Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page confirmed he has changed his mind about women in ministry, but said he doesn’t recall when or why.
EthicsDaily.com broke a story July 19 reporting that Page, who now says he supports the Baptist Faith & Message statement limiting the office of senior pastor to men, in his 1980 doctoral dissertation argued strongly for permitting qualified women to hold any church office.
One Baptist state paper editor said in a blog Page has an obligation to answer questions about his past writings and a seminary president urged the new convention president to offer details and “a full exposition of his position.”
The Florida Baptist Witness published a story July 25, which also appeared July 31 in Baptist Press, quoting Page as describing his earlier views as “radical” and “extreme” and saying he recanted them soon after earning his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
EthicsDaily.com asked Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., to give details about how his views have changed and why, and why he hasn’t written about the issue, which became a hot topic in denominational debate in the decades since he wrote his dissertation.
“I am being asked by you and others to remember events and causal factors from many, many years ago,” Page replied in an e-mail. “Honestly, many of those events are less than clear.”
Page said he did move from his earlier stance to a position more in line with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, which proclaims, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
But Page said “there was neither a singular event nor occurrence” that prompted him to change his mind.
“I’ve always been a very conservative student of Scripture,” Page said. “I can only say that through my continued study, guided (I believe) by the Holy Spirit, that I came to this position.”
Page has written several books and numerous articles, including a critique of Calvinism and Bible commentaries on Jonah and Mark. He told EthicsDaily.com most of his writing addressed “specific needs such as evangelism and pastoral ministry issues” and he has not written on “several issues of importance” because of demands of being a pastor.
Page’s reversal on women’s ordination received attention not only because his old view was at odds with the denomination’s current official stance, but also because of questions about his commitment to the “conservative resurgence,” a reform faction that purged perceived moderates and liberals from the SBC bureaucracy and has charted the course of the nation’s largest Protestant faith group for the last quarter century.
Page told reporters following his election in June he does not believe messengers elected him to undo the conservative resurgence, and he has supported the movement for years. He said he plans to appoint only people to committees who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, a key tenet that divided moderates and conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s.
EthicsDaily.com contacted churches where Page formerly ministered, seeking insight about how his views might have evolved over the years.
Prior to moving to his present church, Page was pastor at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., from 1991-2001. Terry Doss, who worked with Page as associate pastor, said: “I can tell you that Dr. Page did not, nor does he now, believe that Scripture supports the ordination of women. That was the view of Warren while he was here and, I might add, was his view as well. Warren has never ordained women as deacons or pastors.”
Another former church, however, LaFayette Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., today believes women can serve as deacons or pastors if God calls and equips them to do so.
Brian Lee, the church’s current senior pastor since 1988, told EthicsDaily.com the church “came to the position of affirming the unrestricted role of women in the church after a period of intense Bible study” about 10 years ago.
Lee said not everyone in the church agreed with the conclusion, but it is no longer an issue. “It has never been our intent to go on some crusade about this topic,” Lee said. “Rather we are simply wanting to affirm what we believe is the biblical message that in Christ all persons are gifted by God for service in the body without limitations, including those of gender.”
Lee said he doesn’t know what Page’s political alliances were when he led the church from 1981 to 1987, but he was conservative theologically. Lee said he doesn’t believe SBC politics were a front-burner issue for the congregation during Page’s tenure. He said he doubted anyone at the church would remember, because Fayetteville is a military community and the church’s membership is constantly changing.
Lafayette Baptist Church today is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate breakaway group that formed in 1990. Page was pastor at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1987 to 1991, where he followed Joel Gregory and was pastor of former Southwestern Seminary President Russell Dilday. Gambrell Street also is now affiliated with CBF but doesn’t have women deacons.
Lee said Lafayette Baptist Church allows members to choose among four giving plans supported by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and has members using all four plans. That, he said, represents diversity and the belief that people with differing views can work together.
“I can say this,” Lee added. “Although I differ with Frank on his current position on the role of women in the church, he has always been gracious to me and has never sought to influence our church after he left. My prayer is that this kind of spirit will prevail in his leadership of the SBC so that a spirit of cooperation may spread.”
Ebbie Smith, a former professor at Southwestern Seminary who supervised Page’s Ph.D., said he has no information about why Page changed his views, because they never discussed it, but he always viewed Page as a “man of integrity.”
“If he says he changed his mind, I’ll bet he did,” Smith told EthicsDaily.com.
Smith said he has wondered if Page’s political enemies would try to use his dissertation against him. He said he doesn’t find it implausible that an ethicist might change his or her mind on such an issue, but his own views on the subject haven’t changed.
Smith titled a chapter in one of his books “What to do When the Pastor Gets Pregnant.” He refused to endorse the Baptist Faith & Message, resulting in him being ostracized from participating in Southern Baptist Convention life. He retired as professor of Christian ethics and missions at Southwestern in 2001.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.