said, “I think it has been gracious, deliberate and fair. It is a process that has taken six months at the associational level and 18 months at the state level. This certainly has not been a rush to judgment.”
Recognizing the strongly held Southern Baptist belief in the autonomy of the local church, Cumbie articulated his reasons for believing the state should act in this matter.
“To me, the issue is what kind of churches Indiana Baptists are going to plant together,” he said. “The question I have to ask is this, If a church wants to join hands with me to plant churches, is it reasonable to expect we will plant the same kind of church? That is what makes it a state convention issue.”

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  • Chip Bayer