My whole life, I’ve never questioned complementarianism. It was all I’ve ever known in church life. A lot of people I trust and respect ascribe to it, so I thought it must be accurate.
And then I sat through the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting on June 13–14.
For what seems like the umteenth year in a row, the topic of women in ministry rose to the top among the many items brought up for debate and discussion.
One of the phrases the SBC president uses to moderate the annual meeting is “Not well taken.”
Those attending or listening to the meeting will often hear, “That motion is not well taken” or “Your point of order is not well taken” in response to items brought from the floor that are ruled not to be in order according to “Robert’s Rules of Order.”
It became a lighthearted joke to those of us watching the livestream of the meeting for coverage for work.
“I’m sorry. We don’t have Coke products, only Pepsi.” “That is not well taken.”
“We are sold out of that donut.” “That is not well taken.”
“The AC service guys are running late and won’t be there until tomorrow.” “That is not well taken.”
Falling into cynicism
Then it became a more cynical joke.
“SBC 2023: Not well taken.”
“Women: Not well taken.”
“Sexual abuse prevention: Not well taken.”
“Beth Moore: Not well taken.”
“Lifeway materials: Not well taken.”
Even as someone who considers herself a complementarian, it was disheartening to see people rush to the microphones to speak out against women in pastoral roles. There seemed to be little respect paid to women and their contributions to the church.
All the while:
- National Woman’s Missionary Union continues to see gospel fruit from their labors,
- Lifeway exclaimed that while they have an enormous number of female camp volunteers they are severely lacking in male volunteers,
- Southern Seminary President Al Mohler fielded a question about the shrinking pipeline of ministers coming out of seminary and in to churches,
- A portion of the SBC continues to be slow to take action against the rampant sexual abuse and coverups of the last several decades.
Feeling the call to serve
In the words of one messenger who I have deemed “Bob from Colorado:”
“What does it say that we are slow on the take in addressing the sexual abuses of women but fast on the draw to remove them from ministry? The answer is clear to anyone who is listening.”
It’s hard not to feel battered and bruised coming out of this meeting. It’s like we’re dragging out the dead horse from 10 years ago and beating it more and more each year. Except they’re not actually beating a dead horse. They are beating hundreds of women who feel called to serve in the church, called to advance the gospel.
Instead of standing firm on their complementarian convictions while still supporting women in ministry and respecting those with different interpretations, phrases like, “feminism, “misrepresenting Scripture,” “liberalism,” “ignoring the sufficiency of Scripture” and “being biblically unfaithful” are thrown around too casually.
‘Charity and unity’
Instead of admitting that faithful Christians can have different interpretations of what the role of a pastor or women in ministry looks like, many jump to claiming that those with egalitarian or more generous complementarian views must be intentionally ignoring clear commands of God.
And I would argue that is not being faithful to the charity and unity the Church should work toward. Have convictions, stand firm behind them — but have wisdom to know what are primary, secondary and tertiary issues. What are salvation issues? What are the hills to die on?
Some have stated that the two churches disaffiliated from the SBC last week cannot be in “friendly cooperation” with the denomination because of their views of the pastorate, but they still believe they are faithful Christians working toward the growth of God’s Kingdom. That I can respect.
Just because a church is no longer “Southern Baptist,” does not mean they are no longer Christian.
A diverse heaven
The global Church is made up of many churches in many denominations. Heaven is not reserved for Southern Baptists alone, but the actions and words of some at the SBC annual meeting suggest that they do not believe that.
I am not saying that I am no longer a complementarian. I still have more study and searching to do on my own. I am suggesting that the SBC has done more harm than good with its attitude towards women.
The conversations surrounding complementarianism and egalitarianism are nothing short of nuclear. No one seems able to discuss the topic with respect, appreciation and love. All I’m asking is that we handle this with more care and with more awareness of those we are hurting.
If we’re going to put so much emphasis on keeping women out of pastoral roles, let’s also put emphasis on making our churches safe places for them to serve in other ways.
A place of safety and care
If we believe that one of the New Testament standards for the church is to “not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), then let’s also act like we believe that churches should be places of harmony (Romans 12:16), encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11), love (John 13:34) and safety (Acts 20:28-30).
1 Timothy 3 lays out the qualifications for elders. Here are few examples:
- Faithful to his wife (v. 2)
- Temperate (v. 2)
- Self-controlled (v. 2)
- Respectable (v. 2)
- Hospitable (v. 2)
- Not violent, but gentle (v. 3)
- Not quarrelsome (v. 3)
- Not a lover of money (v. 3)
- Good reputation with outsiders (v. 7)
What if, instead of worrying so much about whether women can be called as a pastor or elder, we look at all the men in the Southern Baptist Convention who, by the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3, are not qualified to be in that position of authority, yet are simply because of their gender.
I believe the SBC has focused so much energy on keeping women out of the pulpit, that we haven’t noticed when unqualified men have taken it. There are wolves among the sheep, and, dare I say, they aren’t the women.