Sunday, August 7, 2011

No, I wouldn't vote to kick a church with a woman pastor out

Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mount Airy North Carolina was quickly and summarily expelled from the Surry Baptist Association the other day according to this APB story from last week. Seems the church had done the unusual, the unthinkable, the unpardonable - they called a female pastor, Bailey Edwards Nelson, pictured at left here.

Tony Cartlege calls it 'courageous, the association calls their kicking out action was an attempt to facilitate "restoration to doctrinal purity and a renewed sense of unity." You bet.

"Unity through purity",the associational mission statement?
Sounds rather foreboding.

The association's response may be read here. It is a rather sterile treatment of the matter which concludes that they did the right thing but that folks should be nice to the new pastor and pray for her. Her what? Success? Souls saved?  Her church to grow? Oh, pray for her to repent and disappear from Surry Associaion. 

Fellow SBC blogger Howell Scott has a good piece on the matter here. Scott takes the association to task for being hasty in this action. The fellow churches took all of two weeks to kick the church out, not much of a honeymoon. Guess time was of the essence for the brethren. I mean, she might have preached a pretty good sermon, led someone to Christ, or (gasp!) even baptized a new believer. You bet, get that church out of the association before anything like that can happen. They did.

I've been in a number of associations and understand that this is a pastor-driven business and sometimes the pastors smell blood and get in a feeding frenzy and act with haste. This is such a case.  Dare I call it a lynch mob mentality? Naw, not the men of the cloth in that association - fine, upstanding, erudite, scholarly gentlemen.

Well, I read that the vote to expel the wayward church and pastor was 80%. Perhaps some of the 20% will speak up. 

I understand that associations are autonomous and may expel churches with female pastors or left handed pastors, whatever they decide among themselves. No one tells a Baptist association what to do, sometimes not even Jesus...but I wish Jesus had been consulted at greater length on this matter. It looks bad for everyone.

No, a woman pastor is not my thing. But no, I wouldn't have voted to kick the church out. Yes, I would have treated the new pastor just like I have treated female pastors (all Methodists) who have been my neighbors over the years at various times. I'd be kind, helpful, encouraging.

This type of situation will only be more frequent in the future. We had better find a better plan for handling it.

We are on the same side, aren't we?


Joe Blackmon said...

Yeah, I wondered why you and Howell were so welcome over at Baptist life. Any conservative that is willing to cooperate with moderates is not a true conservative.

Bill said...

I too would not have voted for expulsion. I am a cautious complementarian, but I consider egalitarianism to be a fairly non-egregious error, like dispensationalism.

John Notestein said...

We can all get along just fine, as long as everyone agrees with me. But if you step outside the line we've drawn, woe to you. It reminds me a lot of many conversations that Jesus had with the Pharisees. He didn't fit in their box either.

Howell Scott said...


Thanks for the mention and the link. Now I know that writing about female pastors will bring as much heat as writing anything slightly negative about Calvinism! :-) I wish that I could say definitively that I would never vote to disfellowship a church solely because they called a woman as pastor. I would say that I am a lot closer to your view today than I have been in year's past. There are far greater issues that I could be more dogmatic about than a Baptist church with a female pastor.

Joe left a similar comment at my blog (although not as hard). Since there was no smiley face on this comment, I'm not sure if Joe's comment here is fully serious or only half-joking. I didn't realize that merely being gracious and charitable toward moderates or defending the rights of those you may not agree with theologically was somehow cooperating so as to make me not a "true conservative." Some think that I'm not a "true Calvinist" either, so I batting 2 for 2! :-) Thanks and God bless,


Tom Parker said...


Do not be surprised if someone or someones show up here and call you Liberal, Moderate, and other nasty things.

Surely the 2000 BF&M was not designed to be used in this manner.

And like you I think there will be more expulsions and not just over female pastors. I sure hope that I am wrong.

I applaud you for your bravery to even write and publish this post.

William Thornton said...

My hero in the pastoral ministry, Adrian Rogers, led the effort to do the same thing a generation ago in Memphis. This is about the only matter I would part with him about. I just don't see the sense of the action.

'Unity through doctrinal purity' may have an application, though that phrase of my invention has a rather Maoist ring to it. This isn't the issue over which I would fight for doctrinal purity.

Joe, I am welcome at BL because I'm such a great guy ;). Heck, I cooperate with Methodists if they love Jesus.

William Thornton said...

Tom, thanks for the comment but I have made public statements for years on not kicking female pastors out of associations or state conventions.

...maybe that's why I've never been elected SBC president. Alas.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog but I would vote to kick them out. Women shouldn't be pastors whether they are Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, or whatever.

However, for Baptists to say they did it for unity and doctrinal purity is a bit overstated I would say. Most of them wouldn't know doctrinal purity if it bit them on their Phariseeical posteriors.

David Rogers said...

The solution to this issue, as I see it, is dividing correctly between Christian unity and denominational cooperation. Whether a church has a female pastor or not should not infringe upon our essential Christian unity. However, if our joint ministry projects as Southern Baptists involve teaching a complementarian approach to Scripture in our seminaries and other institutions, and planting churches with male-only pastor/elders, it makes sense to make some sort of rule excluding those who don't agree on these points from the cooperative organization. The problem comes when we stop practicing Christian unity and fellowshipping in the Lord with those with whom we do not cooperate on the same ministry projects. That is not only unfortunate. It is sinful. We must treat all true brothers and sisters in Christ as exactly that: true brothers and sisters in Christ. There are some specific implications associated with that. The list of "one anothers" in the NT is a good place to start.

It is also painful to forcefully part ways with someone or some group with whom we were formerly in friendly cooperation. I wish there were some way to make this less painful. Perhaps a good start is doing everything we can to see to it that our non-cooperation is friendly non-cooperation.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

William - great article. We need more preachers like yourself.

Tom Parker said...


Can your or anyone else explain what it means to say:""Unity through purity." My thanks.

Tom Parker said...


You said:"Joe left a similar comment at my blog (although not as hard). Since there was no smiley face on this comment, I'm not sure if Joe's comment here is fully serious or only half-joking. I didn't realize that merely being gracious and charitable toward moderates or defending the rights of those you may not agree with theologically was somehow cooperating so as to make me not a "true conservative." Some think that I'm not a "true Calvinist" either, so I batting 2 for 2! :-) Thanks and God bless,


Howell, Joe Blackmon was fully serious in what he said about you and William. You and William will now be on his black list. It is just the way he goes, sadly.

Dr. James Willingham said...

Well, if they are going to exclude a church for calling a female as pastor, why don't they exclude themselves for being descendants/successors of a church that introduced that arch heresy in the first place. I refer to Sandy Creek Baptist Church and Association, to Elder Shubal Stearsn and Elder Daniel Marshall and to Eldress Martha Stearns Marshall. That corrupts practically the whole Southern Baptist Convention as well as every state convention whose churches came from those who carried that Gospel brand from Sandy Creek with them. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

We really need to know how badly the 2000 BFM folks were touched with a real phobia about radical feminism. One of them dear souls called me a male chauvinist pig back in my seminary days, but I did survive it. And when I came to look at how Shubal Stearns could have eldresses in a day when they would not question or doubt God's word, I found that one Puritan allwoed for an exception to the fact that a woman could teach men. I refer to Matthew Poole. I am glad the plodder would not kick the church out, though he did not approve of women in the minstry as pastors.

Jonathan said...

There is a lot in the BFM2K. I wonder if churches are being disfellowshipped over other areas of disagreement or if certain folks have artificially elevated some sections over others.

For the record, I'm a complementarian with regard to to elders and senior pastors.

Visited Mount Airy a few years ago. Most good Southern folks know that it was the inspiration of the Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show.

Anonymous said...

Plodder . . . Well said! And we SBC'ers need to take it to heart! As you reminded us . . . there will be more opportunities either to do the right thing or act like a collective imbusol!

Bruce Gourley said...

Good post, William. Ironically, NC Baptists have a long history - going back go to the mid-18th century - of women preachers, eldresses and deaconesses, with the result being that even many conservative Baptist congregations in North Carolina allow women to serve as deaconesses and preachers (or at least tolerate the latter). Southern Baptists in Mt. Airy, however, may have never received the memo.

And I am chagrined that your conservative credentials are tainted by your association with BL.Com. ;-)

Norman said...

William, you mentioned Adrian Rogers and his tussle with a female pastor in Memphis. Here is a "where is she now" story that ran in ABP less than two weeks ago.

William Thornton said...

Thanks, Norman. I always check ABP and had read that.

Stephen Fox said...

As the Dennis Hopper character said in the movie Paris Trout in which Hopper is the main character:

"All Ether County gonna hear about this."

I wonder if Jerry Vines has already read this blog.
I was ppresent in his former pastorate West Rome BC few years ago where one of his successors Glynn Stone lead the Floyd County Association in the ouster if the co pastors of North Broad BC.
And here in Bama Williams BC outside Jascksonville was voted out of the association there.
It may be in the future of that church to ordain my first cousins daughter, my Grandfather Jordan's great granddaughter.
As for women preachers that has been settled. Two of the best on preachers on the planet are women' Fleming Rutledge and Barbara Brown Taylor.
My times is up on this computer.
I congratulate both Thornton and David Rogers for expressing themselves on this mater.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Nancy Sehested's recollection of that shameful day in SBC life in Shelby County begins at the end of page 1, "Disfellowshiped." (The formatting is weird.)