There’s a lot of overlap among evangelicals who dismiss social justice (or “wokeness”) as Marxist, those who embrace patriarchy, and those whose theology borrows heavily from the thinking of men who claim biblical support for chattel slavery and segregation.
The overlap isn’t coincidental: all of these commitments flow from an authoritarian outlook that organizes people into a divinely ordained hierarchy, based largely on innate physical characteristics, and conceives of morality as a matter of obedience to one’s natural superiors. They all hold that God has designed some people to exercise authority, and God has designed others to practice submission to authority. Moral order is achieved when we inhabit our God-ordained place in the hierarchy; and apart from that hierarchy, there is no morality.
According to this paradigm, there’s no inconsistency in holding a church gathering that violates public health mandates, and then invoking Romans 13 to admonish those who protest U.S. immigration policy or the rate at which our government kills and imprisons African Americans. The men who embrace this conception of morality don’t even seem to understand the tension: by all appearances, they believe that Romans 13 is addressed to those for whom God has ordained submission—the disenfranchised and dispossessed—not those in authority, like themselves. In their view, laws and public policies that crystalize inequity are evidence of God’s design rather than a consequence of human depravity: systemic inequality is an expression of moral truth rather than a transgression against it.
Authoritarian theologian John W. Duggar reasons explicitly along these lines in his 1954 essay, God’s Answer to Segregation, in which he purports to offer a biblical rationale for racial segregation. The year he published God’s Answer to Segregation, Duggar co-founded the Baptist Missionary Alliance Theological Seminary (BMATS), where he served as professor, President (1973–83), and President Emeritus (1983–98). The library at BMATS, completed in 1981, bears his name.
According to Duggar, “All races in the nation should have opportunity for education, for better living conditions, and for citizenship; but in this life they can never be equal in every respect any more than a man and a woman can be equal. God made man for his place and woman for hers. He did not intend for them to change places. If you took all the men and made them housekeepers and took all the women and made them all bread-winners, there would be confusion in this world. God let each of us be born in the sphere of His choosing. …we do not see stars trying to be the sun, or the moon trying to be a star. Everything in God’s universe has its place. … All humans differ. None are equal. The races are not equal.”
Duggar (1954), God’s Answer to Segregation
Duggar continues, “By certain aptitudes instilled in the various colored races God has fitted each for the purpose he intended for them. … God permitted the spread of the white race over the earth, for the Gentiles were to predominate in the spread of the Gospel. They were to be more faithful as missionaries of the Gospel Truth than Semites or Hamites. … The white race has an aptitude for exploration, colonization, and scientific progress. Migration of this race to other lands has necessitated the improvement of means of transportation.” Further, Duggar claims, “Descendants of Ham are human beings… However, their place is clearly that of inferiority… God gave them talents to serve others, and there is no race that can compete with them in that field. With proper training they become of great benefit to humanity. They should be educated and should have rights of citizenship, but all the laws and decrees of man can never lift them out of their physical, social, and mental inferiority. They are doomed to that by the decree of Almighty God.” Duggar concludes that, “From the facts presented herein, surely no one could deny that God sanctions segregation of the races by physical separation. …the answer was practically given in the raising of the question, for God speaks plainly.”
I don’t mean to suggest that fondness for patriarchy is identical to racism, or that all patriarchists are racists—rather that the push for gendered hierarchy and the push for racial hierarchy are animated by the same authoritarian impulse. Moreover, once we’ve embraced the authoritarian’s premise that God has designed some people for dominion and others for submission, the line between gender-based subjugation and race-based subjugation is morally arbitrary. The patriarchist might tell himself that he has Scripture to support his position while the racist does not. But as we’ve just demonstrated, the racist can match the patriarchist for biblical proof-texts, in both quantity and purported clarity.
Racists and patriarchists within evangelicalism don’t merely share an ideology, they fish in the same streams. BMATS, the seminary Duggar co-founded the year he published “God’s Answer to Segregation,” is among the sponsors of an upcoming conference in Denton, TX: “Wokeness and the Gospel”. Speakers include a number of renowned patriarchists, including one newly minted Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council, known for his Duggar-like confidence in the clarity of biblical proof-texts that commend human subjugation. Another of the conference’s sponsors is The Master’s Seminary, whose figurehead once had the temerity to suggest that an eminent female Bible teacher should “Go home,” only to demur when local health officials suggested he do the same.
(For his part, the current President of BMATS, Charley Holmes, said that McArthur’s admonition to “Go home” didn’t go far enough (Baptist Trumpet, Nov. 13, 2019). I’m not aware of any statement from Holmes or BMATS regarding Duggar’s racism.)
Whether it’s organized by race or gender, authoritarian theologians baptize their preferred social hierarchy in biblical proof-texts that they alone have the authority to interpret and deem sufficiently clear to bind the conscience of all believers. The conservative evangelical conscience will remain fragmented as long as we attempt to derive morality from a curated collection of biblical proof-texts, tailored by men in power to justify the established order.
It’s been suggested that those who promote “wokeness” or “woke theology” should be regarded as false teachers. This claim reflects a kind of theological illiteracy that needs to be exposed. I’ll start with a brief note about terminology, since it’s a source of much mischief.
Critics of “wokeness” often identify concerns about systemic injustice with Critical Race Theory (CRT). But you needn’t endorse CRT—or care anything about CRT, really—in order to be concerned about systemic justice. CRT is just one among many academic disciplines that deal with questions about systemic justice; and it is hardly the first or the most important. Roughly 2500 years before the inception of CRT, Plato discusses systemic justice in his ‘Republic’ and ‘Laws’.
A millennium before Plato, God inspired Moses to establish a legal system animated by God’s hatred of institutional oppression. And God commanded his people to cherish and keep these laws in remembrance of their liberation from Egyptian oppression.
Systemic injustice is second only to idolatry among the occasions for God’s wrath in the Old Testament. And more often than not, when idolatry is at issue, the idols in question are implicated in efforts to secure wealth or power within an oppressive system.
So it’s important to understand that a commitment to systemic justice isn’t the same as fondness for CRT. And the former is a foundational moral imperative for all who fear God, whatever one thinks of the latter. Yet the wokeness truthers in conservative evangelicalism insist on conflating the two. I’m willing to assume, charitably, that this confusion derives from ignorance—of which they display much, and with remarkable boldness. But the notion that we should regard those who demand systemic justice as false teachers is more than mere error: it presents a false image of who God is and what God requires of us. And this is not to be suffered gladly.
According to Scripture, false teachers dwell in the political or religious establishment, and they misrepresent God to the people of God in order to fortify their own position of power or influence. False teachers lie about God for their own personal gain. So, in the logic of Christian theology, it doesn’t even make sense to say that those who demand systemic justice *on behalf of others* are false teachers. It’s a category mistake. Simply put, demanding justice for others isn’t what false teachers do. In fact, every single time Scripture presents God’s prophets in direct conflict with false prophets, God’s prophets are the ones demanding justice for the oppressed. Every. Single. Time.
And how do the false prophets react? First, they accuse God’s prophet of being a false teacher. Then they try to protect their own power and influence by lying about God. “Everything’s good here. God says that the status quo is just fine, and judgment is not forthcoming.” For example, the biblical picture of false prophets bears a striking resemblance to the handful of theologians in the SBC whose dalliances with heresy have redounded to their own professional benefit.
Some proponents of ESS misrepresented the very nature of the Trinity in an effort to legitimate a niche research agenda that they were well-positioned to lead (largely because the most fertile theological minds of our era simply have no interest in advancing male headship). These men spend their days stirring up controversy, insisting that God’s people break fellowship over the secondary effects of tertiary issues that are a matter of grave importance only to men whose professional advancement depends on it. It’s clever in a strictly Machiavellian sense: find a subject that none of the really talented people in your field care about, create a journal for it, publish in your own journal, and then leverage politics and personal connections to demand that it be taken seriously. Now these men are attempting to persuade God’s people that demands for systemic justice are false teaching. “Everything’s good,” they say. “God has instructed me to assure you that the status quo is just fine, and judgment is not forthcoming.”
I don’t know whether judgment is upon us. But if it is, it’s not for the reasons that the culture warriors warned us about: it’s because of the political conditions that the culture warriors helped create.
Don’t let false teachers tell you who the false teachers are. Look for the folks demanding justice, and join them. That’s the side you want to be on, even if you don’t agree with everything they have to say.
This is theologically illiterate: it’s not merely wrong—it’s wrong in ways that I’d expect only someone who doesn’t understand the basic logic of Christianity to be wrong.
According to a small but vocal
minority of ultra-complementarian faculty at Southern Baptist seminaries, our society’s
most pressing infirmities would be cured if only Christian women would fully embrace
their God-given role as homemakers. These men are less vocal about the fact
that they accept salaries from institutions that depend upon the financial
contributions of women who are employed outside of the home. You might say that
they want to have their complementarian cake and get paid, too.
The inconsistency between what
these men say and how they are paid cannot go perpetually unnoticed. Southern
Baptists are increasingly hostile toward institutional hypocrisy—particularly
as it concerns the church’s treatment of women and other historically
So, when public scrutiny descends
upon the uncomfortable fact that working Southern Baptist women are contributing
to the salaries of men who earn their pay by declaring that women should really
stay at home, I fear that the financial consequences for Southern Baptist
institutions may be catastrophic.
In the hope that such a catastrophe
might be averted, I have a modest proposal for reconciling doctrine and
practice among seminary faculty on matters of gender and authority. I’ll begin
by stating the ultra-complementarian position in the language of its most
In describing his own commitment to ultra-complementarianism, Owen Strachan, an associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Seminary, notes that: “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.” He goes on to observe the distinct roles assigned to men and women:
Husbands will have long days and experience physical problems from work; when given children by God, wives will face some stress and tiredness from caring for active little ones all day. … Men can image Christ the savior-king by folding laundry on occasion, by getting down on the floor to play with their kids, and by doing dishes when they can. But they must commit themselves primarily to the work of provision, whether of spiritual leadership in the home or financial breadwinning to sustain it.
Strachan, Owen. “Of “Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 26.
In a blog post that refers to
stay-at-home dads as “man fails,” Strachan gives something of a finer point to
Men are not called by God to be “working at home” as women are in Titus 2:5. The ground is not cursed for women in Genesis 3:17, but for men, whose responsibility it was to work outside of the home—and to protect women… The curse bore down upon Eve’s primary activity, child bearing, showing that her intended sphere of labor and dominion-taking was the home (Genesis 3:16).
And in a debate on Moody Radio in
2012, Strachan summed up his view of gender roles in the following way:
I would say both men and women bear the image of God and so are fully invested for a life of meaningful service for God. That’s my starting point, but I would say then from a broad biblical theology that men are called to be leaders, providers, protectors and women are nurturers. Women follow men in the home and the church. Women are called to the high calling of raising families, given that God blesses them with children, and making homes, being homemakers. These are roles that I think Scripture hands down for us pretty clearly in texts like Genesis 3.
Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary and former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, captures his commitment to ultra-complementarianism more succinctly: “Clearly, God made men stronger and bigger, as a gender, and he made women able to give birth to, feed, and nurture children.” (I offer my thoughts on this sort of masculinity here.)
Dorothy Patterson, wife of former
seminary president Paige Patterson, expresses the same sentiment in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,
a text that Strachan commends as a “theological masterpiece,”
Women have been liberated right out of the genuine freedom they enjoyed for centuries to oversee the home, rear the children, and pursue personal creativity; they have been brainwashed to believe that the absence of a titled, payroll occupation enslaves a woman to failure… In fact, the opposite is true because a salaried job and titled position can inhibit a woman’s natural nesting instinct and maternity by inverting her priorities so that failures almost inevitably come in the rearing of her own children and the building of an earthly shelter for those whom she loves most.
Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
She goes on to spell out exactly
what a woman’s priorities might look like when properly ordered, in the absence
of a salaried job or titled position:
Keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors. … Few women realize what great service they are doing for mankind and for the kingdom of Christ when they provide a shelter for the family and good mothering… No professional pursuit so uniquely combines the most menial tasks with the most meaningful opportunities.
Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 373. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
So, according to Strachan, Ware
and the Pattersons, God created men to provide financial stability for the
family; and God made women to care for children and keep house.
They don’t state explicitly that it’s wrong
for a woman to work outside the home. But it’s clear that any actual human
woman who fulfills her wifely and motherly duties in the way that they describe
would find it difficult to pursue a professional vocation; and that fact is not
incidental to their position.
Finally, it’s worth noting that
ultra-complementarians claim that their position on gender roles is a biblical
mandate that is worth fighting over—especially when it comes to teaching or the
exercise of authority in religious organizations. Consider the words of Denny
Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (at Southern Seminary) and
current president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. When Campus
Crusade demoted Daniel Hartman for prohibiting women from leading co-ed Bible
studies associated with CRU, Burk stated:
I commend Daniel for standing upon the truth of God even at great personal cost. This conflict threatens not just his ministry but his livelihood. … I’m sure it would have been easier simply to let it go and revise his personal beliefs in order to protect his position. He didn’t do that, and I am grateful for the stand he has taken.
Moreover, in criticizing the decision of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship to incorporate leadership roles for women in their church, Burk states that “the issue would definitely be one worth dividing over.” So, according to ultra-complementarians like Ware, Burk, Strachan and the Pattersons, their commitment to patriarchy is more than a matter of conscience. It’s about submitting to the gender hierarchy that God prescribes for human flourishing. (And, ultimately, it’s about winning the Culture War.)
working Southern Baptist women
What Strachan, Ware, Burk and
their ultra-complementarian colleagues seem to ignore is that their employers rely
on financial contributions from women who work outside the home. These contributions
come in two forms. First, the Cooperative Program (CP) allocates funds to each
of the six seminaries based on enrollment; and an estimated 35% of the CP’s annual
budget comes from the tithes and offerings of working Southern Baptist women.
Second, an estimated 25% of seminarians depend on income from their spouse’s
employment to pay tuition and living expenses while completing their degrees.
Here’s the big picture. If
Southern Baptist families conformed to the patriarchal fantasy that
ultra-complementarians describe, then Southern Baptist seminary faculty like
Strachan, Ware and Burk would have to take a massive cut in pay. By way of
detail, let’s consider the financial situation at the two SBC seminaries that
employ the most strident ultra-complementarian faculty: Midwestern (Strachan) and
Southern (Ware and Burk).
According to the Council of
Seminary Presidents’ 2019 report, Southern received about $10.1M from the CP
for the 2017-18
academic year (roughly $4400 per student).
That makes CP contributions Southern’s second-largest revenue stream,
accounting for a little over 19% of Southern’s total income. But in the ideal
world of ultra-complementarians like Burk and Ware, Southern Baptist women
wouldn’t have any income on which to tithe. Given that 35% of the CP’s annual
budget comes from the tithes of working Southern Baptist women, that would mean
35% less money for the CP to distribute among subsidiaries like the
International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Lifeway and
seminaries like Southern.
If we set aside fixed operations
costs (e.g. energy bills, maintenance, transport, property rental), and assume (charitably) that the CP would make
even cuts across the board, eliminating the tithes and offerings of working
Southern Baptist women would reduce the CP’s contribution to Southern from $10.1M
That would constitute a 7% reduction in Southern’s total income.
Southern’s largest source of
revenue is tuition and fees. Full-time seminary students attend class for at
least 12 hours per week, typically during regular business hours. As a general
rule, advanced degree programs require about two hours of study for every hour
spent in class. So full-time seminary students should be studying for about 24
hours per week. Thus, between class time and study time, full-time seminary
students are engaged in coursework for about 36 hours per week.
That 36-hour time commitment
makes it difficult for seminarians to secure benefitted employment that would
enable them to pay living costs and raise a family, not to mention pay their tuition. So an estimated 25%
of seminary students would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the
substantive financial support of their wives.
Thus, without the financial contributions of working seminary wives, Southern’s
enrollment would drop from 2,339 full-time students to 1,754. That would slash
Southern’s tuition revenue by $4.34M.
Now recall that the CP’s
contribution to each seminary is based on full-time enrollment. So without the contributions
of working women, Southern wouldn’t just stand to lose $4.34M in revenue from
the 585 students who would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the financial
support of their wives. Southern would also lose the CP’s corresponding $4,400
contribution for each of those 585 students, which comes to about $2.55M. That
brings the financial shortfall from a 25% reduction in full-time enrollment to
about $6.9M, which is 13% of Southern’s current budget.
Combining the 35% cut to CP
funding with the fallout from a 25% drop in enrollment, Southern Seminary’s
budget would be about $10.5M lighter without the financial contributions of
working Southern Baptist women. That’s 20% of Southern’s $52.1M budget for the
Making matters worse for ultra-complementarians
like Ware and Burk, salary and benefits only account for 52% of Southern’s
budget. Give or take a banquet here and a per
diem there, the other 48% of Southern’s budget goes to fixed operational
costs like maintaining its facilities.
Fixed costs can’t be reduced—that’s what makes them fixed. So the 20% budget shortfall would need to come out of the
52% of Southern’s budget that goes to salary and benefits. That would bring
total expenditures on salary and benefits from $27.1M to $16.7M—a reduction of
38%. In other words, if working Southern Baptist women withdrew their financial
support from Southern Seminary, faculty like Ware and Burk would need to take a
38% cut in pay.
The situation at Midwestern is
even more precarious. Without the financial contributions of working Southern
Baptist women, Midwestern’s budget would go from $22.1M to $16.4M—a loss of
26%. And their budget for salaries and benefits would go from $11.9M to $6.3M.
So, if Southern Baptist women were to stop supporting Midwestern financially,
Strachan and his colleagues would need to take a 47% cut in pay.
a modest proposal
My concern is this. Generally
speaking, insulting one’s patrons is a bad idea. In light of the views espoused
by ultra-complementarian seminary faculty, Southern Baptist women might decide
that their tithe dollars would be put to better use by an organization that is
unaffiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, nothing in
Scripture says that a woman’s tithe must go to the Baptist church that she
attends; or that the tithes she gives to her Baptist church must go to the CP;
or that her Baptist church cannot contribute to the CP on the condition that
its contribution doesn’t support SBC seminaries in general, or seminaries whose
faculty promote ultra-complementarianism in particular. Scripture says none of
My fear, in short, is that Southern
Baptist women might come to the realization that they no longer wish to subsidize
the propagation of ultra-complementarianism in Southern Baptist seminaries by
contributing to the salaries of men like Ware, Strachan and Burk. And in light
of the economic power that women hold over institutions like Southern and
Midwestern, the consequences of that realization would be financially
ruinous—not only to the few faculty who bite the hands that enable them to feed
their families, but to the majority of their colleagues whose public stance on
gender roles is consistent with the 2000 Faith
So, in the hope that such a catastrophe might be averted, I offer the following modest proposal. Seminary faculty who continue to publicly endorse the ultra-complementarianism of Ware, Strachan, Burk and the Pattersons should take a voluntary 20% cut in pay, effective immediately.
Those who profess that employment outside the home is a detriment to the “high calling” of all wives and mothers should not willingly profit from the very employment that they regard as so detrimental to such an important calling.
This proposal is indeed modest, insofar
as it reflects a low estimate of the overall financial contributions that women
make to Southern Baptist seminaries. It doesn’t account for, e.g., past contributions
that women have made to building campaigns that produced the classrooms and
offices where seminary faculty now work. It doesn’t account for the
contributions that women make to defraying the fixed costs associated with
operating a modern academic institution, e.g. air conditioning, electricity and
landscaping. And it doesn’t call upon ultra-complementarian seminary faculty to
repay years of financial benefits that they have accepted from women who work
outside the home.
 Strachan, Owen. “Of
“Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical
Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 25.
It’s notable that Strachan was subsequently named president of the Council for
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. To my knowledge, he’s never retracted or
revised his equation of “complementarianism” with patriarchy. It would seem,
then, that the term “complementarianism” has far more to do with public
relations than any substantive aversion to patriarchy per se.
 Patterson, Dorothy. “The
High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical
Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 1991.
 Given her commitment to ultra-complementarianism, I
doubt that Dorothy Patterson is in the habit of publishing views that haven’t
met with her husband’s approval. Hence, “the Pattersons.”
 Burk, Denny. “When It
Costs To Be Complementarian.” Denny Burk: A commentary on theology,
politics and culture. Last modified December 1, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2019.
http://www.dennyburk.com/when-it-costs-to-be-complementarian/. Given the recent
controversy surrounding Beth Moore, it’s worth observing that the CRU incident
didn’t involve a church or a Sunday morning.
 Burk, Denny. “Some
reflections on a church that has recently embraced egalitarianism.” Denny
Burk: A commentary on theology, politics, and culture. Last modified April ,
2016. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dennyburk.com/some-reflections-on-a-church-that-has-recently-embraced-egalitarianism/.
Note that Burk’s emphasis on the
importance of gender roles is consistent with Strachan’s view that “To a
considerable degree, complementarianism helps us understand who we are and what
we have been placed on this earth to do. It does not attempt to answer every
question about life. But it does give us a framework for understanding what men
and women have been called to do by Almighty God.” (Strachan, Owen. “Complementarianism as a
Worldview.” IX 9Marks. Last modified March 19, 2015. Accessed July 15,
 This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on
factors like median income, prevalence of women in the workforce, etc. If the
Cooperative Program keeps statistics on such matters, I’d be happy to be
 This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on
my own experience and informal polling. Exact numbers are welcome from anyone
who has them.
 This assumption is charitable because it seems more
likely that the CP would make smaller cuts to subsidiaries associated with
missions—i.e., the CP’s original mandate.
 Again, this is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate.
 Actually, the cost of maintaining facilities isn’t
entirely fixed. But the modest variability wouldn’t work in Southern’s favor.
Empty dorms or family housing units would still need heat during the winter,
e.g., to prevent pipes from freezing. But instead of having residents to pay
for that heat, Southern would need to foot the bill as an institution.
Update: Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s “Jesus and John Wayne” (2020) has persuaded me that my reflections here underestimate the prevalence of hyper-complementarianism in the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence. I leave the anecdotal account of complementarianism below since it remains an accurate account of my own experience.
A plucky band of Culture Warriors is calling for another Conservative Resurgence in the SBC.
For several months leading up to the 2019 SBC convention, FoundersMin has been raising awareness about a spiritual predator—a wolf in sheep’s clothing, lurking behind SBC pulpits. Scores of men in the SBC have attended church gatherings in which they consented to sit under the teaching of woman Beth Moore. The response from several SBC leaders has been swift, decisive and proportional to the gravity of the threat. On May 31st, for example, the President of Southern Seminary tweeted that:
We have reached a critical moment in the Southern Baptist Convention when there are now open calls to retreat from our biblical convictions on complementarianism and embrace the very error that the SBC repudiated over 30 years ago. Honestly, I never thought I would see this day.
The gravamen of their complaint is this: the SBC has retreated from its commitment to complementarianism, and this retreat has been hastened by an erosion of our collective faith in the inerrancy of Scripture—a faith that was hard won in the heady days of the Conservative Resurgence over 30 years ago.
As it happens, I have a personal connection to the Conservative Resurgence. And I think these folks may be misremembering.
The Conservative Resurgence
(For those unfamiliar with the term, the “Conservative Resurgence” refers to a concerted effort by conservative Southern Baptists to take control of the SBC’s six major seminaries, beginning in the 1970s.)
My grandfather, Bob Crowley, was on the Board of Trustees at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1985-95. The Baptist Press summarizes my grandfather’s service at Southeastern here.
Long regarded as the most liberal SBC seminary, Southeastern was basically untouched by the Resurgence until the mid-1980s. The Resurgence gained traction at SEBTS beginning in 1986, when a small contingent of conservative students met with an SBC committee to discuss incidents involving seventeen faculty members. The committee found that roughly 50% of the faculty at Southeastern supported the ordination of women, rejected the doctrine of inerrancy or objected to the SBC’s position on homosexuality.
In 1987, when Southeastern’s Board of Trustees reached a tipping point in favor of conservatism, rapid changes ensued. In October of 1987, my grandfather was elected chairman of the Board. The following spring, the President and Provost resigned in protest over policy changes designed by the Board to block hiring and promotion of faculty who denied the inerrancy of Scripture. Most of the administration followed that summer. By the fall of 1988, enrollment had dropped from 1,246 to a record low of 803; and five of Southeastern’s thirty-five faculty members had resigned.
Here’s the headline. At one time, a lot of SBC seminary professors openly denied the inerrancy of Scripture and supported the ordination of women to serve as pastors in the local church. In 2019, not a single SBC seminary professor does this and keeps his job.
The Culture Warriors
With sights fixed on Beth Moore, in podcast interviews, blog posts, Twitter feeds, live-streamed conferences and genre-bending short films, at least a dozen individuals associated with FoundersMin have rehearsed the following complementarian line. “In the book of I Timothy et al., Scripture explicitly forbids women from teaching before an audience that includes men. Therefore, women who teach men and all who allow women to teach men are not only in error, they deny the inerrancy of Scripture.”
Let that line of reasoning sink in: Whatever you think you believe about inerrancy, if you don’t agree with the FoundersMin apostolate in every interpretive detail, then you reject the inerrancy of Scripture. Astonishing, is it not?
For whatever it’s worth, I will here invoke the memory of my late grandfather. I don’t think I ever heard him use the word ‘complementarianism’. I’m certain that whenever he and Grandmother were forced to make a joint decision on which they couldn’t reach an agreement, my grandmother deferred to the judgment of her husband. I’m equally certain that on those occasions, my grandfather viewed the need for such deference as a failure of his own leadership. I suppose that arrangement counts as a version of complementarianism. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a point of pride.
Be that as it may, in word and in deed, my grandfather categorically rejected the views now being promulgated by Owen Strachan, Tom Buck, Phil Johnson, Tom Ascol, Jared Longshore, Josh Buice and the rest of the FoundersMin apostolate. And yet my grandfather regarded his fight for biblical inerrancy at Southeastern as one of the most important undertakings of his 45 year career as a Southern Baptist minister.
Make of that anecdote what you will. Now let’s reason together.
Inerrancy and Impertinence
The belief that Scripture is inerrant doesn’t arise in a vacuum. We believe that Scripture is inerrant because we believe that Scripture is inspired by God. So when the apostles of FoundersMin say that anyone who rejects their interpretation of Scripture thereby rejects the inerrancy of Scripture, they’re presenting a dilemma: either you agree with their interpretation of Scripture, or you reject God’s authorship of Scripture.
But this is a false dilemma. There’s a third option, which their presentation of the issue obscures: it’s possible to agree that Scripture is God’s Word, while disagreeing about how to interpret that Word.
You and I can agree that Herman Melville is the author of Moby-Dick, even if we disagree about how to interpret Ahab’s obsession. We can agree that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost even if we don’t agree on whether the narrative depicts creation ex nihilo or ex prima materia. And fellow believers who are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture can disagree about the role that Scripture assigns to women. In short, interpretive disagreement doesn’t imply a denial of God’s authorship—i.e., inerrancy.
The FoundersMin apostolate refuses to countenance this third option; and many Southern Baptists refuse to accept their refusal. So we find ourselves at an impasse.
As a denomination, we have rules for settling disagreements of this kind. These rules are found in The Baptist Faith & Message, which is a detailed statement on matters of broad doctrinal agreement within our Convention—including matters of agreement around what is and is not clearly mandated by God’s Word. The most recent iteration of this document is The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
Article I of The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message states that Scripture is inerrant. With that assumption in place, Article VI provides that:
Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. 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 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, Article VI
Article XVII adds that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it” (my emphasis).
So, according to the Southern Baptists who ratified The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, God’s inerrant Word reserves the office of pastor for men. And beyond that, eligible interpretations of God’s inerrant Word are broad enough to allow local churches, comprised of individuals whose consciences are governed by God alone, the autonomy to discern God’s will concerning whether and under what circumstances women will be permitted to teach in their midst.
In other words, according to The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, the apostles of FoundersMin are mistaken. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be Southern Baptists; it just means that their overweening confidence in the rightness of their own views on complementarianism is inconsistent with Southern Baptist doctrine.
Perhaps the FoundersMin folks would feel more at home in a denomination with a robust hierarchy. But joining another denomination would require them to submit to someone else’s authority; and they don’t seem to appreciate supervision when it’s directed their way. And they’d prefer not to start their own denomination from scratch. (Too much work.) The SBC already has infrastructure and a mass of loyal congregants—and it just happens to have a power vacuum at the top, waiting to be exploited. So the FoundersMin apostolate has decided to hijack the SBC.
And that, I strongly suspect, is why they’ve decided to pick a public fight with Beth Moore. I’m sure that they really don’t like what she’s doing, and they really do believe the complementarian line that they’ve been peddling all over the internet. But this is just part of their much broader attack on what they call “the threat of Social Justice.” These guys aren’t just committed to a very particular brand of conservative Reformed theology. They are cultural conservatives, and they think the rest of the SBC should be, too.
Conservatism and conservatism
This fight isn’t really about a new resurgence. It’s about the Conservative Resurgence that happened 30 years ago and what the enduring legacy of that Resurgence is going to be.
At some point, we need to reckon with the fact that the Conservatism of the Conservative Resurgence was part theological and part cultural. There’s an important difference. The question that Southern Baptists need to confront—especially Southern Baptists born before 1970 or so—is whether the SBC is going to go along with the FoundersMin effort to conflate theological and cultural Conservatism.
Don’t misunderstand. We should keep whatever elements of cultural Conservatism are strictly implied by theological Conservatism—e.g., the defense of life in all of its forms. But a lot of cultural Conservatism is either unrelated or antithetic to theological Conservatism. (I address specific examples in my open letter, here, and elsewhere on my blog.)
My generation is done with those aspects of the Southern Baptist tradition. So you all can try to salvage pieces of the Conservative Resurgence that never should have been there in the first place, just so FoundersMin-types can play Culture Warrior and pontificate about keeping women in their place and the dangers of social justice. In that case, you will continue to preside over a dying denomination. Or you can shepherd my generation in our efforts to confront the social infirmities that God has called us to address.
Questions? Care to discuss? Comment below or contact me on Twitter @scott_m_coley .
 Webb, Robert K., and Leslie H. Peek. “Academic Freedom and Tenure at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (North Carolina).” Academe (May-June 1989): 35.
I am a Christian, an academic and a millennial. I hold a Ph.D. in philosophy and a master’s degree in theology; and I teach ethics, political philosophy and history of philosophy at a liberal arts college on the East Coast. I mention my training and my occupation simply to say, in the spirit of I Timothy 4:12, that I have done my homework.
The purpose of my letter is this. Your Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel purports to clarify the relationship between “social justice” and the Gospel; and I feel compelled to tell you, publicly, that it does nothing of the sort.
I should begin by expressing my sincere hope that your Statement was not crafted for the benefit of my generation. In the main, we have rejected your easy gospel. That’s why we are leaving your church—not the Church, just your church. I hasten to add that no attempts at clarification or explanation will stop the hemorrhaging. We know what you’re selling and we’re just not interested.
Despite its aspirations, your Statement is nothing new. The collective evangelical imagination has long suffered under the yoke of self-appointed spokesmen whose enthusiasm for politics goes unchecked by the limits of their own expertise. Nowhere is the vacuum of discernment more acute than in the field of institutional moral analysis: systemic injustice is invisible to those—like you—whose moral horizons are tethered to individual piety.
Believers of my generation are eager to embrace a vision of political life that comprehends the social infirmities we stand to inherit. We are not nostalgic for the culture wars of the 1970s and ‘80s. And we are weary of effortless civil religion that serves politicians rather than the poor. Defending orphans and widows is a sacred expression of corporate worship. We want to go to church.
With this in view, your Statement is problematic for several reasons. First, your Statement presents “social justice” as a grab-bag of diverse agendas—some of which are inconsistent with a straightforward reading of Scripture, and others that are not only consistent with but indeed mandated by Scripture. For example, in the addendum to Article 3, social justice is described as an aggregation of concerns over things like economic justice, climate change, abortion and LGBTQ rights. By forcing those who care about economic justice into the same political tent as those who support same-sex marriage, you force earnest believers to pit their understanding of God’s design for marriage against God’s command to make laws that give the poor their due. While this false dilemma is useful to politicians, it is unhelpful to the Church.
Second, Article 3 of your Statement affirms that God requires us to give to every person “…what he or she is due,” and that we “…must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.” This insight is to be commended. But it is incommensurate with your opposition to public policies that would soften the echoes of past injustice. So either you misrepresent your beliefs about the importance of correcting historical injustice, or you are ignorant of the economic disadvantages that reverberate in the lives of those whose grandparents were unjustly denied access to the instruments of financial capital. And we don’t need Marx or critical theory to discern the wickedness of laws that permit predatory lending to those whose parents and grandparents were effectively barred from amassing and transferring what would have been their inheritance. The fear of God is sufficient.
Third, the addendum to Article 3 claims that justice as described in the Bible has nothing to do with economic justice. This is patently false. (See the Old Testament. Also see the New Testament, especially where Christ quotes the Old Testament. Marty Duren offers a detailed treatment here.)
Fourth, throughout your Statement, the pursuit of economic justice is carelessly equated with Marxism, communism and the view that all wealth should be evenly distributed. This carelessness is indefensible. And insofar as it engenders baseless anxieties about communism that encourage God’s people to abandon the cause of the poor, it is wicked.
Finally, the overall tone of your Statement is a source of concern. The Gospel is not furthered when ambitious ministers, by virtue of nothing other than their status as ministers, speak with unearned confidence about technical matters that they have not studied in any disciplined way.
My generation stands to inherit problems of unprecedented complexity and scale. In practical matters of grave importance, the believers of my generation need guidance that is thoughtful and well-informed. If you are unprepared to offer such guidance, you would do well to take your own advice and restrict your remarks to the Gospel as you understand it.
Scott M. Coley, Ph.D.
Questions? Care to discuss? Comment below or contact me on Twitter @scott_m_coley .