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At their annual meeting, Southern Baptists crack down on women in ministry

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Southern Baptists are cracking down on women in ministry. They did so this week at their annual meeting by voting to finalize the expulsion of two congregations with women pastors and moving to change their own constitution. NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Earlier this year, Southern Baptist leaders expelled Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky, where a woman has led the congregation for decades, and well-known Saddleback, the megachurch in Southern California, where a woman serves as campus pastor. Those expulsions were based on a document passed in the year 2000 called the Baptist Faith and Message, which restricts the office of pastor to men. Meeting in New Orleans, nearly 13,000 delegates called messengers, predominantly white men, heard appeals from the expelled churches, but those appeals failed. Then they turned to an amendment to the Southern Baptist Constitution itself that says the church affirms, appoints or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder. Sarah Clatworthy of Lifepoint Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, was among the smaller group of women messengers. She spoke in favor of the amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH CLATWORTHY: We must stand our ground and keep the door shut to feminism and liberalism. In a culture that is increasingly unclear about the roles of men and women or what a man or woman is, we have to be crystal clear.

DEROSE: Clatworthy said that her church believes women shouldn't teach men or hold religious authority over them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLATWORTHY: We should leave no room for our daughters and granddaughters in the generations ahead to have confusion on where the SBCC stands. Let them know that Scripture is our authority and not the culture.

DEROSE: But that belief isn't uniform among all Southern Baptists. Bob Bender, pastor emeritus of Cross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., defended the right of women to serve as pastors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB BENDER: Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, I beg of you. Do not do this. All the liberals have left us. It looks like we conservatives are left to fight amongst ourselves.

DEROSE: Bender harkened back to the Southern Baptist Convention's past to underscore his point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENDER: Southern Baptists have been right on a lot of things and wrong on a few. We were wrong on slavery, segregation, alien immersion and disallowing biblically divorced men to become deacons. History will prove us wrong again if we adopt this motion.

DEROSE: In the end, the amendment banning women pastors passed. Next year's Southern Baptist Convention meeting will have to pass it again before it officially takes effect.

Jason DeRose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.
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