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Texas Baptists affirm women in ‘ministerial’ roles as SBC debate moves to states

In the same week as the Texas Baptists’ meeting, Black leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and SBC President Bart Barber met over similar issues in Ridgecrest, North Carolina.

Hannah Coe, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist in Waco, Texas, speaks during the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting, July 18, 2023, in McAllen, Texas. Photo © 2023 Texas Baptists

(RNS) — A month after Southern Baptists confirmed the expulsion of churches from their denomination for allowing women to serve as pastors, the Baptist General Convention of Texas adopted a statement on Tuesday (July 18) urging its staff to continue to affirm women in “ministerial and leadership roles.”

After half an hour of debate, the BGCT became the first state convention of Southern Baptists to weigh in on the issue since the annual meeting of the national Southern Baptist Convention in June, when two churches with women pastors, including California’s Saddleback Church, lost appeals to be reinstated.

At that meeting, Baptists took the first step toward amending the SBC constitution to state that only men can be pastors. A second vote to adopt the amendment is required at the 2024 meeting for the change to take effect.

The vote by the BGCT, the more progressive of Texas’ two state Baptist conventions, showed there is at least qualified support for women to act as leaders in their churches. Importantly, the motion didn’t use the word “pastor,” instead commissioning the convention’s executive board to support “developing more strategies, resources, and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming, appointing, and employing women in ministerial and leadership roles.”

Meredith Stone, executive director of Texas-based Baptist Women in Ministry, who presented the motion, had sought to affirm “women in all ministry and pastoral roles” and “instructed” rather than offered a “request” for BGCT staff action on ways to affirm them. But the language was changed to “leadership roles” in the final version.

Stone, a messenger, or delegate, from a Waco church, told Religion News Service in an email on Thursday that this was a crucial difference.

“The SBC is specifically targeting women who have ‘pastor’ in their title which was why including pastoral roles was so important to include as a part of the motion,” she wrote. “Without it, women who are serving as pastors of all kinds are left wondering if the BGCT actually supports them and if they have a home with the BGCT.”

Her organization issued a statement expressing its disappointment that stronger language had not been approved. “Women are not a secondary issue and are worthy of knowing that they have a home and value among Baptists,” said Baptist Women in Ministry.

In the debate, according to a BGCT news article, Dustin Slaton, senior pastor of a Round Rock church, proposed the amendment, saying the original language would send an “unkind” and unwelcoming message to churches that “hold a conviction that the Bible provides clear gender distinctions when it comes to church leadership.”

Pastor Dwight McKissic, who preached at a BGCT gathering the evening before the vote was taken, later expressed his support for the language as it was passed.

“It respects autonomy & diversity and that’s all I’ve wanted on this issue,” said McKissic, pastor of an Arlington church, in a text message to RNS.

Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, the national denomination’s governing body, confirmed that this was the first action taken by a related state convention since the SBC meeting, pointing out that it is the first convention to meet since June.

Most state Baptist conventions affiliated with the SBC meet in the fall, but since 2013, the BGCT holds its annual meeting in the summer every five years “so that the Hispanic Baptist Convention, African American Fellowship, and other ethnic and cultural fellowships of the BGCT family can enjoy a joint meeting, or as we call it, a family gathering,” said Aimee Freston, its associate director of communications.

This week, leaders of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention also gathered, for a meeting with SBC President Bart Barber in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, after Black ministers expressed concern about how the recent SBC votes could affect women in ministry in Black churches.

The Rev. Gregory Perkins, the fellowship’s president, wrote to Barber earlier this month asking for the meeting. Perkins pointed out that many of his organization’s churches “assign the title ‘pastor’ to women who oversee ministries of the church under the authority of a male Senior Pastor, i.e., Children’s Pastor, Worship Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, etc.”

In a video posted Wednesday on the fellowship’s Facebook page, Perkins and Barber appeared with fellowship vice president Jerome Coleman, briefly discussing their meeting during the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference.

“We have spent the last day and a half in intensive conversation and dialogue,” Perkins said in the video. “Here is our single goal: to ensure that the SBC family remains unified. We are one family. We have all kinds of different aspects of our family but we’re one family.”

Barber noted in the video that he is not the “doctrinal czar” of the convention but strives to aid Baptists in fostering helpful discussions with each other on and off the convention floor.

“I think the meeting goes best when we’re talking to each other and working toward making good decisions in all the months leading up to the meeting,” he said. “And anything that I can do  to help different folks within the Southern Baptist Convention come together and have reasonable, healthy dialogue to help us make God-honoring decisions, I’m down with that.”

Barber, who noted he was attending the conference of Black church leaders and visiting the North Carolina retreat center in Ridgecrest for the first time, also spoke to the conference attendees during their meeting.

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

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