Southern Baptist Reactions to the Guidepost Report

I’ve noticed basically three kinds of reaction to the Guidepost report:

(1) Shocking, but not surprising—this is what happens in overtly patriarchal subcultures;
(2) This is horrific—we need to rethink our leadership culture and organizational structure;
(3) The Guidepost report didn’t have Bible verses; we need more emphasis on male authority.

My sense is that the folks in the first category are outliers in the SBC—mostly advocates, and some academics who don’t advertise their views for fear of retribution from an SBC-affiliated employer.

The folks in category (2) are those in the SBC who oppose female ordination (perhaps reluctantly), because they sincerely believe that the Bible prohibits women from serving as pastors. But those in category (2) recognize that scripture provides no clear prohibition on women serving in leadership roles that give them authority over men (e.g., police, corporate executive, school administrator) or women teaching within the church. Importantly, the folks in category (2) are open to examining the fruit of various institutional arrangements and, when necessary, experimenting with alternative arrangements that conform to the clear teaching of scripture as they understand it. So if there’s no clear biblical prohibition on women serving in (non-pastoral) leadership, and the fruit of overwhelmingly male-dominated leadership is decades of abuse and cover-ups, the folks in category (2) are open to inviting women into the halls of power and influence.

The folks in category (3) are misogynists. Many of them sincerely believe they’re not misogynists—either because they don’t understand what misogyny is, or they’re completely in the dark about their own motives for opposing female leadership. But they’re misogynists nonetheless. This isn’t to say that all people in category (3) are of apiece: Mohler is no Patterson. The latter has always worn his contempt for women on his sleeve, while the former supported female ordination in the ’80s and changed his view just in time to keep pace with the SBC’s political winds. (Opportunistic misogyny is misogyny nonetheless.)

I have two reasons for believing those in category (3) to be misogynists. The first is that they act like misogynists, and their excuse for acting like misogynists doesn’t withstand mild scrutiny. They claim that their opposition to female leadership is based in scrupulous adherence to the Biblical qualifications for church leadership: indeed, the mere suggestion of a woman in a pulpit on a Sunday occasions a deluge of 20,000 word essays on the clear, simple, obvious meaning of their life verse, namely 1 Timothy 2:12. And yet, the revelation that serial predation and cover ups have plagued SBC churches, pulpits and leadership for decades is met with casual speculation about progressives trying to take over the Convention. In short, they don’t seem to care all that much about the biblical qualifications for leadership as such—if they did, the specter of predators in the pastorate would be at least as offensive to them as the prospect of women addressing a Baptist congregation. I’m forced to conclude that their motivation is contempt for women, not scripture. It’s the only way to explain their behavior.

My second reason for calling them misogynists is that their arguments against egalitarianism are tendered in bad faith. To be clear: I’m not asserting that their commitment to male headship is held insincerely. I grant that they honestly believe that scripture commends male leadership. The point is that the way that they argue with people who disagree with them suggests contempt for the very notion that just maybe, possibly, their views on the subordination of women might be wrong. The thought is unthinkable to them. And I just don’t see how one arrives at that attitude absent some deeply held, perhaps even unconscious commitment to the inferiority of women. (I also happen to think that this attitude is deeply anti-Christian, but that’s a topic for another time, or perhaps a book chapter.)

Importantly, the folks in category (3) are currently waging a campaign to manipulate those in category (2) into doubling down on a commitment to male authority by pretending that anything less than full on patriarchy constitutes theological liberalism. This is just false. That’s never been a point of widespread agreement among Baptists, or even Southern Baptists, which is why the language of the BFM2K is what it is. The distinction between office and function of a pastor was completely intentional. It wasn’t a point of confusion as some in category (3) are now suggesting. If they were to go about their project honestly, they would stand on the floor of the Convention this year and argue that the BFM2K should be amended to reflect their views on the role of women. But they won’t do that, because they know that such an effort would be doomed to fail.

My sense is that the majority of folks in the SBC are in category (2). The misogynists are trying to drag them into category (3), and I hope they fail. Either way, they won’t win—because if that project succeeds, I doubt that the SBC will still exist 20 years from now.