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Southern Baptists and the Role of Women

Wives Must Submit to Husbands


One issue that has been great fodder for critics of the Southern Baptist Convention has been their attitudes toward and treatment of women. In the 1998 convention they revised the Baptist Faith and Message to state that wives must submit to their husbands. In 2000, they passed rules to prevent women from serving as pastor. This has put them out of step with most Protestant denominations.

At least 8,000 delegates attended the 141st annual Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1998. The focal point of that year’s convention was a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message — first written in 1925 and then rewritten in 1963. The changes approved on June 9 were a culmination of 20+ years of conservative leanings within the Nashville-based church.

The text of the altered “18th Article of the Baptist Faith and Message” reads:

    God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.
    Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church, and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.
    The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. 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. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
    Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Changes were derived from two verses in the New Testament book of Ephesians:

    Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. (Ephesians 5: 22-23)
    Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — this is the first commandment with a promise: so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth. And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6: 1-4)

Overwhelmingly rejected were two other amendments that called upon husbands and wives to submit to each other and that would have included widows, widowers, and single persons as expressions of “family.” Evidently, Baptist men didn’t like the idea of making any sort of gesture of submission to their wives.

And what about widows and widowers — is one kicked out of the family the moment one’s spouse dies? Is marriage so privileged a state that all pre-marital and post-marital people can be excluded from the definition of “family”? That’s absurd. The nature of what constitutes a family is not God-given but created by culture. Our definitions have been changing over time, perhaps for the better.

Not surprisingly, various Biblical verses were specifically ignored in the creation of this new mission statement. For example, the passage in chapter 6 of Ephesians is immediately followed by another verse which has been used to justify slavery and authoritarian relationships in general: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” The Southern Baptists, interestingly, broke away from the Baptist church over the issue of slavery. They also opposed desegregation in the 1960s.

Deuteronomy 22:23-4 states: “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.“ I wonder if such a change in rape laws is something which they will call for in the coming years?

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