Southern Baptist Convention Bans Women From Pulpit

Aired June 14, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

Pulled from CNN website on June 14

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, another Southern Baptist convention, another controversial decision.


RICHARD LAUD, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: We believe that it normative for all times that a woman is not to be in a position of pastor in a local congregation.


PRESS: Should women be pastors? And will banning women from the pulpit drive women away from the Southern Baptist Church?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, in Orlando, Florida, Reverend Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Women shall no longer serve as pastors. That's the latest edict from the Southern Baptist Convention, which ends its annual meeting in Orlando this evening. By a show of hands, members overwhelming earlier today adopted a new church policy -- quote -- "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

This is just the latest controversial stand taken in the last couple of years by Southern Baptists, coming on top of the boycott of Disney, a campaign to convert Jews to Christianity, and orders that wives must submit to the servant leadership of their husband. That policy drove about 12 churches from the convention. Will their new policy, banning women pastors, force even more defections? Or will Baptists welcome a men-only leadership?

Our special guest tonight from Orlando, one of the nations most influential Southern Baptists, an architect of its new policy on women pastors, the Reverend Albert Mohler -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Reverend, thank you so much for joining us, particularly in the middle of your convention. Let me start right in with your interpretation of the Scripture. There are those in the Southern Baptist convention who say that you are the most brilliant theologian to come through there in 25 years. so I'm not going to go scripture to scripture with you, but let's compare your interpretation of Jesus' words with what we know to be Jesus' life through the words of one of your own pastors, Julie Pennington of the Calvary Baptist Church. These are her words about Jesus.


REV. JULIE PENNINGTON, CALVARY BAPTIST CHURCH: Jesus did one very significant thing with regard to women, in that he appeared to women first after the rest resurrection, told women first to go and proclaim the news that he had risen. Women were the first evangelist, and I think that's very significant.


MATALIN: OK, Reverend, we know the Bible was written fifty to seventy years after Jesus died, so we don't know if those were literally his words, but we do know what was literally his life, and he believe that women were just fine to carry his word and evangelize. Why then and not now?

REV. ALBERT MOHLER, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, first of all, we believe that it is God's word we find in scripture, that is without error, and we believe they are the very words of Jesus. Even though they may have been written down at a later time by the inspiration of the holy spirit, they are totally true. But you ask a very good question, and behind this is the reality that Jesus raised the level of women to an entirely new reality.

He brought women into his inner circle. He made women indeed witnesses of his own resurrection, and in the church, women are gifted for service, they are with men to carry the ministry of the gospel, to be evangelists and missionaries. Our statement speaks only to the role of the pastor, the office of pastor and the church, and it is clear that Scripture limits that office to men. That's nothing new in the Christian church; that's Christians have believed for nearly 2,000 years.

MATALIN: OK, Reverend, if you're not culturally but biblically driven, the bible hasn't changes and you have changed. In fact, you have right now 1,600 ordained women clergy, and 100 of them lead churches. Were you wrong then, or are you wrong now? Because the Bible hasn't change. You've changed your view of women leading churches.

MOHLER: No, actually the Southern Baptist Convention has never endorsed women in the pastorate. It's interesting that we are different no than other denominations. Our local churches ordain persons,and call their own pastors. The convention doesn't ordain anyone, nor call anyone. This is very consistent with where the convention has been all along. In 1984, the convention stated clearly, that the office of pastor was limited to men as qualified by Scripture. And this year, we just put that in our confession of faith.

MATALIN: So these hundred women that are pastors, now are what? They don't live in the eyes of the convention? What's going to happen to them?

MOHLER: Well actually, by our best reckoning, there are less than 50 women actually serving as pastor of any church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. But what they do is up to their churches. But the one thing they must know is that they are out of step and out of mainstream with where Southern Baptists are by conviction.

PRESS: Reverend Mohler, I know as you point out this inferiority of women is a thread that goes through theology and theologians about Scripture all the way back. I mean, Thomas Aquinas that "In terms of nature's own operation, a woman is inferior and a mistake." Meaning if conception goes OK, you get a man. If something gets screwed up, you get a woman. Now that was just written in the fourteenth century, reverend. What are you doing? Are you going backwards?

MOHLER: Well, no, and let a Roman Catholic theologian defend Thomas Aquinas. I'll go back to the scripture, and the scripture does not teach the inferiority of women. To the contrary, it makes clear that both men and women are created in the image of God and possess full human dignity. But the bible from beginning to end does present a pattern of different roles for men and women, and we would refer to this as complimentary roles. It's not a matter of equality or inequality, but of different roles.

PRESS: Well, I'm not going to go toe to toe on scripture with you either, but if you read Saint Paul, there are five different missionary teams he talks about -- five different teams, whether man or woman, who are equal. In Roman XVI, Paul says -- quote -- "Tell Priscilla and Aquilla (ph) hello. They have been my fellow workers in the affairs of Christ Jesus." He doesn't say they're servants. He doesn't say they're second-class citizens. He says they're on an equal level. If you read Saint Paul, there were women all over the Mediterranean, who were serving as leaders of local churches. How can you deny that?

MOHLER: They were serving in important capacities, but they were most certainly not serving as pastors of churches.

PRESS: How do you know? Yes, they were. According to St. Paul, they were leading those local congregations.

MOHLER: There is absolutely no record in the New Testament of a women serving as pastor. Now they did have influential positions, and they have influential positions in the Southern Baptist Convention, and in our churches. This is speaking only to the office of pastor.

PRESS: Let me recommend that you read a great book call "Papal Sin" by Gary Wills. You might learn something, reverend.

Meanwhile, I want to come back to Mary's question about what's going to happens to some of the women. One of the women in your convention who is a pastor happens to be Al Gore's pastor, the Reverend Martha Phillips down in Carthage, Tennessee. Here's what she had to say about your move today.

I'm sorry, I thought we had her on tape. She said "I am very sad. Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore. I think more churches will leave the convention."

That's what's going to happen isn't it, reverend? You had 12 churches go the last time. You're going to have even more go this time, right?

MOHLER: Well, you know, we have over 41,000 churches, and each year there are over a thousand new churches added to the convention. It is a matter of tragedy in one sense, a matter of loss whenever one church leaves, but when 12 churches leave the Southern Baptist Convention, that's not a schism or a division. That is just a very small number of churches against the total.

Now I want to say this -- the convention will not be excluding churches based upon this action, but there may be churches that look at what the convention has said, this is what the vast mainstream of Southern Baptists believe, and may make their own decision to leave.

MATALIN: OK, Reverend, can we get for a moment away from Scripture and the internal machinations of the convention and go to common sense. You're talking about the reference to the role of women. I think we would all agree and applaud, without being sexist, that women are more nurturing, which is a key element of a successful ministry. Don't you think women make good pastors?

MOHLER: Well, I would not address or not whether women are well equipped to be pastors, because again, that matter is just not open as we understand scripture. But I will say this, our churches would fall apart if women were not taking major roles and serving in any number of capacities within our churches. Women are given extraordinary gifts for ministry. And our statement, as a matter of fact, begins that section, by saying that both men and women are gifted for service in the church.

Let me also point out this wasn't matter of controversy before the convention. Our convention dealt with this proposal, our revised state or faith, for an hour today in deliberation, and not one question or comment ever came from the floor about this issue.

MATALIN: Well, you know, Reverend, with respect, it might not be controversial internally, but to the nation, it is controversial, and it's kind of out of step. In the last 25 years, support for female priests and pastors has risen 30 percent, and it's equal among men and women. About 70 percent of men and women would like women to be pastors or priests. So I'm not saying that you should comport with cultural moray necessarily, but congregrants want to be led by women.

MOHLER: Well, let's put it this way, we have autonomous churches. If they wanted to call a woman as pastor, they would have. But less than 1/10 of 1 percent of our churches have ever taken that move. So it's hard to say there is any grassroots pressure to have women as pastors. But the larger issue you raised is why we hold this position, and you raised the public opinion polls. Southern Baptists don't do our theology, we don't establish our statement of faith on the basis of popularity polls or public opinion, we are bound to God's word and what we honestly believe that God's word reveals and demands of us.

PRESS: Yes, Reverend, I think there is a connection -- at least I see a connection between this policy today and the one you adopted a couple years ago saying that wives had to "submit graciously to the servant leadership of the husband." I looked up the meaning of the word "submit" today, it says "to yield or surrender to the will or authority of another." I mean, do you consider a woman in a marriage a wife or a hostage?

MOHLER: Well, I think that's an insult to Christian women, the vast majority of whom cherish that verse and establish their marriage as husbands and wives together before God. We didn't come up with that. Southern Baptists didn't come up with that language in 1998. That is from the Apostle Paul, it's in the Book of Ephesians, it's repeated in the Book of Colossians.

Paul was very clear under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that there is a pattern of authority. He also wrote that the Christ -- that Christ himself is the head of the husband, and the husband the head of the wife, and even though that runs counter to the modern mind, it is woven into the wharf and the wolf of scripture.

PRESS: And isn't it true, though, if any marriage is going to succeed, a marriage has to be about partnership; a marriage can't be a man lording over the woman?

MOHLER: Well, any man who thinks that, that verse means that he should lord over his wife and not respect her fully is, frankly, not worthy to be married. Let's point out that, that same Biblical passage that says that wives are to submit to their husbands, also says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Now, just imagine that command and that obligation upon Christian husbands. It is far higher and more demanding than that put upon the woman to submit to her husband.

MATALIN: All right, I'm going to lord over both of you men, submit graciously to our commercial spot, because we'll be right back and when we do we will ask the Reverend Mohler what else is going on at the Southern Baptist Convention. Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Southern Baptists, 50 million strong, have become a formidable force in American life, culture, and politics, but say their critics, increasing social conservatism does not comport with the 21st-century cultural reality, not to mention Christian tolerance. But the Baptists say they are driven by the word of the Bible and that it is inherent. Is the church to literal, or critics too liberal?

Joining us from the convention, the prince in the pulpit to millions of Southern Baptists, the Reverend Albert Mohler Jr. -- Bill.

PRESS: Reverend Mohler, I want to ask you about another policy that's still on the books I understand of the convention, which is the boycott of Disney. Now, you might have noticed while you were down in Orlando, Disney World is booming, bigger than ever, so is Disneyland out in California, go to Broadway, you have to wait about a year and a half to get a ticket to "Lion King" or "Aida."

Wouldn't that prove, Reverend, that your boycott is a total bust?

MOHLER: Well, let me say at the onset that the purpose of Southern Baptist boycott against Disney was not to put Disney out of business. We were suffering under no illusions that we had that kind of power.

The issue for our boycott was not so much to influence Disney even as it was to inform our own church members and to remind ourselves of our moral responsibility concerning where we take our children and what kind of entertainment we bring into our own homes. We did, however, achieve, I think, a very public statement about our displeasure with the direction that Disney has taken.

PRESS: Can I ask what kind of car you drive, Reverend?

MOHLER: What kind of car I drive?


MOHLER: You mean the make?

PRESS: The make, I'm sorry.

MOHLER: I drive a Volvo at present.

PRESS: Well, you may be safe, because just last week the big three auto makers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, also said, like Disney, they were going to provide benefits to domestic partners whether they are married or whether they are in a gay relationship. You're going to boycott the big three, too, Reverend? How far are you going to go?

MOHLER: Well, that remains to be seen. There is no doubt that there is incredible pressure now being brought against American corporations, especially the Fortune 500, to adopt homosexual friendly, gay friendly policies. We greatly regret what the big three auto makers have done, it does not come as a startling surprise. And how we will respond, that is not yet clear, but we want to make very clear and plain our own understanding of homosexuality.

PRESS: You mentioned the companies are making these decisions -- Reverend, explain to me, if you have two workers who are doing the same job, putting in the same hours and the same kind of performance, one of them goes home to a wife, therefore he gets domestic benefits; the other goes home to a boyfriend or girlfriend, therefore that person doesn't get them based on your religion. Isn't that just outright discrimination? MOHLER: Every society discriminates. America discriminates.

PRESS: At least you admit it.

MOHLER: And those who cry for no discrimination discriminate. Every society decides what it holds as a norm, and heterosexual marriage has been the norm and the foundation of the family in this society since -- well, for all of human history -- and a deliberate decision to shift that pattern in rebellion against God's word and the pattern that God gave us in creation is very dangerous.

It's interesting you raise the issue of a homosexual partnership, a man with another man, or a woman with another woman. Well, what's to preclude the same thing from a man who might have multiple women, or polygamy, or polygeny, or any form of family? If that's the way we're going to go in post-modern America, it's going to be...

PRESS: Nobody is going there, Reverend. Nobody is going there. That's a red herring, total red herring, that's -- and that's an insult to the gay couples around this country.

MOHLER: Well, listen, it's not a red herring if you see actual cases that are taking place across this country. If it can be a man with man, then why not some other arrangement as well?

MATALIN: Reverend, can I pick up on this view of homosexuals which is predicated on your reading of the scripture again, but the Bible also relies on grace and love and compassion, and it was in this spirit that the Reverend Falwell of your convention met with 200 gays last fall in the South, in Lynchburg, Virginia, not New York City, not San Francisco, and they had a wonderful embracing dialogue.

Isn't that -- doesn't that epitomize Christian tolerance and charity, not the view you just expressed?

MOHLER: Well, I want to applaud anyone who seeks to, on the basis of truth, reach out to others with compassion and love. Let me point out clearly that Dr. Falwell opposes these policies. He's made very clear his own biblical convictions concerning homosexuality. And in that meeting, he said my judgment about homosexuality hasn't changed, but I want to make clear that even though I hate the sin I love the sinner.

Well, Southern Baptists would like that opportunity as well, and we believe that we are demonstrating what it means to love persons by telling them the truth.

MATALIN: Well, one quick question before I turn over to my esteemed partner, going back to Al Gore. He was rejected today by a Catholic church in Pennsylvania where he was going to give his presentation on health care because of his pro-abortion views. He is a member of your church, as Bill pointed out. Would you let him speak to one of your seminaries, given his views?

MOHLER: Well, that's an interesting question. We would certainly make clear our own pro-life understanding as based in scripture. We will make very clear our abhorrence of the assaults on life in this culture, and we would make very clear our protests to the vice president's support of a radically pro-choice position, pro- abortion, and his support of what we see as a massive assault on human life.

Whether he speaks, well, that's an interesting issue, but we want to speak clearly about what we believe is the great error and tragedy of America's assault on life.

PRESS: Reverend Mohler, we're almost out of time. I just have to ask you about still another policy, which is your campaign to convert Jews to Christianity. I mean, Jews are believers. They are conscious believers. Why don't you leave them alone?

MOHLER: Well, we have no campaign. We've made very clear that we believe that all persons should be reached out to with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have the responsibility to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all persons, knowing that the Bible teaches that there is salvation in no other name. Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth and the life: No man comes to the Father but by Me."

We want to tell everyone everywhere that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved through Jesus Christ.

PRESS: And Reverend Mohler, that's going to have to be the last word. It may seem like hell on Earth to you, but we thank you for joining us, Reverend Mohler, and Mary Matalin and I will be back with our closing comments.


PRESS: And the "CROSSFIRE" doesn't stop here. Reverend Mohler has agreed to stay around and take your questions at, right after the show. Mary, it should be an interesting chat room.

You know, you and I are Catholics. I used to think the Catholic Church was backwards when it comes to women. I mean, the Southern Baptists make the Catholic Church look progressive when it comes to women.

But you're right, if you talk about caring, talk about nurturing, talk about counseling, with few exceptions, women do that job better than men. They should be pastors.

MATALIN: Thank you, thank you.

PRESS: Reverend.

MATALIN: Thank you, my son.

Let me say about the Reverend Mohler, he is considered in the Southern Baptist Convention brilliant, the most brilliant, as I said, to come by in 25 years. He's very articulate, passionate, compassionate advocate for those stands. And I do believe that churches should be able to say whatever they want to say to their congregants.

I just agree -- I can't believe that we're agreeing on this -- that it's off-putting and it does not -- does not comport with Christian charity and compassion for women or gays and lesbians.

PRESS: No, I think they end up being wrong on women, they're wrong on gays. They're wrong on Disney. But you know the best part: Nobody pays attention, not even all the Southern Baptists.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Sister Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for more CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: Father Bill.

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