Frank Page isn’t the only Southern Baptist Convention leader to change his mind about women in ministry.
In a Weblog last Wednesday commenting on a story in EthicsDaily.com revealing the newly elected SBC president’s apparent change of heart since he wrote his doctoral dissertation 26 years ago arguing for women pastors, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler shared his own story of how he was persuaded the Bible didn’t support his earlier position on the same topic.
EthicsDaily.com found the title of Page’s dissertation, Toward a Biblical Ethic of Women in Ministry, by searching the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Web site and borrowed a copy through an inter-library loan.
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., did not respond to an e-mail request for comment two days before the story appeared. At least two blogs now carry a statement purportedly by Page admitting he once wrote that women can serve as pastors, but “Long ago, I abandoned that position after the Holy Spirit instructed me otherwise in my study of Scripture.”
Baptist Press, the official SBC news service, has not published a story about Page’s dissertation or comment.
Mohler, who served on the committee that in 2000 rewrote the Baptist Faith & Message to include the sentence, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” wrote that Page apparently was “caught in the act of changing his mind,” a position Mohler said he understands well.
In 1984, after the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution opposing women’s ordination in part because “the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall,” Mohler, then a doctoral student, and his wife, Mary, took the lead in circulating a petition around the Southern Seminary campus protesting the resolution and buying an ad in the Louisville Courier-Journal to publicize it.
Mohler says that is because he “accepted the position that was presented as ‘standard,’ scholarly and acceptable” in his seminary classes and only later was “embarrassingly” caught in the act of changing his mind.
“My study of the question led me to a very uncomfortable conclusion–my advocacy of women in the teaching office was wrong, violative of Scripture, inconsisent with my theological commitments, injurious to the church, unsubstantiated and just intellectually embarrassing,” Mohler wrote.
Mohler said he is glad Page changed his mind and encouraged the SBC president to offer details and “a full exposition of his position.”
“Would he embrace the Danvers Statement issued by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?” Mohler asked. “We can hope that, over time, Dr. Page will help us understand his mind and heart on these questions. It could only serve to help this denomination to reflect further on these important issues.”
Mohler said his own change of thinking “started with a general unrest” but then “exploded” with a comment made during a personal conversation with theologian Carl F. H. Henry in the mid-1980s. Walking across the campus, Mohler said, Henry stopped him in his tracks and asked him “how, as one who affirms the inerrancy of the Bible, I could possibly deny the clear teaching of Scripture on this question.”
Hurt, embarrassed and motivated to find the answer, Mohler said he began to research the issue on his own. He eventually rejected the “egalitarian” position that dominated theological literature in favor of the more conservative “complimentarian” position on gender roles.
Mohler didn’t say how his wife’s views on the topic evolved. She was on a committee that in 1998 drafted a family amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message that says in part, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
Fourteen years after protesting the SBC resolution that affirmed “the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination” and “God’s delegated order of authority (God the head of Christ, Christ the head of man, man the head of woman, man and woman dependent one upon the other to the glory of God),” she told reporters she believes the Bible commands her to view submitting to her husband’s authority as “my duty and my glad responsibility.”
Page’s flip-flop on women in ministry fueled debate about whether he really is a conservative. Women’s ordination was one of the central issues dividing conservatives and moderates in the 1980s denominational power struggle dubbed the “conservative resurgence” by those who eventually prevailed.
Jerry Sutton, an unsuccessful candidate in a three-way race for the SBC presidency last month, told a newspaper reporter he was entering the contest because, “I’m more of an identifiable, convictional conservative” than the two other candidates.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.