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NAMB to end endorsement of women as military chaplains

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board no longer will endorse women to chaplaincy positions requiring a “fully qualified member of the clergy” or that have a “role or function similar to that of a pastor” — a move that primarily will bring an end to endorsing women as military chaplains. Chaplains currently serving would not be affected unless they request a change in the category of chaplaincy in which they serve.

NAMB trustees adopted the policy change Feb. 4 on the recommendation of a Special Task Force on Chaplaincy Endorsement appointed last summer by NAMB President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord. The eight-member task forced, chaired by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Phil Roberts, included chaplains, trustees and other Southern Baptists in leadership roles.

“I think this sets a clear, concise direction to where the chaplaincy ministry of the North American Mission Board is going to be in the future,” said Terry Fox, NAMB trustee chairman and pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan. “I believe it shows that Southern Baptists are taking seriously the biblical mandates and qualifications of serving in the chaplaincy, while affirming women who are serving in biblical roles.”

Businesses and institutions employing chaplains often require official endorsement by a denominational body, and the North American Mission Board is the endorsing agency for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The task force was created in response to a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting last June related to NAMB’s 2002 decision to stop endorsing all ordained women — while still endorsing women in all categories who are not ordained. Two senior military chaplains moved that the agency require all military chaplains seeking endorsement be ordained, based on a concern that NAMB’s refusal to endorse ordained women could result in unqualified military chaplains.

Fox said the most recent policy change was based on the realization that military chaplains — more than those in other categories of service — often function in the role of pastor.

“We’ve heard lots of responses from the chaplains themselves, who’ve done a great job convincing the trustee board that military chaplains do serve in a pastoral position,” he said. “They certainly function as a pastor. A case in point is they do preaching, they do weddings and they often do funerals.”

Consequently, he said, it is appropriate not only that they be ordained, but also that they be men — in accordance with the current Baptist Faith and Message statement of faith. That document states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

“I think what this policy change does is bring us more in alignment with where the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention is at this time,” Fox said.

He noted that Southern Baptists have been endorsing women as chaplains since 1964, and the policy change brings the mission board back in line with historic practice.

Fox emphasized that the change will apply only to new endorsements and chaplains changing categories of ministry, meaning that existing chaplains would be able to continue their ministries.

Among other areas of chaplaincy affected by the requirement for “fully qualified member of the clergy” would be seven chaplains who work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but Fox said he doesn’t anticipate a large impact.

“This policy is not going to have much of an effect on the majority of Southern Baptist women chaplains,” he said.

Currently 196 women are among approximately 2,500 chaplains endorsed by NAMB. Of those, 20 are military chaplains. Most women chaplains under NAMB endorsement serve in healthcare and counseling roles.

In its formal response to last year’s SBC motion, the board states that “women serve in numerous institutional settings and roles that are not the same as those of ‘pastor.’ They are called and gifted to serve in many caring roles and have a tremendous role in evangelism and spiritual care.

“Southern Baptists, following Scriptural principles, have developed a rich and meaningful tradition of ordaining men into the pastoral ministry. In 1984, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution encouraging ‘the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.’ Most Southern Baptists are not comfortable with the practice of ordaining women into the ministry.

“In the future, the North American Mission Board will endorse only ordained men to the office of chaplain to serve in the military or any place where the role and function of the chaplain would be seen the same as that of a pastor. We recognize ordination as a local church action, but endorsement and its requirement is the action of a national agency.”

Members of the task force, in addition to Roberts, were retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Dick Abel; Sherry Blankenship, a hospital chaplain; Capt. Ralph Gibson, a U.S. Navy chaplain; Barry Holcomb, a NAMB trustee from Andalusia, Ala.; Jaye Martin, NAMB’s national missionary for women’s evangelism; Capt. Raymond Moore, a U.S. Army chaplain; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas; and Tim Patterson, a NAMB trustee from Glen Saint Mary, Fla.

Blankenship, who serves at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis, said after the meeting that the task force and NAMB trustees were able to uphold the biblical model for male leadership while also recognizing “God’s clear call and gifting to women in ministries other than the pastorate.”

“Their action confirms for me the example of Christ, who came ‘not to be served but to serve,'” she said. “This NAMB statement, rather than altering my role as a servant, affirms it. It also seeks to provide military families with strong, effective chaplain/pastors. I am reminded that He who has called us is faithful. May each of us reflect His goodness in faith and ministry.”

Gibson, one of the chaplains involved in submission of the original motion before the SBC, also affirmed the move.

“We applaud the efforts of the task force to bring people together and get it all done,” he said. “The resolution that came out of it I think is right. It reflects the Baptist Faith and Message theology, and I think it reflects the overall tenor of the Southern Baptist Convention. So I am thrilled that the agreement could be reached and that very positive things are coming out.”

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  • James Dotson