The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, lost at least a dozen congregations when it voted two years ago to approve that a wife should "submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband."
Well, it may lose a dozen or more congregations this year if the convention, at its annual meeting next month in Orlando, Fla., ratifies a committee's declaration that women should no longer be allowed to serve as pastors.
The text reads: "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
A footnote cites biblical support from 1 Timothy 2:9-14: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent."
Even allowing that the convention is continuing to move further in the direction of biblical fundamentalist orthodoxy, the proposal to cut women out of the clergy is unrealistic, if not over the edge.
The toothpaste is already out of the tube. How can it be put back in? There are currently 1,600 or so Southern Baptist clergywomen, and about 100 are pastors leading congregations.
The proposal would not strip them of their clergy credentials, but it would make it awfully hard for the women to lead. How could they credibly do the Lord's work when, according to their faith's orthodoxy, they don't have the church's approval?
The statement is not binding on individual Southern Baptists, and local congregations could still ordain women. But those congregations would most likely be moderates who would depart the convention anyway.
One prominent Southern Baptist woman pastor said if the convention votes to ratify the male-only-clergy proposal, it would "cripple" the denomination. Another said it would signal a "repressive period" against women.
At the very least it would mark a giant step backward. As one theologian correctly noted, the biblical text on which the statement is based reflects the social and cultural context of the first century, when it was written - a far cry from what the world is like in the 21st century.