ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Risking a wider split in the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention declared Wednesday that women should no longer serve as pastors.
The statement of faith is not binding on congregations, and so the effect on the Southern Baptists' 1,600 or so clergywomen --
about 100 of whom are pastors leading congregations -- is unclear.
But some members warned that congregations will quit the 15.9 million-member denomination over this, just as some did when the Southern Baptists declared two years ago that wives should "submit graciously" to their husbands.
"I'm very sad. Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore," said the Rev. Martha Phillips,
interim pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., where Vice President Al Gore is a member. "I think more churches
The revised Faith and Message statement was approved in a show of hands by the thousands of delegates at the denomination's annual
It includes a passage that reads: "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 previous statement, dating to 1963, was silent on the issue.
"Southern Baptists, by practice as well as conviction, believe leadership is male," said the Rev. Adrian Rogers, chairman of the
The new statement does not address whether women should be ordained, something the Southern Baptists have done since at least
1964; it addresses only their role as pastors, who lead congregations.
Individual Southern Baptists and the faith's 42,000 congregations would remain free to ordain women and hire them as pastors.
"If you are a Baptist, as long as there are congregations who have the courage to follow the will of God, there will be a place for woman pastors," said the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, who heads the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.
David Key, director of Baptist studies at Emory University in Atlanta, said, "A lot of churches are just going to ignore it."
But in time, he said, fewer women will be available to serve as pastors because they will have left the denomination or felt
discouraged from leading congregations.
The Southern Baptists' passage of the statement reflects a rightward shift in recent years that has included a boycott of Disney over its "gay-friendly" policies and a 1998 statement declaring that "a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." That was the last straw for
about a dozen congregations that quit the denomination.
Approval of the men-only pastor clause will probably drive out more congregations, said the Rev. Daniel Vestal of Atlanta, coordinator for a group of 2,000 theologically moderate
The newly elected president of the Southern Baptists, James G. Merritt, a 47-year-old conservative from Snellville, Ga., responded
by saying: "I don't fear a split. I don't even fear a splinter."
Other changes in the revised statement underscore that the Bible is "totally true" and insist that "there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord." It also urges Christians to oppose racism and reject abortion and homosexuality.
For the first time in many years, the convention also approved a resolution supporting capital punishment. It also said the Boy Scouts of America have the right to reject gay members.
Outside the convention, 100 or so gay protesters marched with signs that said "Stop Spiritual Violence." More than two dozen
The first to be arrested was the Rev. Ed Harris, 65, a retired Southern Baptist pastor who acknowledged his homosexuality in the
"The Southern Baptists were my guide into my spiritual life, and I'm very grateful, but the church is causing too much emotional abuse to gay people," he said. "We're not sick and we're not sinful."
Merritt is a trustee of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
"My suspicion is that he will aggressively push a right-wing political agenda," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville.