Women, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rhetoric of Implied Exclusion

According to written artifacts, Baptist women faced degrees of formal silence for the first time in 2000. Church leaders decreed: 

While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

This new rule points to “texts of terror” (see Phyllis Trible, for example) for justification, including:

Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God. A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.

Those with knowledge of Baptist history will know that its actual practices have long alienated and degraded women. Why, then, did it take a century for leaders to officially write such policies? The Southern Baptist Convention has issued three official statements of its doctrinal statements:  in 1925, in 1963, and in 2000. 

The answer rest, in part, with my notion of the Rhetoric of Implied Exclusion. In the 1920s and 1960s, sexism–in and out of the church–was such that prohibitions on women and their voice did not need to be stated, especially not in a southern institution. It was assumed. Everybody just knew. When unconscious mores become acknowledged, written rules, we know people are successfully challenging the status quo. Written records are never enough: Knowledge of the progression from the collectively unwritten to the officially written is absolutely vital when measuring and understanding change. 

Side note: the Southern Baptist Convention first addressed homosexuality indirectly in a 1998 amendment to its 1963 statement and then specifically in 2000. In this case, recognizing that homosexuality first became “a sin” (to some people) in the 1940s is useful.  

For a complete copy of the 1925, 1963, and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement, click here.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda