Why do the patriarchs of our convention need to call a solemn assembly and lead us in prayers of repentance? Because the SBC has a history of displaying attitudes and actions toward women that fall short of biblical standards (Acts 2:17-18).
The SBC was formed in 1845 when women were not allowed to vote in the vast majority of SBC churches. Consequently, women by and large did not attempt to register as delegates/messengers to the annual SBC meetings. In 1885 women were excluded by the vote of the convention from being seated as delegates. The convention voted to only accept “brethren” as representatives from churches to the annual meetings. Josiah Lawrence made a motion to seat women as “messengers” in 1917 and the vote actually occurred in 1918 with overwhelming approval.
A friend of mine, well versed in SBC church history, says he cannot recall any formal apology that was ever made to the women of the SBC for denying them a vote. I am calling for the SBC to formally apologize to women and go before God and ask His forgiveness for devaluing and dishonoring women of the SBC. The SBC in 1995 voted to repent and apologize to African Americans for harboring similar attitudes and actions toward them. Wouldn’t it also be biblical and right to formally repent and apologize to the women of the SBC for denying them voting privileges and consequently the opportunity to serve on entity boards for a period of time?
Sheri Klouda, Karen Bullock, and Wendy Norvelle are poster personalities for how many females have been unfairly treated in SBC life, only because they are women. After having been appointed, Wendy Norvelle was not allowed to serve as Vice President of the IMB simply because she’s a woman. Ken Hemphill’s forced resignation at Southwestern Seminary was largely in response to him allowing Dr. Karen Bullock to be a chapel speaker and recommending her for tenure. The late Dr. Raymond Spencer, a Black Professor of Preaching at Southwestern during Hemphill’s reign, boldly stated in a preaching class, where I was a student, that he affirmed women preachers, but not female senior pastors. He then introduced a lady to preach to our class and she did an excellent job. Dr. Spencer went home to be with Jesus before Dr. Patterson became President. What’s most unfortunate is that Dr. Spencer would not have been allowed to affirm women preachers under Patterson, nor would he have been allowed to present a woman to preach in a preaching class.
According to my wife, who was a student at Southwestern while both men were President, the way the subject of women in ministry was addressed or not addressed, noticeably changed from the Hemphill era to the Patterson era. The Hemphill philosophy of women in ministry was preferred by most Anglo and African American women I’ve dialogued with. If you were a woman who studied at Southwestern under Hemphill and Patterson, you were sent mixed and confusing signals about the role of women in ministry. From what women have shared with me, they were affirmed by the Hemphill philosophy of women in ministry, while the Patterson philosophy of women in ministry made many of them feel alienated. All of these Baptist women affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and have no desire to be Senior Pastors, nor feel called to be a Senior Pastor. Our SBC entities and many churches are restricting women beyond what the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 allows and addresses. Either the conservative inerrantist trustees who hired Dr. Klouda or the conservative inerrantist leadership at Southwestern that fired her, owe her an apology. One of them was clearly wrong. Dallas Theological Seminary champions the doctrine of inerrancy of Scripture and allows a woman to teach Hebrew. The Patterson era at Southwestern does not. To the extent that women and men are sent confusing and mixed signals regarding women in ministry in SBC life, we need to repent, clarify, or apologize.
The opposition to Troy Gramlin as President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference is largely due to him embracing female preachers/speakers. Beth Moore has been labeled as one of the most dangerous persons in the SBC in some circles of Baptist life. She was labeled this way simply because she is a woman who exercises proclamation gifts.
SBC personalities sat in a business meeting at Concord Baptist Church in Dallas, TX by invitation of the late Dr. E.K. Bailey, Senior Pastor at that time, and listened to twenty-five African American Baptist Women say that they were violated by Daryl Gilyard. Yet, the SBC officials walked away disbelieving and disregarding the testimonies of those ladies and continued to embrace and support Daryl Gilyard. They assisted him in securing two other full time ministry posts in predominately Anglo or mixed congregations. It was not until three White ladies made similar allegations that SBC officials and leaders withdrew public, moral, monetary support, and preaching invitations. I sat in shock and disbelief as he related this story to me over lunch one day. Dr. Bailey died with excruciating emotional pain in his heart over how Southern Baptists discounted and disregarded the testimonies of twenty-five ladies from his church and only took action when three White ladies testified to their counselors. What would have happened if the SBC officials who heard the testimonies of the twenty-five ladies, joined Dr. Bailey in repudiating and denouncing Daryl Gilyard in the late eighties? Perhaps teenage girls and adult ladies who were victims of Gilyard in the nineties and the new millennium, might have been spared.
Surely, repentance is in order to all women whom have been sexually exploited by certain Baptist preachers. To whatever extent leaders have enabled preachers to exploit those women, the SBC needs to call a solemn assembly and repent to God and ask His mercy and forgiveness.