Southern Baptist Move to Bar Women as Church Leaders Shows Cultural Fears

Ultraconservatives within the denomination are presenting their arguments to the wider community through polished websites, conferences, and organizations, many of which have emerged in recent years. They are forging alliances with theological and political allies beyond the denomination’s boundaries.

During a recent breakfast organized by one of the influential new groups representing their faction, the Conservative Baptist Network, established in 2020, speakers passionately encouraged attendees to vote against the inclusion of women in church leadership. They also advocated for the implementation of poll watching and voter mobilization initiatives within their churches for local and national elections. An evangelist who served in the Marine Corps passionately asserted that America needed “real men” while expressing strong opposition to “all this trans stuff,” resulting in enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“They are trying to make sissies out of our boys, and they are trying to make boys out of our girls,” the Marine, Tim Lee, said.

Southern Baptists needed women “working in our churches” Mr. Lee said, speaking directly to women. “We just don’t need you to be the pastors of our churches.”

Due to the convention’s extensive influence and broad appeal, it draws the attention of politicians and activists who seek to shape the perspectives of conservatives at large. As an example, the group welcomed Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State in the Trump administration, as a speaker that evening.

The effort to remove women from leadership positions, led by a younger conservative movement operating outside the Southern Baptist Convention, highlights the growing interconnectedness between the rising hard-right and mainstream evangelicalism. To strengthen their argument, the ultraconservative delegates from the S.B.C. cited a widely circulated analysis on the prevalence of female pastors, which was recently published by American Reformer, a platform that promotes a politically charged form of Christianity.

The push from conservative Baptists echoes tactics of a previous generation of conservatives who wrested the denomination from perceived liberal drift starting in the 1970s. The “conservative resurgence,” as it was known, gained power incrementally during the Reagan era, taking control of the denomination’s seminaries, entities and, eventually, presidency — and having a significant effect in Republican politics.

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