Beloved Baptist leader Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler died on Jan. 2 in Cincinnati, Ohio, after a long illness. She was 84.
Reared in rural Frostproof, Florida, she attended Florida State University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where she was denied admission to the school of theology because of her gender. She was allowed to study in the school of religious education.
She served as the executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1974-89, after having served as executive director of the WMU of the Florida Baptist Convention.
Crumpler’s national position paralleled the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and the rise of the Christian Right.
Always loyal to her institution and a tireless advocate for missions, Crumpler challenged Southern Baptists to engage social issues, many of which were outside the denomination’s mainstream.
She pressed the SBC in the 1970s to address world hunger, despite opposition among denominational leaders and pastors who thought that feeding the hungry would detract from worldwide missions and evangelism, and would reduce giving to the annual mission offerings.
In 1979, Crumpler endorsed the first “Southern Baptist Convocation on Peacemaking and the Nuclear Arms Race.”
She wrote, “My prayer is that the convocation will be a strong calling to remembrance of the urgency of applying Christ’s teachings in the world today.”
Three years later, she spoke at a follow-up peace conference. She bluntly said her appearance resulted from an earlier request to evaluate the program.
“My evaluation was, ‘It’s good, but are peacemakers male? I see no female name among the tentative program personnel,'” Crumpler said.
“The ministry of peacemaking is foundational to missioning,” she said.
Crumpler served on the steering committee for the controversial 1984 “Conference for Women in Ministry, Southern Baptist Convention,” which advocated for women in ministry.
SBC messengers took a decidedly different direction two days later at the annual meeting held in Kansas City.
They passed a resolution on the ordination and role of women in ministry, which read, “We encourage the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.”
The resolution added, “the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”
Crumpler resigned from the WMU directorship in 1989 and married Joe Crumpler, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, in Cincinnati.
Two years later, she ran as the first vice presidential candidate on a ticket that moderates hoped would stop the fundamentalist takeover of SBC agencies. The ticket lost.
Crumpler went on to help birth and nurture a number of alternative structures to the SBC.
She served on the founding board of the Baptist Center for Ethics, known today as EthicsDaily.com. She contributed a lesson on evangelism to Real Baptists, a 13-lesson study on changes fundamentalists made in 2000 to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message Statement.
She had leadership roles in a number of other organizations, including the Baptist World Alliance, Global Women and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
A number of tributes to Crumpler are being posted on her Facebook page.
Funeral arrangements were undetermined at press time.