#MeToo: Southern Baptists face a reckoning over treatment of women

The rally’s organizers, said the demonstration would push for “reform of culture and for training of pastors and church leaders.”

“We follow Christ’s example, who treated women with dignity and honor as equal, valuable members of his church when the culture of his day did not,” she said.

As the convention gathers against that backdrop to elect a new president, it will also consider the resolution to denounce sexual impropriety and abuse, as well as “anyone who would facilitate or knowingly cover up such acts.” The resolution was written by Jason K. Allen, president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and it was signed by Steve Gaines, the convention’s outgoing president; seven other former convention presidents; and both nominees for convention president during next week’s election.

It asks the convention to confess that throughout the church’s history, men have “wronged women, abused women, silenced women, objectified women by ungodly comments and ungodly acts, preyed on women, left women unprotected, failed to report injustices and evils committed against women to civil authorities established by God and failed to act out of the overflow of the image of Christ.”

Patterson had been scheduled to deliver the keynote sermon at next week’s gathering, a prospect that many Southern Baptists found distasteful. After weeks of calls for him to withdraw, he told the convention on Friday that he would step aside “to do what I can to contribute to harmony within the Southern Baptist Convention,” the church said.

Patterson remains a widely admired figure for having guided the church’s sharp turn to more conservative theological principles in recent decades, which reached fruition when he was president of the convention during the late 1990s. Still, allowing him to speak would have sent “the wrong message,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for evangelical training and a professor at Wheaton College near Chicago, a leading evangelical institution.

“I think the message that needs to come out of this Southern Baptist Convention is, we’re sorry we didn’t listen more,” Stetzer said. “We need a different message, and that message needs a different messenger.”

Among the changes Patterson shaped was a revision of the convention’s core statement of beliefs, the Baptist Faith and Message, which included a final declaration that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The policy is the extension of a Southern Baptist philosophy called complementarianism. On paper, it declares that men and women “are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image,” while defining equal but separate “complementary” roles.

In practice, the policy has reshaped the church according to the philosophy of the conservative men who launched a campaign to take over the Southern Baptist Convention 40 years ago. Rooted in the first chapter of Timothy, which says Jesus doesn’t “allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man,” the doctrine institutionalized the man’s role as the “servant leader” of the family, with his wife’s submission seen as an act of grace.

As a consequence, women have gradually but inexorably become second-class citizens within the church, according to many Southern Baptist thinkers, among them Moore, the Houston evangelical teacher whose Living Proof Ministries guides women who seek to model their lives on evangelical principles.

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