A week ago, I posted a piece concerning the public announcement in the Christian Index of four nominees for the office of Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to be elected at the 2019 Georgia Baptist Convention held at Fayetteville's New Hope Baptist Church November 10-12. The piece produced minimal chatter on Social Media. From knowledge recently gained, more chatter definitely took place privately rather than publicly.
In the piece, I suggested that while all four intended nominees possessed undeniable qualifications and experience that could benefit Georgia Baptists, there existed among the four intended nominees at least one candidate that seemed to me ought to raise alarm. I put it like this:
All four candidates appear to be highly capable men who are called and skilled in ministry, successful in community involvement, and effective in his respective local church ministry. One of the vice-presidential candidates above, however, should alarm Georgia Baptists.
Why raise an alarm concerning Rev. Caldwell as a nominee for Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board? Allow me to quote what I said in the original post:
There remains one factor concerning Rev. Caldwell's candidacy that should nonetheless alarm Georgia Baptists. And the question should be asked, given his broad service among Georgia Baptists for so long, why has this issue not been raised before?
According to the church's website, New Mercy church embraces women pastors. And not just embraces women pastors, but ordains women pastors.
With this in mind, how are Georgia Baptists supposed to respond to a candidate put to them who seems highly qualified by virtually every measure but this one: explicit support for women as pastors? Doesn't support for women as pastors directly contradict Article VI Paragraph 1 of The Baptist Faith & Message which states, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture"?
From my perspective, we're clearly facing a doctrinal obstacle, an obstacle of both belief and behavior since New Mercy church not only embraces a belief in women pastors but puts the belief into practice by ordaining women pastors.
For my part, since Southern Baptists generally and Georgia Baptists particularly settled that controversy among us almost two decades ago by going on record stating clearly what we believed the Bible teaches concerning women in pastoral ministry, what possible benefit will we receive by ignoring our hard-fought struggle to remain true to our biblical convictions? If we elect as vice-president of our convention a nominee who believes and practices the very doctrine we publicly reject, how might we escape the very real charge of compromising our biblical convictions?
Even so, though I was very clear as to the reason I think Brother Caldwell would hardly be a fit for Georgia Baptists as convention vice-president, some nonetheless seemed to assume other reasons exist, two reasons particularly.
First, some have suggested the reason I'm raising an alarm about Grady Caldwell is because I do not know him. That is, it's a personal issue, a relational issue. I was advised by one objector that if only I would get to know Grady, talk to him, spend some time with him, I would immediately change my mind, because I'd see what a great person he is.
In response, of the four nominees for vice-president, I personally only know and met one of them. If it's about whether or not I know the man, then should I not also be alarmed by three of the four nominees? Even more, as I've already made perfectly clear, Rev. Caldwell's qualifications—including personal qualities—is not in question here. It's not personal. It's about principle. Biblical principle.
Second, neither is it about politics. One objector accused me of "lobbying against" Brother Caldwell. Those are political terms. But I have no political agenda, no substitute nominee about whom I'm "lobbying for." I'm not thinking of another person. Because it's not about either another person or political persuasion. Rather it's about principle. Biblical principle.
While it's true, another person would necessarily need to be nominated since Georgia Baptist polity requires four vice-presidents not three, I have no one nor will I offer the name of another nominee. Georgia Baptists themselves will need to figure this out.
Finally, it's been suggested by numerous people that though Brother Caldwell's church ordains women to pastoral ministry, there's no need to become concerned since ordaining women to gospel ministry is merely a "cultural difference" between the Black Baptist tradition and Georgia Baptists the majority of whom are White. In other words, it's the common practice among Black Baptists to ordain women to the gospel ministry, but it doesn't mean the same as it does among White Baptist churches.
Among all the reasons one might suggest why we should not be alarmed that a vice-presidential nominee embraces and ordains women pastors, this remains the most concerning. Why? Because while it seems plausible on the surface, and many people readily accept it without question, it's categorically false. The history of ordaining women as pastors in the Black Baptist church is virtually identical to the history of ordaining women among White Baptists.
For example, in 1981, the Washington Post ran a story entitled, "Black Baptist Women Seeking Ordination Find Discrimination." The writer profiled the Washington DC area and the Baptist Ministers Conference, a professional association of about 45 ministers, mostly black and representing approximately 125,000 Black Baptists. The Conference president at the time, Carey Pointer, emphatically stated, that though no polity issue existed to prohibit women's ordination, "we feel the Bible does not support the ordination of women as preachers." He went on to conclude, "I don't believe that any woman has gotten a call to be a minister. [If she says she has,] I think she is misguided."
Is Rev. Pointer and the DC conference of Baptists the exception to the rule?
Not according to Shayne Lee, professor at the University of Houston. He concludes "to be a female seeking ordination and respect among mainline black Baptist conventions is still a lonely and difficult task (Chapman 1996), as most Baptist churches and networks remain hostile environments for women clergy." In fact, according to Lee, research in 1990 "found that almost 74 percent of pastors in the largest black Baptist convention disapproved of women clergy."
While it could be true that more Black Baptists accept pastoral roles for women than White Baptists, it hardly follows from Lee's premises that accepting women in pastoral roles is "culturally different" between Black and White Baptists.
In Charlotte B. Chinn's unpublished Master's thesis at Wright University (2014), she unequivocally states, "Of the denominations within the black churches, the Baptist has been the most reluctant to embrace women in the pulpit." In rehearsing the history of the Black Baptist church, Chinn indicates that the Black church since the days of slavery,
…adopted society's definition of and Scriptural references such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-3 5: "the women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak" (English Standard Version 1 Cor. 14.34-3 5) as justification for the positions women could maintain in the church. […] Black male church leaders "adopted and instituted the patriarchal order of the white church and its reading of the Bible"
Chinn goes on to conclude, "While it is true women have made progress in becoming ordained at different times during the history of the black church, those who do receive ordination are often merely tolerated. In other words, they are not encouraged, nor do they receive the same benefits of mentorship as their male counterparts."
In February 2017, an article appeared online by Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Howard University. Entitled "Hidden figures: How black women preachers spoke truth to power," he writes of Black churches today,
Yet, America's Christian pulpits, especially African-American pulpits, remain male-dominated spaces. Still today, eyebrows raise, churches split, pews empty and recommendation letters get lost at a woman's mention that God has called her to preach.
While Gilbert's claim was directed toward Christian pulpits in general, the same, and surely more, could be stated concerning Baptist pulpits, Black Baptist pulpits.
Thus, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it cannot be honestly maintained that a mere "cultural difference" adequately explains why Georgia Baptists can and should accept as a vice-presidential nominee for the Georgia convention, a candidate whose church embraces and ordains women to the pastoral ministry.
Summarizing, the historical record overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that both Black and White Baptist churches have remained resistant to the more modern notion that women just as well as men are biblically justified in holding a pastoral office in the New Testament church. Hence, those who suggest there exists a "cultural difference" between Black and White Baptists on embracing and ordaining women as pastors to adequately explain and justify why a vice-presidential nominee should be acceptable to Georgia Baptists are entirely mistaken.
Georgia Baptists face a difficult decision.
Difficult not because it's unclear what to do. I think it's entirely clear we all want to stand on our principled convictions.
Rather it's difficult because, in order to do the right thing and stand on our biblical principles, we must tell a fine Christian gentleman, a wonderful Baptist pastor, a beloved community leader, and to some, a dear, dear friend that his and his church's views on women in ministry do not line up with our publicly stated biblical understanding, and, therefore, he cannot be our vice-president.
And, that, my fellow Georgia Baptists, is really a difficult thing to do.
Nevertheless, it is our Christian duty to do.
- Chinn, C. (2014). From the Pew to the Pulpit - African American Women's Struggle to Gain and Maintain Leadership Positions within the
Church (Master's thesis). Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
- Lee, Shayne. The Structure of a Spiritual Revolution: Black Baptists and Women in Ministry. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 33 No. 2, April 2004 154-177
- Bernhard, Marianne. "Black Baptist Women Seeking Ordination Find Discrimination" - The Washington Post. June 12, 1981