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SBC, BF&M depicted as opponents of equality for women in ministry

DALLAS (BP)–Speakers at a national meeting seeking equality for women in ministry urged softer, gentler approaches toward those who oppose them.

Additionally, these speakers urged advocates of female ordination and leadership to focus on what they believe the Bible really teaches about the role of women in the church and to boldly communicate their interpretations to others.

Throughout the meeting June 22-24 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in North Dallas, the undercurrent of frequent side comments, inferences and innuendoes pinpointed the Southern Baptist Convention and its 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Statement as primary opponents to the group’s agenda and goals.

The meeting itself was multi-denominational and multi-ethnic, but it contained a strong and vocal minority of Southern Baptists unhappy with the status quo in their own denomination. Most identified themselves as affiliated in some way with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).

At its annual banquet, the group presented awards to former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Alan Brehm, who resigned from the seminary faculty in protest over the 1998 SBC statement on the family, and to former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Ethics Professor Joe Trull, whom the award presenter said left the seminary over issues relating to the SBC position on family and women. The group also presented awards to a long list of Southern Baptist women, all of whom are affiliated in some way with CBF.

The meeting was the 7th Christians for Biblical Equality Conference (CBEC). It drew more than 300 people, with women outnumbering men more than five to one.

Notably absent from the meeting were speakers and seminar leaders who support the SBC’s recent stands on the role of women in the home and in the pulpit. However, in a major news article before the meeting started, the Dallas Morning News quoted Dorothy Patterson, whom the newspaper identified as “a theologian who teaches women’s studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.”

Dorothy Patterson is the wife of Southeastern Seminary President Paige Patterson. She was quoted as saying she believes the CBEC is sincere but misguided.

“We both believe women are equal,” she told the Morning News. “But when I chose to marry, I chose to accept the biblical patterns for husband and wives, which means I chose to become his helper.”

Also notably absent at the meeting were secular feminist speakers or references. Instead, speakers and seminar leaders were evangelicals who focused almost exclusively on the Bible, particularly controversial passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

Keynoting the event was Texas’ first Southern Baptist female senior pastor, Julie Pennington-Russell of 850-member Calvary Baptist Church in Waco. Her sermon, “Learning to Live in Love”, set the stage in calling for the softer, gentler approach toward opponents.

“My own personal experience might serve as a good example for why we need to regard each other with more patience and kindness, even when we disagree,” Pennington-Russell said.

Pennington-Russell said when she first became a student at Golden Gate Theological Seminary in San Francisco, she echoed what she had learned in her home church at First Baptist, Orlando, Fla. — that women do not belong in the pulpit or in key church positions.

“At that time I had some very definite opinions about God, about the Bible, about the church, and about myself and what I could and could not do and what God could and could not do. During my first semester I set my alarm to get up early to pray for all those misguided women who were telling me God was calling them to be pastors.

“But as time went by, and through the patience and persistence of a lot of really good professors and staff members at the seminary and other students. God began to open up some sky over my faith,” she said. “God began to open up some sky over the way I looked at the Bible, at myself, at the way I looked at call. It was a grace gift to me.”

Pennington-Russell says she is now “embarrassed by some of those very narrow beliefs I held as a teenager and young adult. But, God clearly was not through with me then, nor is He through with me now.

“I abhor fundamentalism and the spirit of fundamentalism and the damage that it can do to people and to institutions,” she said. “But my own personal journey has reminded me to be patient with fundamentalist people, most of whom do not see things as I do.

“And who is to say He’s not through with them? And maybe even as the icing on the cake, God might want for me — might want for you — to play a part in opening up some sky over their faith.”

In numerous breakout sessions, seminar leaders hammered away at certain biblical passages they say their opponents misrepresent or fail to interpret correctly. Among these passages was 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 about women speaking in church. Dr. Sharyn Dowd, associate professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, led the session focusing on that passage.

Dowd steered away from stating exactly how she personally interprets that controversial passage — in which Paul says women in the church in Corinth need to remain silent in church. She, however, quoted numerous scholars and theologians who raise the possibility that traditional translations misrepresent what Paul was really trying to say. Among their conclusions: that Paul may have been quoting — and trying to correct — those in the Corinthian church who had written him stating that they believed women must remain silent in the church.

That view contradicts the traditional perspective among most conservative biblical scholars who say Paul, in saying women must be silent in the church, was trying to address and calm a local situation in Corinth.

I Corinthians 14:33b-36 in the NIV says, “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a women to speak in the church.”

The scholars Dowd quoted said:

1. Punctuation, including quotation marks, did not exist in the Greek text when 1 Corinthians was written.

2. In other places in Paul’s writings Bible translators in later centuries have inserted quotation marks around passages they believe Paul was citing from other sources. For example, he might be quoting sentences lifted from letters sent by the congregations and without the quotations marks, these “quotes” appear to be Paul’s words, not someone else’s.

3. Bible translators have erred by failing to place quotation marks around the passages in verses 35 and 36.

4. When quotation marks are placed around the words in verses 34 and 35 and when verse 36 is included along with verses 34 and 35, suddenly Paul — instead of telling the women in the church in Corinth to be silent — is telling the men in the church in Corinth to stop telling the women to be silent in church.

I Corinthians 14:36 in the NIV reads, “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” Some translations have the word “What!” at the start of that passage.

Dowd said Paul usually used that word in Greek when he had just quoted something and was about to refute it.

In a seminar on “Women and Spiritual Gifts”, recently retired Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Old Testament Professor Dan Kent, himself a key leader in the CBEC, said — contrary to conservative views — at least one apostle was female. Her name was Junias, and she is referred to in Romans 16:7, Kent said.

He said the oldest manuscripts available show Junias’ name in Greek in the female form. He said only later in church history did translators try to change the ending of the name in Greek to make it appear to be masculine. Identifying a female apostle in the Bible helps affirm women having the spiritual gift of preaching and leadership in the church, he said.

The seminar that took the most direct aim at the SBC was “A Biblical Challenge to the Southern Baptist Teaching on Women from a Fellow Baptist.” It was led by Gilbert Bilezikian, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago and professor emeritus of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Seminar promotion material said it was designed to “analyze the way in which the largest Protestant denomination in the United States uses Scripture to assign women to a subordinate status. (It will also) examine the biblical evidence supporting both male and female positions of leadership and service.”

In the seminar, Bilezikian presented a “draft” of a paper purporting to set up a contest to offer cash to anyone who could validate 10 different statements on which he said the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement is based.

Bilezikian told his audience he had raised $100,000 to fund the contest but his lawyers advised him against proceeding due to legal difficulties he might encounter, primarily what he called “frivolous lawsuits.”

The contest was to have had 10 “offers” of $10,000 each to anyone able to “prove” the 10 statements Bilezikian said support the 2000 BF&M statement.

The first statement, for example, says “An award of $__,___ (blank) will be offered to anyone who can cite a text from the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 that enjoins or entitles men to exercise authority or leadership over women, or that designates men as ‘head’ or ‘spiritual head’ over women.”

In his refutation to the first statement, Bilezikian said, “There is not a hint — not even a whisper– about anything like a hierarchical order existing between man and woman in the creation account of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. In fact, the exact opposite is clearly taught in these two chapters. Both man and woman were made in God’s image (1:26-27), and they both participated in God-assigned ministries without any role distinctions (1:28).

On each of his 10 statements, Bilezikian followed them with “The facts …” in which he said the statements couldn’t be proven.

Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was a panelist for one of the CBEC question-and-answer sessions. Like Pennington-Russell, he told about changing his perspective on women in ministry.

“I remember the first time I saw a woman taking the offering in a Southern Baptist Church — and it was a very conservative Southern Baptist Church — and how shocked I was,” Wade said. “It is amazing how what you have grown up seeing influences how you are.”

He said when he was a pastor in Arlington, Texas — and a committee chairman first recommended lifting the church’s ban on female deacons — it took several years before he and the church finally decided to go in that direction.

Wade said today he urges pastors to be aware of how they handle “the small but big issues” such as how they present women in their sermons, the presence of women on their platforms and whether they have both males and females on their church committees.

Christians for Biblical Equality was founded during the 1980s in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area as a reaction to conservative positions beginning to emerge in various parts of evangelical Christianity. The organization was formally incorporated in 1987. It is housed near downtown Minneapolis.

A conservative group called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood arose about the same time to counter CBEC. It is more closely associated with the SBC.

Said the Dallas Morning News about the relationship between the two groups: “Today, the two groups are the Hatfields and the McCoys of the evangelical world. Each has an army of theologians and pastors touting its cause. Their debate is highly academic and marked by microscopic examinations of biblical verses. (CBEC) says the Bible is inspired and authoritative; the council says it’s inerrant.”

    About the Author

  • Louis Moore