- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

The Southern Baptist Convention yesterday revised its statement of belief to bar women pastors.

The statement of belief is not binding on individual congregations, but it nevertheless carries great weight in the denomination, the largest non-Catholic religious body in the United States.

Church delegates, or "messengers," meeting in Orlando, Fla., amended their historic "Baptist Faith and Message" to declare: "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 and other changes to the Baptist message, first drafted in 1925, were necessary in "an age increasingly hostile to Christian truth," a panel report told the 10,000 messengers. The statement reflects the practice of Roman Catholic, Orthodox Jewish and Muslim denominations.

The convention would not deny women ordination, denominational officials said, only the traditional role of pastor and head administrator of a church.

"I don't think it limits me at all," said Sandy Scafide, an ordained deacon at First Baptist Church in Rockville, Md. As a deacon, she said, "I am in a support role to ease some of the pastor's burdens."

She is one of about 20 deacons who, ordained by a laying on of hands, cooperate to take care of the needs of congregation members.

In Alexandria, Va., on the other hand, the members of Baptist Temple Church passed a resolution last week decrying the ban on women ministers after it had been served until 1998 by the Rev. Nancy Foil, who "faithfully proclaimed and ministered the Gospel."

"The right to read Scripture for yourself is being usurped by a small group of fundamentalists," the Rev. Stewart Perry, pastor of Baptist Temple Church, said yesterday.

"They would want to say they are the only ones who use the Bible for their position," Mr. Perry said.

Conservative Bible scholars take St. Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:12-13 as definitive on how a church should operate.

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence," Paul wrote in the epistle. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."

But Mr. Perry said that Paul also greets women as deacons, and while saying in I Corinthians "it is shameful for a woman to speak in church," he also allows a woman in church "who prays or prophecies" if she covers her head.

"There are apparent contradictions in Paul, so we search the Scripture for a more nuanced understanding," Mr. Perry said.

A study by Midwestern Seminary, a Southern Baptist Convention school in Kansas City, Mo., said this week that of 41,009 congregations in the convention, there are only dozens of women who are senior pastors and all of them serve in eight states.

Virginia and North Carolina, considered "moderate" strongholds in a denomination that has become more theologically conservative over the past two decades, have the most women leading churches "about a dozen" each.

Conflicting claims within the SBC put the number of ordained women at from 1,200 to 1,600.

The SBC last revised the "Baptist Faith and Message" in 1963, though two years ago a floor resolution prompted another statement on male leadership: "A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the leadership of Christ."

Last year, a resolution called on a special panel to review the entire faith statement, leading to the revisions this year that include saying the Bible is "totally true," that God is "all-powerful and all-knowing," and that "there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."

The messengers also voted to add statements against homosexuality, abortion, racism, infidelity, promiscuity and pornography.

This year's assembly marks the end of a two-year presidency by the Rev. Paige Patterson, an SBC seminary president.

In 1979, as a Texas Bible teacher, Mr. Patterson designed an annual election and appointment strategy that finally shifted all SBC agencies into the control of theological conservatives.

The first conservative SBC president elected through that strategy was the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., and this year Mr. Rogers was chairman of the panel revising the "Baptist Faith and Message."

On Tuesday, the convention elected as president the Rev. James G. Merritt, pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga.

Mr. Merritt said his tenure would emphasize "soul winning," especially in overseas missions and among young people.

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