- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

RALEIGH, N.C. Blessed with her father's steely blue eyes and arresting stage aura, Anne Graham Lotz stirs thousands of women to sway in prayer as her revival tour "preaches and teaches" its way through the heartland.

Once a Sunday school teacher in Raleigh, the Rev. Billy Graham's daughter has become a symbol of a revival movement for women.

But bowing to the beliefs of the 15.6-million strong Southern Baptist Convention, she's careful to refer to herself as a "Bible expositor," as opposed to a preacher.

Still, the popularity of Mrs. Lotz, and a handful of female evangelical leaders like her, is putting church dictums to the test, as tens of thousands of women from Nashville, Tenn., to Minneapolis flock to their revival tours.

Amid this surge of feminine power, the Southern Baptist Convention the largest Protestant denomination in America is poised to formally bar women today from the pulpit at its annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The convention is expected to add a clause to the "Baptist Faith and Message" that only men should serve as pastors. The new sentence would read: "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The decision would prohibit future ordination, but would not affect the status of the roughly 100 Southern Baptist women who currently lead congregations.

"These female evangelists are coming into their own in a group that's been traditionally ambivalent about women leaders," says Mickey Maudlin, a writer at Christianity Today magazine. "This trend has been evolving for years, but it's now taking that next step."

The popularity of Mrs. Lotz, who has launched a world revival tour that is filling 25,000-seat arenas, has emerged as one of the biggest challenges to the prohibition on female preachers.

Though she maintains she has no interest in being ordained as a minister, the idea of a powerful woman preaching the Bible has in the past spurred men to literally turn their backs on her. And it irked many male evangelicals that she was named last year by the New York Times as one of five possible candidates to take over her father's mantle.

Mrs. Lotz is the best known of a growing number of female evangelists across the United States. Texas evangelist Beth Moore, whose Bible studies course for women focuses on "magic, romantic, and majestic" Bible interpretation, is also touring extensively. Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Kay Arthur encourages practitioners of her nondenominational approach to interpret the Bible for themselves.

Vital in Baptist churches for decades, women's ministries have in many places gone from small midweek meetings to Bible studies that draw thousands. In the past decade, for example, attendance at Mrs. Lotz's appearances in Raleigh has gone from 300 to 3,000.

Mrs. Lotz has agreed that "God has closed the door" on ordination for women. She recently told 3,500 women in Raleigh that "when people have a problem with women in the ministry, they need to take it up with Jesus."

The growth in popularity of female evangelists has risen in an age in which people are less interested in being identified with a specific religious denomination. Age, too, appears to be part of it, as Americans under 40 seem to be more ready to accept women as church leaders.

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