The Woman Question in Baptist Churches

Published 5:25 pm Saturday, June 10, 2023

By Michael J. Brooks

Baptist historian Leon McBeth called it “the woman question,” and Southern Baptists yet struggle with it. Women make up 60% of our membership women. Normally we don’t hesitate to ask them to serve in most church positions because we know they bring dispatch, order, and grace to the job.

But the two places we approach with fear and trembling are the deaconship and the pulpit.

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It’s true the Apostle Paul gave specific counsel to Timothy for selecting deacons. “Men” is clear. But the apostle called Phoebe a “diakonos” in Romans 16. This is the same word used in Timothy for the male office. Thus, we argue a bit about this.

It was the talk of the town some years ago when a Perry County Baptist church ordained a new deacon. The pastor invited the ordained to come forward for the laying on of hands—a time of personal blessing and encouragement. For the first time a woman joined the men in the procession. She and her husband moved from Virginia where she’d served as a deacon, quite common in that state, though more uncommon in Alabama.

The other trepidation we have is women in the pulpit, except for leading music. A retired missionary in our state denomination told me at least 60% of our Baptist music ministers are female. The issue is preaching.

Again, Paul explained to Timothy that the pastor is a male. But Dr. Luke wrote that deacon Philip had four daughters who were prophets. Our Nigerian pulpit guest last summer told me many of their pastors are women and it’s not a theological issue in his country. Baptists in Nigeria are killed for their faith, so their fidelity to Christ is unquestioned.

She was leader of the women’s ministry for our denomination and a veteran international missionary. A south Alabama church invited her to visit and share about missions a few years ago. She found the pulpit moved from the platform to the main floor for the day! Apparently, this made the message OK.

Thus, the interpretive battles continue.

And now it’s suggested we boot out acclaimed pastor Rick Warren because a few women are ordained in Saddleback Church. Warren has led the denomination in baptisms for years. In California, no less. And he touched millions around the world with “The Purpose-Filled Life.” If Saddleback is voted out in June, it will be our loss. He and Saddleback will continue to be a pace-setting fellowship who really don’t need SBC affirmation.

Historically, Southern Baptists have said what happens in our churches is decided by local congregations who follow Christ, and who join others in “friendly cooperation” to advance ministry and missions.

The meaning of “friendly cooperation” is now debated. 

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.