Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page believes the denomination should be open to discussing the ordination of women as deacons or junior staff members but not as senior pastors, according to a TV news report in Nashville, Tenn.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week quoted Page at a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention evangelism conference saying the convention needs to overcome minor differences and work collectively through the Cooperative Program unified giving plan.
"I think we have thwarted the prayer request of Jesus long enough," Page said, referring to Jesus' prayer for unity in the Gospel of John. "Winning this world for Jesus is more important than our differences."
Picking up the story in a Friday broadcast, WKRN Channel 2 faith and values reporter Jamey Tucker quoted Page as telling him by telephone that "anything that has divided Southern Baptists in the past is now up for discussion. That includes the ordination of female deacons and ministers."
Tucker said later in a blog that some misunderstood that statement to refer to women pastors. The Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC's official doctrinal statement, was amended in 2000 to articulate, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
"Dr. Page told me by telephone that anything that Baptists have disagreed on in the past should be brought to the table for discussion," Tucker said in his blog. "That, he said, includes the ordination of women deacons. I also asked him about the ordination of women ministers. That is also up for discussion. But that does not include the role of senior pastors which, according to the Baptist Faith and Message is still a role, they feel, that should be held by men."
"Some who saw the story Friday interpreted the statement 'women ministers' to include senior pastors, and that is untrue," Tucker said. "Dr. Page says the role of women in other ministry roles such as youth, music and children's ministers should be discussed."
"I have been in many Southern Baptist churches with women serving as children's ministers, but most SBC churches have in the past, shied away from naming or ordaining a woman as youth or music minister," he continued. "That, according to Dr. Page, should be discussed."
While Page wants to set aside some of the differences among denominational leaders, Tucker said, "In no way did he tell me or indicate that the core beliefs of Southern Baptists are going to be compromised."
That distinction would have at one time deprived Page himself from having a voice. As Ph.D. students both he and Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler strongly defended women's rights to hold any position of leadership in the church, including pastor. Both said they were misled as young seminarians by liberal professors, and that they changed their views when they got older.
A current gender dispute in Baptist circles centers on Sheri Klouda, a theology professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recently forced out after being told she would not receive tenure because the Bible says it is unacceptable for women to teach men.
Some, including Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, who first blogged about Klouda Jan. 17, say even if I Timothy 2:12 is interpreted literally as saying women cannot have authority over men in a church, it is too narrow to apply it to a woman teaching Hebrew in a seminary.
Klouda, who found a new teaching job at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., wrote in an article in Monday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she was more puzzled than angered by her treatment.
Unlike earlier female professors hired by moderates and forced out after fundamentalist majorities gained control of trustee boards, Klouda earned her Ph.D. from Southwestern in May 2002. She was elected that year to a tenure-track position by conservative trustees and "proudly and publicly" signed the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
Two years later, she said, after Paige Patterson succeeded Ken Hemphill as seminary president, an administrator told her she would not get tenure and should look for another job. Patterson quietly removed her from the classroom last fall, and had agreed to pay her through this spring, before she was elected a professor at Taylor this summer. As of Burleson's January blog, however, Klouda still faced financial hardship because her house in Texas had not sold and because of medical needs of her husband.
"Is it not fair and right to allow a female professor, hired under the same terms as other faculty members, to undergo the same tenure evaluation process and receive objective affirmation or denial on the basis of her teaching abilities, professional development, scholarly achievements and publications, collegiality and service to the students?" Klouda asked in the newspaper column. "Or does another standard exist, applying only to those women who inadvertently find themselves serving teaching roles in biblical studies?"
A Texas pastor filed an official complaint with the Association of Theological Schools, charging Klouda's dismissal constituted "a serious breach of the accreditation guidelines."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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