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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Southern Baptists turn back the clock on the role of women in the church

The Southern Baptist Convention voted last week to make it even more difficult for women to hold leadership positions in their churches. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says it’s about more than theology.

I grew up in Southern Baptist churches and there were always two true things about them. One, the hymns were awesome. And two, they loved a good argument.

Which is why it’s so sad, and so infuriating, to see so many Southern Baptists fall in line over a backward way of thinking: that women can’t be pastors.

Southern Baptists aren’t the only religious groups, or religions, to bar women from the pulpit. But the Southern Baptists are the biggest Protestant religious group in America, with more than 13 million members. They’re dominant in both Carolinas. And the other day, at their convention in New Orleans, they rejected the appeals of two churches that were expelled for having women in pastoral roles.

One of the churches is Saddleback, the megachurch founded by Rick Warren, who wrote the worldwide bestseller “The Purpose-Driven Life.” He has done about as much for evangelical Christianity as anybody alive. But before he retired from Saddleback, he ordained three women as assistant pastors. And that was enough for the Baptist convention to kick the church out.

In fact, the convention attendees went even further — they passed an amendment to their constitution saying women can’t serve as any kind of pastor or as a church elder. (That amendment has to be voted on again next year to become official.) A Virginia pastor named Mike Law has been circulating a list of Southern Baptist churches that violate that rule, including at least five in North Carolina and one in South Carolina.

The hardliners’ argument rests mainly on one Bible verse, 1 Timothy 2:12. In the King James Version, it says: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

The line is part of a letter credited to the apostle Paul, who gives his reasoning in the next verse: Adam came before Eve, and Eve was the one who was tricked in the Garden of Eden.

What has happened is that a group of people has decided to freeze the living Bible in amber. They hold that every thought in a 2,000-year-old book should be interpreted exactly the same as when it was put down on the scroll.

Forget evolution. This doesn’t even allow for change.

You might also remember that this same Southern Baptist Convention released a report just last year outlining how church leaders had covered up hundreds of sexual abuse cases for decades. It seems to me that things might have gone differently if some women had been in the leadership. But apparently, there is not one woman among the 13 million Southern Baptists who is fit to even lead a country church.

Sometimes I think Jesus slaps his own forehead every day at how so many people take the words of the Bible literally but refuse to take the ideas of the Bible seriously.

For example, let’s take another line from 1 Timothy, just four chapters later. You’ve probably heard it: For the love of money is the root of all evil.

Now if you took that verse literally, it might lead you to cleanse your soul by taking a vow of poverty. I don’t see many Southern Baptists, or anyone else, doing that.

It’s amazing how we can consider some rules as absolute law, while others — especially ones that make us uncomfortable — end up being, well, more open to interpretation.

Tommy Tomlinson’s "On My Mind" column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org.It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.