The Georgia Baptist Convention has disfellowshipped the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia.
Because the church has a woman serving as pastor. Her name is Julie Pennington-Russell. (That's her in the photo.)
Apparently the Southern Baptist principle of local church autonomy just goes out the window when a church indulges the “sin” of having a woman in the pulpit.
It’s only for “lesser sins” . . . like indulging clergy child molesters and cover-uppers . . . that local church autonomy really matters. Then it’s all up to the local church and whatever they do or don’t do is just fine.
Who they “call” as a pastor and who they keep as a pastor is up to the church . . . so long as it’s not a woman.
Heck . . . they can even keep a reported clergy child molester. At least he’s not a woman.
With reported clergy child molesters, the Baptistland view is like the Billie Holliday song: “Ain’t nobody’s business.” It’s solely a matter for the local church, and the denomination simply turns its back.
So here’s the reality of how it works in Baptistland. It’s worse to have a woman than . . .
- A pastor who kept quiet about a minister’s admission to sexually abusing his young son, and with that sort of pastoral example, at least 10 more church staff people also knew and kept quiet.
- A former California Southern Baptist Convention president and still-prominent pastor who said he “erred on the side of grace” when he kept quiet about a deacon’s molestation of children in his church.
- An Illinois Baptist children’s home director who urged no prison time for a Southern Baptist pastor convicted of sexually abusing a teen in the church.
- A former Arkansas Baptist State Convention president and still-prominent pastor who urged leniency and no prison time for a Southern Baptist minister who sexually abused dozens of adolescent church boys.
- An Oklahoma Baptist director who did nothing when a former Southern Baptist pastor got a job at an independent Baptist church, despite holding a letter in which the man admitted to sexually abusing a kid.
- A Texas minister who kept quiet about another minister’s sexual abuse of a kid, while allowing the minister to move on to work in children’s ministry at other churches . . . and he said the minister’s abuse of the kid was “consensual.”
- A still-in-the-pulpit Texas pastor whose best defense to an accusation of having sexually abused a church girl was to say “I did not have sex with her when she was 16 or under.”
- Texas church leaders who gathered a $50,000 “love offering” to send their pastor on his way after he admitted that “proper boundaries were not kept” and paid “hush money” to try to silence the report that he had abused a 14-year-old church girl.
- An Arkansas pastor who, when confronted with accusations about a staff minister’s abuse of a boy, quietly accepted the accused minister’s explanation that “it was a one-time run of bad decision-making.”
- A former Florida Baptist convention president and still-prominent pastor who harbored a clergy child molester on his staff, apparently without checking with his prior church employer who knew (or else the prior church didn’t tell), and who later “put on trial” a church secretary who reported sexual harassment by church staff.
- A Texas denominational director who acknowledged keeping a confidential file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse, specifically “including child molestation,” but who failed to warn people in the pews.
- A Florida pastor who, according to news reports and a “smoking-gun” tape-recording, “knew for years” that the church’s founding pastor was a pedophile and participated in covering it up.
- A Texas Southern Baptist church whose officials “said nothing” when other churches called for references even though their former staff minister had been twice-reported for sexual abuse.
- A former Southern Baptist president and still-prominent seminary president who, while head of a Baptist college, turned his back on numerous college girls and young women who tried to report the sexual abuse and assaults of a pastor whom the president was mentoring.
In none of these instances was there any sort of denominational rebuke, much less any denominational action.
The reason for denominational do-nothingness? “Local church autonomy.”
But oh gee whiz . . . let a congregation hire a woman pastor, and a shout goes up from the Baptist hordes: “Oust them!”
For those of you who might be interested, Miguel De La Torre, professor at Iliff Theological Seminary, provided an enlightening history in quotes of the church’s “anti-woman legacy.”
Update 11/20/09: “Does the SBC respect local church autonomy or not?” by Wade Burleson, Associated Baptist Press, 11/20/09.