Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women & Power since World War II

Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women & Power since World War II

Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women & Power since World War II

Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women & Power since World War II

Synopsis

The debate over women's roles in the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative ascendance is often seen as secondary to theological and biblical concerns. Elizabeth Flowers argues, however, that for both moderate and conservative Baptist women--all of whom had much at stake--disagreements that touched on their familial roles and ecclesial authority have always been primary. And, in the turbulent postwar era, debate over their roles caused fierce internal controversy. While the legacy of race and civil rights lingered well into the 1990s, views on women's submission to male authority provided the most salient test by which moderates were identified and expelled in a process that led to significant splits in the Church. In Flowers's expansive history of Southern Baptist women, the "woman question" is integral to almost every area of Southern Baptist concern: hermeneutics, ecclesial polity, missionary work, church-state relations, and denominational history.
Flowers's analysis, part of the expanding survey of America's religious and cultural landscape after World War II, points to the South's changing identity and connects religious and regional issues to the complicated relationship between race and gender during and after the civil rights movement. She also shows how feminism and shifting women's roles, behaviors, and practices played a significant part in debates that simmer among Baptists and evangelicals throughout the nation today.

Excerpt

On July 12, 1979, more than 15,000 messengers to the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) gathered in the Houston Astrodome to elect the charismatic, conservative, and controversial preacher Adrian Rogers as their denomination’s next president. To the dismay of many church officials, Rogers, who stood outside the traditional network of leadership, defeated several senior Southern Baptist statesmen with a 51 percent margin of victory on the first ballot. More significantly, his victory served as the initial step in a carefully calculated plan to overthrow the power base that his opponents represented.

Conservatives like Rogers argued that theological and cultural liberalism had infiltrated the denomination’s highest institutions and offices. As they saw it, university professors had abandoned biblical Creationism, women had usurped men’s leadership in missions, and feminists now crowded the seminary classrooms. “If those liberals will ever come to the cross of Jesus,” proclaimed Rogers on the eve of his election, “then all heaven will break loose.” Rogers’s words incensed those coalescing around the traditional leadership structure. One SBC executive even assigned Rogers’s success to “Satan” and “his efforts” to deflect attention from missions and evangelism. The SBc’s outgoing president, Jimmy Allen, urged messengers to resist the temptation of groups intent on dividing the denomination and altering its agenda. Initially seen as SBC loyalists, Allen and his cohorts soon adopted the name “moderates” and argued fervently for compromise.

The contest between conservatives and moderates was fierce. It lasted more than two decades and quickly moved beyond vitriolic rhetoric, annual convention politicking, and media-hyped Disney boycotts. During this period, conservatives radically revised denominational policies, disfel-

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