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Southern Baptist leaders voted to further restrict the role of women in ministry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Southern Baptist leaders meeting in New Orleans have voted to amend their constitution to further restrict the role of women in ministry. They also extended the work of a task force addressing sexual misconduct within the church. Joining us now to talk through these decisions is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hey, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CHANG: So first, can you just tell us more about what Southern Baptist leaders decided to do regarding sex abuse in the church?

DEROSE: Well, you may remember that scathing report from last year about mishandling of abuse cases and mistreating...

CHANG: Yes.

DEROSE: ...Victims.

CHANG: Yes, I remember.

DEROSE: Since then, Southern Baptist's Sex Abuse Task Force has done a few things. They've established a database of abusive clergy to aid congregations when they're hiring pastors and doing background checks. And they've included a category in that database for those who've not been legally convicted for reasons like statute of limitations running out, but whom an independent party has concluded is still culpable. They've created a toolkit for helping congregations address abuse when it's reported, such as how to properly contact, you know, the police or civil authorities and how best to care for victims. And the meeting also voted to renew the task force's mandate for another year to continue their work.

CHANG: OK. Well, then let's turn to women in ministry. What exactly did they decide regarding that issue?

DEROSE: Well, they voted by a two-thirds majority to amend their constitution to state that the Southern Baptist Convention, quote, "affirms, appoints or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder." Now, that essentially reiterates a decision they made in the year 2000, when they said the office of pastor is limited to men, as qualified by scripture. And this amendment will need to be voted on again at the Southern Baptist meeting next year in order to go into effect.

CHANG: Wait, wait - but if they already had that rule, why the constitutional amendment?

DEROSE: Well, despite the rules, some congregations do have women serving as pastors.

CHANG: Oh.

DEROSE: And some of those were expelled earlier this year in something of a crackdown...

CHANG: Oh.

DEROSE: ...Including the well-known megachurch here in Southern California, Saddleback. Southern Baptists believe the Bible says women cannot teach men or have religious authority over them.

Now, one of the pastors whose church was expelled is Linda Popham of Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky. And here she is on the meeting floor appealing that decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA POPHAM: We have a faith in practice which identifies more closely with the Baptist faith and message than many other Southern Baptist churches, and I am personally more conservative than most Southern Baptist pastors I know.

DEROSE: And now, here's Southern Baptist Seminary president, Albert Mohler, defending the expulsion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALBERT MOHLER: The issue of a woman serving in the pastor is an issue of fundamental biblical authority that does violate both the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Convention.

DEROSE: Now, the appeals of Popham's congregation and Saddleback were denied, so they remain out. And I'll note that most of the voters there were men.

CHANG: Ah, OK. Well, what I don't get is why is this debate over women happening now, Jason, when Southern Baptists are facing other pressing issues, like clergy sex abuse?

DEROSE: Well, some would argue that this crackdown is about trying to be more faithful to their understanding of the Bible, that women and men have different but complementary roles as opposed to more egalitarian roles. They view the Bible in part as a set of rules to live by, and this issue of gender roles and authority is crucial to them. It's one you see playing out in a lot of larger ways in American political life. Southern Baptists' understanding of the Bible has shaped a lot of conservative opposition to issues like abortion or LGBTQ rights. You know, that affects people well beyond those who choose to attend a Southern Baptist congregation.

CHANG: That is NPR's Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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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