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Baptist church in Georgia set to call female pastor

June 5, 2007

A Baptist church in Decatur, Ga., with ties to both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) will call a woman as its pastor later this month, according to the church website.

A Baptist church in Decatur, Ga., with ties to both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) will call a woman as its pastor later this month, according to the church website.

The website reports that FBC will call Julie Pennington-Russell as its new pastor. Pennington-Russell presently serves as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, a position she has held since 1998.

FBC of Decatur is affiliated with both the SBC and CBF, but this latest move demonstrates that the congregation holds theological views that are decidedly in step with the moderate CBF. The CBF is a quasi-denominational splinter group of moderates that have left the SBC in recent years in light of the denomination’s conservative resurgence.

In 2000, the SBC revised its confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, to affirm the traditional, biblical teaching on gender roles in the home and church. R. Albert Mohler Jr., who serves as a board member for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), points out in a commentary on Pennington-Russell’s call to Decatur, that the Southern Baptist Convention is a decidedly complementarian denomination.

Mohler, who serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was one of the architects of the revised confession of faith.

“The Southern Baptist Convention has made its convictions on the issue clear. The adoption of the revised edition of The Baptist Faith & Message in 2000 elevates the issue to confessional status,” Mohler writes.

“This is a natural consequence of the denomination's commitment to biblical inerrancy. The Bible clearly calls for male leadership in the church — and particularly in the pulpit. Southern Baptists have chosen to affirm a complementarian understanding of gender roles and leadership, seeing these principles as clearly set forth in the Bible.

“The culture is on the side of those who support women pastors. We live in an egalitarian age. At the same time, that support seems to be more about talk than action. Until this development in Decatur, no historic moderate church affiliated with the SBC had called a woman as pastor.”

In a brief listing of its core beliefs, FBC Decatur makes clear its position on women in the ministry: “We accept women and men as equally called of God for ministry as laity and clergy.”

The 141-year old Atlanta area congregation touts itself “different from many Baptist churches” in that it is non-confessional and accepts diverse theological viewpoints: “We acknowledge the Bible as our guide for faith and practice but reject any creedal statement of belief as necessary for our basis of authority, fellowship, and common spiritual life.” The church allows members to designate financial support for either SBC or CBF causes.

Mohler points out that Pennington-Russell’s call to the Decatur pulpit is both an historical moment and a clear statement by the church despite claims to the contrary.

“…the church claimed that the move was not a way of ‘making a statement,’ Mohler writes.

“That claim will not hold up. The church points to the proposed pastor's qualifications and gifts, but if the church's pastor search committee had chosen a man as their proposed candidate, the development would not have received nationwide news coverage. The church is making a statement.”

View FBC Decatur’s full announcement.

See additional analysis by Mohler on this development.

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