One year after the SBC revised its “Baptist Faith and Message” in 1963, Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained to the ministry. Seven years passed before another SBC church ordained a woman minister, Shirley Carter.
Numerous SBC men affirmed the ordination of women, but bitter opposition remained among some SBC men–and women–who opposed the broader U.S. women’s movement.
As issues of Baptist polity and local church governance were raised, the SBC’s Christian Life Commission sponsored a conference in 1974 on the role of women in the church.
In the same decade, Sarah Frances Anders published “Christian Freedom for Women. . . And Other Human Beings,” Frank and Evelyn Stagg produced “Woman in the World of Jesus,” and Leon McBeth wrote “Women in Southern Baptist Life.”
In the public arena, Baptist women Coretta Scott King and Rosalynn Carter actively supported the Equal Rights Amendment and similar public policies.
From 1982-83, women in vocational ministry in Southern Baptist churches organized a support network that became Southern Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). Its membership doubled, tripled and quadrupled in subsequent years.
The Baptist Nursing Fellowship was organized in 1983. The following year Reverend Susan Wright was installed as pastor of a Baptist church in Chicago. Three resource centers for women soon opened at Wake Forest, North Carolina, Pineville, Louisiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.
Independent Baptists, who had traditionally opposed women’s ordination, preaching or leadership since the early 1900s, came to the fore of the Southern Baptist Convention after 1979. In 1984, they led passage of an SBC resolution stating “because man was first in creation and woman was first in the Edenic fall,” women should not be ordained for ministry.
Some SBC associations, based on their interpretations of the Bible, disfellowshipped churches that ordained women or called ordained women to serve. Throughout the 1980s-90s the issue divided numerous SBC agencies and institutions.
Carol Ann Vaughn, Ph.D., is director of the Christian Women’s Leadership Institute of Samford University and Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Alabama.