DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – The Southern Baptist Convention opens its annual national meeting Tuesday in an anxious mood, as the denomination’s all-male leadership grapples with the fallout of multiple sexual misconduct cases.
One order of business is a draft resolution co-signed by SBC leaders, calling on the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. to repudiate any rhetoric or behavior that dishonors women. The resolution denounces those who commit or cover up such actions, and urges congregations to abide by all laws mandating the reporting of sexual abuse and assault.
An estimated 15,000 members are expected to be in attendance. In a late addition to the program, the SBC announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be in Dallas on Wednesday to address the meeting. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to the meeting early Tuesday.
Abbott thanked the delegation for their support during Hurricane Harvey and after the Santa Fe High School shooting.
A motion on Tuesday to replace Pence’s speech with prayer time, out of fear of looking political, was voted down.
Not on the agenda in Dallas is any reconsideration of the SBC’s doctrine of “complementarianism,” which espouses male leadership in the home and in the church and says that a wife “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
Numerous SBC leaders say that the doctrine needs to be observed in a way that is respectful of women, and encourages them to play an active role in church affairs. In a recent video posted on Facebook, Rev. J.D. Greear, one of two candidates to become the SBC’s next president, said that the church has hurt itself by excluding women from top leadership posts.
Complementarianism “is biblical and we need to honor that … but, at the same time, recognize that God has gifted women with spiritual gifts,” Greear said. “We need to be as committed to raising them up in leadership and ministries as we are to our sons.”
Greear is a 45-year-old a megachurch pastor from North Carolina who occasionally preaches in jeans and shirts without a sport coat. He faces 70-year-old Ken Hemphill, a pastor and former seminary president in the SBC presidential election.
Greear narrowly lost the election for president in 2016, and has been viewed by many Southern Baptists as the inevitable winner this time. Hemphill was nominated by some veteran SBC leaders who view him as less likely to propose potentially divisive changes.
As the two-day meeting gets started on Tuesday, advocates of a greater role for women in the SBC have planned a protest rally outside of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Rally organizers want the SBC to create a database of clergy sex offenders, and require all seminarians to undergo training on how to address domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Paige Patterson, the central figure in the most prominent of the SBC’s #MeToo cases, was set to deliver a featured sermon at the national meeting, but he withdrew from that role on Friday, heeding a request from other SBC leaders.
Patterson was recently dismissed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas due to his response to two rape allegations, made years apart by students. He also was accused of making improper remarks about a teenage girl’s body, and contending that women who are in abusive relationships should almost always stay with their husbands.
SBC leaders said that there are many more cases — adding up to a humiliating debacle for the denomination of 15.2 million members. “The avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear,” Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a recent blog post.
In addition to the debate over gender roles, the SBC has struggled to overcome its history as a denomination formed in the defense of slaveholders. On Monday, SBC leaders announced that they are expelling a church which was accused of racial discrimination. The SBC media office said that ties were being cut with Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.
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