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NAMB will no longer endorse ordained female chaplains

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–North American Mission Board trustees decided Feb. 6 that while the agency’s Chaplains Commission “is committed to endorse chaplains, both men and women,” it will no longer endorse women who have been ordained. The action came in response to a motion from the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans.

“The Chaplains Commission has not required or considered ordination in the endorsement of chaplains in the past,” trustees said in their response. “However, in the future we will refrain from endorsing ordained women to the office of chaplain. We recognize ordination as a local church action, but endorsement and its requirement is the action of a national agency.”

Trustees also heard that the number of NAMB missionaries had risen to 5,154 by the end of 2001, an overall increase of 10.2 percent since the agency was formed in 1997. Thirty-five missionary candidates were approved and/or appointed by the board’s missionary personnel subcommittee during meetings earlier in the week.

Updates on a wide range of NAMB initiatives also were presented, including a report that during the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response in New York more than 800,000 meals were prepared. Trustees also heard that 21,000 donated plush “trauma bears” were distributed to children and adults in New York, 643 apartments were cleaned near Ground Zero, and labor valued at more than $2 million was donated by Southern Baptist volunteers.

The action on chaplaincy endorsement was a response to a motion that the SBC direct the Chaplain’s Commission “to stop endorsing women to the chaplaincy and adhere to both the scriptural requirements and the requirements of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message involving the pastorate, the exercise of spiritual authority, and ordination.”

The Chaplains Commission, which operates under the auspices of NAMB, is the Southern Baptist Convention body recognized by the military and other institutions for granting formal denominational endorsement to chaplains.

In the response, trustees noted that chaplains already are required to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement.

Trustees also affirmed their support for women in a chaplaincy role, noting that chaplains “serve in numerous institutional settings and roles that are not that of ‘pastor,'” according to the response. “They are called and gifted to serve in many caring roles and have a tremendous role in evangelism and spiritual care as they minister in the midst of crises.”

As trustees studied the issue, however, it was ordination of women that became a key concern.

“The issue of ordination is not addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message, and the Bible does not clearly set forth a detailed description of the practice of ordination as it is commonly observed today,” the response continues. “However, Southern Baptists, following Scriptural principles, have developed a rich and meaningful tradition of ordaining God-called men into the ministry. The generally agreed upon understanding held by most Southern Baptists is that ministerial ordination is related to a man’s being ‘set aside for the office of pastor.”

The response further cites a 1984 resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention encouraging “the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.”

“It is felt that we, as an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, must follow suit with the positions of our convention,” said Barry Holcomb, a trustee from Ashford, Ala., who spoke on behalf of the NAMB Executive Committee, which drafted the response.

Trustees also pledged their commitment to “stand with” female Southern Baptist chaplains in any situation where an employer tried to make ordination a condition of employment, helping them “obtain their legal rights to not be discriminated against solely because of their religious conviction concerning ordination.” Most institutions do not require ordination, although the Veteran’s Administration and the Federal Bureau of Prison are among employers who do have the requirement.

The measure was approved by a majority vote among trustees, with about eight of 45 trustees voting in opposition. A substitute motion that included the support for women in chaplaincy but not the prohibition on endorsing ordained women failed by a similar margin.

In other action, trustees:

— Heard that 31 chaplains had recently received first-time endorsements by the Chaplains Commission.

— Elected Bob Sutton, a member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., to serve on the board of NAMB subsidiary FamilyNet. Bill Skelton, a member of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., was elected to serve on the board of TimeRite, an advertising subsidiary associated with FamilyNet.

— Agreed to a strategy developed by a special technology task force for promoting more widely the array of NAMB’s technology-oriented tools available to churches.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson