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Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Southern Baptists are gathering in Indianapolis for a meeting that could ban churches from serving female pastors

By meerna Jun11,2024

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — More than 10,000 voting representatives gathered Tuesday for the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention’s two-day annual meeting, where they will vote on whether to ban churches with female pastors and reconsider how to respond to abuse sexual within churches.

About 10,553 messengers, as delegates are called, meet in Indianapolis.

They are expected to debate Wednesday on whether to amend the constitution to ban churches with women as pastors, from leading to associate positions. This solution received initial approval last year.

Early Tuesday morning, a small group of women stood outside the Indiana State Convention Center in a low-key demonstration for women in service.

“I hope people know that women have equal value and can be pastors,” said the Rev. Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, an organization that began in the 1980s within the SBC but now works with women in a variety of Baptist denominations.

Attendees said that among the hundreds of messengers passing by, reactions ranged from sneers to subtle thumbs-ups to a few loud “thanks.”

They were joined by Christa Brown, who has long advocated for other victims of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and criticized the denomination’s resistance to reform, which she wrote about in her new memoir, “Baptistland.”

She said there was a direct link between issues of harassment and equality for women in the service.

“When you crush some people, you crush a lot more people,” she said.

The SBC Statement of Faith says that while both women and men are “fit to serve” in the church, the office of pastor is reserved exclusively for men. Some interpret this to mean only senior pastors, but the amendment would also apply to women in associate positions, even if the senior pastor is male.

The SBC cannot tell its independent churches what to do, but it can decide whether they join or not. As of 2023, it has removed some churches where women hold pastoral positions, including Saddleback Church, a megachurch in California.

Politics also plays a role in side events. On Monday, former President Donald Trump appeared in a videotaped message to attendees of a staunchly anti-abortion conservative group that gathered outside the convention center on Monday. Trump appealed to participants to cast their votes.

Later Tuesday, former Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to speak at another side event organized by the faith’s political agency, the Commission on Ethics and Religious Liberty.

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force recently completed its work. While it provided a program to train churches to prevent and respond to abuse, it did not follow through on the mandate of previous annual meetings to create a database of offenders that could help churches avoid hiring them.

Megan Lively, a survivor of abuse, proposed Tuesday morning that the convention task the Commission on Ethics and Religious Liberty with raising awareness of harassment and providing resources to prevent and respond to it. She is a delegate of Peace Church in Wilson, North Carolina.

While some have advocated for reform over the past two decades, since the 2019 Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report, the convention has been particularly careful to respond to sexual abuse in its churches. It said about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct over the past two decades.

The denomination then commissioned a report from consulting firm Guidepost Solutions. Leaders of the convention’s Executive Committee were found to have intimidated and abused survivors who sought help. The committee deals with the day-to-day affairs of the convention.

Jeff Iorg, the new chairman of the Executive Committee, told members at Monday’s meeting that the committee is facing a “financial crisis” because it has indemnified Guidepost Solutions from liability for any legal ramifications arising from the study. The convention covers the costs of legal defense against two defamation lawsuits filed by two men named in the report.

“We have spent over $2 million on this compensation so far and there is no end in sight,” Iorg said.

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Associated Press religion coverage is supported by AP partnerships with The Conversation US and funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

By meerna

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