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Woman Theologian to Lead Baptist Seminary

Theologian Molly Marshall has been named next president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

She is the first woman to lead the seminary in Kansas City, Kan., which is affiliated with American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and “in full support” of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

She is also the first woman to be named president of a Baptist-affiliated school accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. When she takes office Jan. 1, Marshall will join 15 other woman presidents among 251 member schools of ATS, according to Nancy Merrill, ATS director of communications.

Marshall, a professor of theology and spiritual formation who has taught at Central Seminary nine years, was recently elected unanimously by the seminary’s board of directors, according to a news release dated Nov. 15.

“I am delighted and humbled by the confidence and trust extended to me by the board of directors of Central Baptist Theological Seminary,” Marshall said in a statement. “I believe that the Spirit has both guided the search process and has guided my consent to this significant undertaking. It is a season of hope and a season of joy as we look toward a new horizon.”

Marshall succeeds Tom Clifton as president. He stepped down last August and officially retired Dec. 31. She has served as acting academic dean since May 15, when James Hines returned to full-time teaching after holding the position for nine years.

Central Seminary, which enrolls about 100 students, has had a history of fund-raising struggles. The school’s directors in February voted to step up development efforts and adopted an “entrepreneurial” leadership model, emphasizing entrepreneurship at all levels for the benefit of the organization, for the future.

Founded in 1901 as Kansas City Seminary, Central was the first Baptist seminary established west of the Mississippi River. For its first 50 years, it served both southern and northern Baptists.

In the 1950s the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a policy of not supporting any school for which it did not elect the board of trustees. The SBC decided unilaterally to open Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., in 1958, despite an appeal by Central officials to compromise.

In 1994, Central’s board of directors voted to expand the seminary’s covenant with American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. to express “full support” for the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group formed in 1991 in reaction to fundamentalists gaining control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Marshall, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with two degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was viewed as a role model for women in ministry in Southern Baptist life in the 1980s. She was the first female theology professor in the history of Southern Seminary and was named associate dean of the seminary’s School of Theology.

Later, she became a lightning rod in the denomination’s shift in leadership and direction. Shortly after taking over as Southern Seminary’s president, Al Mohler reportedly told Marshall that if she didn’t resign she would be brought up on “heresy” charges before the seminary’s trustees.

Mohler refused to tell her what the charges would be, which the seminary’s disciplinary process allowed. Under the administration of Mohler’s predecessor, however, conservative trustees had questioned Marshall’s views on salvation and feminism.

Rather than facing charges without an opportunity to prepare a defense, Marshall resigned in 1994. She served two years as a visiting professor at Central Seminary before being elected a tenured professor in 1997.

This summer the William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society named Marshall recipient of its annual Courage Award.

She and her husband, Douglas Green, are members of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan. Her pastor, Heather Entrekin, called Marshall “a brilliant choice to lead Central Baptist Seminary into a vigorous and bold future.”

“She models and champions historic Baptist principles of inclusion, diversity and equality,” Entrekin said.  “As a woman president of a Baptist seminary, Molly now occupies a rarefied place in the realm of theological education which will surely serve to bring overdue attention to these much abused Baptist values.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.