Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

More than 10,000 Southern Baptists gather for meetings that could prevent churches from serving women pastors

By meerna Jun12,2024

Messengers raise their ballots to support a resolution put to a vote during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Indianapolis.
Messengers raise their ballots to support a resolution put to a vote during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Indianapolis.Doug McSchooler/AP

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 told the audience at a side event that he would “never” vote for President Joe Biden, criticizing him for border policy, abortion and other policies. Pence, however, refrained from endorsing his former election running mate, former President Donald Trump.

Pence has repeatedly called on Republican Party leaders to return to the agenda set under former President Ronald Reagan, which he broadly described as promoting prosperity, freedom, international leadership, opposition to abortion and defense of religious freedom.

Pence delivered a heavy dose of religious topics during a question-and-answer session with Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s public policy agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. About 500 people attended the lunch, and they gave Pence a standing ovation.

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Without criticizing Trump by name, Pence criticized those who would leave the abortion issue to the states, saying that when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it actually turned to the states and “the American people,” and he called on officials at every level authorities to “promote the sanctity of life.” He compared the “leaving the states” argument with those who sought to maintain slavery as a states’ rights issue in the 19th century.

Trump has repeatedly taken credit for repealing federally guaranteed abortion rights – after nominating three justices who overturned Roe v. Wade – but has opposed supporting a national abortion ban and says he wants to leave the issue to the states.

Pence said he was proud to be part of an administration whose appointments helped consign Roe “to the dustbin of history.”

There were self-deprecating jokes about how he was “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” while hosting a mild radio show and how Trump teased him about the controversy surrounding Pence’s use of the “Billy Graham rule” that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. Trump recalled saying that “after everything they said about me, they’re attacking Mike Pence for being faithful to his wife.”

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Pence said he believes he did the right thing on January 6, 2021, in fulfilling his role in certifying Biden’s election in the face of the riots and President Trump’s insistence that Pence could have done otherwise. Pence said there is nothing more un-American than the idea that one man, as vice president, can thwart the will of the electorate.

“I have always believed, by the grace of God, on this tragic day that we fulfilled our duty,” he said.

Bart Barber, a Texas pastor ending his two-year term as SBC president, told messengers on Tuesday that their churches must provide a “safe place” to worship and gather.

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.

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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.

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

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.

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By meerna

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