By Rev. Dr. Libby Grammer
Dear Church Family,
If you are plugged into Baptist News, you may have already heard the tales of the Southern Baptist Convention’s renewed commitment to ridding itself of local churches that do not adhere to its stance against women in ministry.
I grew up in Baptist churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and unfortunately, my denomination did not approve of my calling into ministry. I followed God’s call into the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) network of churches and seminaries, and it has been a blessing.
For decades, First Baptist Church of Martinsville has been only historically connected with the SBC, having left behind financial support of the SBC many years ago, and supporting instead only CBF and our more moderate state convention, the Baptist General Association of Virginia. FBC has ordained women to the diaconate since the 1970s and hired women as associate pastors in the 1980s-2000s, even as the denomination began to frown upon, and then remove churches, that ordained and hired women. In 2018, FBC called me as the first female Senior Pastor in the church’s history.
Thus, we have not been an active part of the SBC for many years, and it should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely aware of the SBC’s stance that having me as Senior Pastor would not sit well with the SBC.
However, the SBC has lists of churches that were a part of the convention long before the controversies over women (and other fundamentalist focuses) in the 1970s-1990s, and our church’s name still appeared in searches in SBC databases. We haven’t participated as messengers at conventions, nor have we budgeted the SBC into our giving for years and years, but our church’s name was still found on a searchable list on the SBC website.
Recently, a pastor in Northern Virginia decided to curate a list of 170 women serving as Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors at Baptist Churches in Virginia and elsewhere, all of which are historically SBC churches but probably most of which are non-participating. This pastor has provided the list of these churches and individual pastors to the SBC Executive Committee and has asked for these churches to be “disfellowshipped,” or ousted, from the SBC. See his FAQs for an amendment to remove all churches with women on ministerial staff here. His narrow readings of scripture passages has led him on a crusade to find and “out” women serving God and God’s church in ministry.
First Baptist Church of Martinsville, with my name and photo, is included on this list, and I wanted you to hear it from me before reading it in the news.
Religion News Service has a great article about the history of “great ejections” from history that I encourage you to read. It would seem that there’s a strong need for some in the SBC to publicly remove churches who hire women, and this list, if all are removed, would be the largest disfellowshipping for the SBC ever.
I think the likelihood of our church being ejected from the SBC is high, and if that were to happen, I want you to know some things:
- Our ministries will not change. We will still show up and be the church, in worship of God and service to neighbor.
- Our Baptist identity will not change. We are longtime Cooperative Baptists and Virginia Baptists with SBC roots that we have long since left behind as a matter of practice. We will continue to support historic Baptist principles, including Soul Freedom, Religious Liberty for all, the Priesthood of All Believers, and the Autonomy of the Local Church (see our FAQs on our website here). We will continue to give to like-minded Baptist partners like BGAV and CBF so as to further our reach in mission and ministry.
- Our commitment to grow the faith and baptize the next generation of girls and boys will not change. And if we baptize them, we’ll ordain them too.
Whatever comes of a vote at the SBC meeting in June, First Baptist Church of Martinsville and our part in God’s Kingdom work will go forward, and it will do so with love, compassion, and equality.