Voters raise orange ballots at a Southern Baptist Convention.
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Nothing Says Sexism Like a Southern Baptist Convention

With so many issues nowadays, I have to keep reminding myself that the year is 2024. Not 1954. Not 1864. But 2024. The Southern Baptist Convention took place last week and delegates voted on enshrining a ban on churches with women pastors into their religious constitution. In 2024.

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This is outrageous, of course, and I say that as someone who grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I never saw women in leadership at my church unless they were singing in the choir. Even opponents of this ban have leaned into the argument that it’s “unnecessary” because there are already so many steps in place to keep churches from having women pastors and to remove the ones who do. Not exactly a progressive stance.

Ultimately, the vote to ban women did receive majority support, with 61% of delegates voting for it. However, the rules require a ⅔ majority to enshrine the policy in the church’s constitution. So they only narrowly voted down the formal ban, and the doctrine of the Southern Baptist denomination still says that only men can have the official title of pastor.

While many of us would like to ignore Southern Baptists, and this convention’s importance, this denomination is the largest Protestant affiliation in the entire United States. Their continued debate about the role of women has an impact on the Christian institution as a whole. Moreover, the religious right has a huge amount of pull in our American political system. The Southern Baptist Convention and its delegates have had a sway in our culture and politics for decades. There’s a direct line between banning women from even being pastors to Republican lawmakers and voters’ obsession with gender norms and the extreme control they want to inflict on women’s bodies.

Antiquated beliefs and harmful policies

Supporters of the ban believe that this is “biblically” necessary and do not believe women should have any role, even if it is an associate pastor position.

CNN reported on a few different takes from key players in the denomination. Ryan Fullerton, who is a pastor from Louisville, KY, spoke out on this issue and said he believes that this proposal wasn’t about stopping women from “exercising their gifts” but thinks the Bible is very clear about pastors only being men. I am always fascinated by what these people choose to take literally and what they don’t. He also took the chance to take a jab at LGBTQIA+ people, claiming there’s confusion about gender nowadays, because of course he did.

I was surprised to learn that the pastor of my childhood church, Hickory Grove Baptist here in Charlotte, NC, was appointed to be the next President of the SBC. Pastor Clint Pressley won 56% of the votes in the final run-off to win the coveted position. I was disappointed to learn that he favors a measure to amend the SBC constitution saying that they must put a ban on churches with women pastors. I grew up listening to this man in my church lead our congregation every Sunday—not because I particularly liked that church or what he had to say, but because like so many young people I wanted to be supportive of my parents who had been going there for years. He is quite a charismatic guy, very handsome, and never overtly seemed too despicable—exactly the kind of image the religious right projects to hide their antiquated beliefs and harmful policies.

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