Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. discusses current issues facing the SBC
Ethics Daily is out with a story that SBC President Frank Page was once a proponent of women as pastors. The story points to Dr. Page’s 1980 doctoral dissertation written at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In that dissertation (which I have read), Dr. Page argued for the abolition of all distinctions in the role of men and women in the church. The dissertation is clear in making this argument — and it bears all the marks of a doctoral dissertation submitted on this subject back in 1980. I will explain that comment momentarily.
Now, Dr. Page affirms The Baptist Faith and Message [revised 2000] which clearly states that the office of pastor is limited to men as authorized by Scripture. He has affirmed this statement on his SBC President’s Web page [go here].
Has Dr. Page been caught in the act of changing his mind? Apparently so. For some, this fact is something of a scandal. After all, this is a significant and controversial issue — and one which was a major factor in the SBC controversy and the conservative resurgence. The fact that Dr. Page “switched sides” on this issue is enough to draw fire from any number of directions — but mostly from those who firmly support women as pastors [at least in theory]. I phrased that statement intentionally to remind all readers that the support for women as pastors, even among those who present themselves as avid proponents of women as pastors, has yet to translate into any significant number of women serving as pastors — even among those churches. Has any large and historic church identified as “moderate” in the SBC struggle called a woman as senior pastor? I will return to that question in a future article.
Meanwhile, Dr. Page now draws attention for changing his mind. When did this happen? What thought process was involved? What influences, books, conversations, reflections aided this process? We do not yet know. Fair enough for now. Dr. Page would serve us all by providing some of these details, along with a full exposition of his position. Would he embrace the Danvers Statement issued by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? We can hope that, over time, Dr. Page will help us understand his mind and heart on these questions. It could only serve to help this denomination to reflect further on these important issues.
My interest in this is also very personal. I mentioned earlier that Dr. Page’s doctoral dissertation bears all the marks of a research project undertaken in an SBC seminary in that era. I entered The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary the very year Dr. Page graduated with his Ph.D. from Southwestern. At Southern, it would not be fair to say that all professors were advocates of women pastors, but it would be fair to say that the only position given public prominence in this question was avidly pro-women as pastors. Furthermore, I encountered no scholarly argument for the restriction of the teaching office to men in any seminary forum or format. That argument was simply absent.
Thus, during my years as a seminary student, I accepted the position that was presented as “standard,” scholarly, and acceptable. Worse than that, I actually helped lead a protest of the 1984 SBC resolution on women in ministry.
Then, I also had to change my mind. Embarrassingly enough. I, too, was caught in the act of changing my mind.
It started with a general unrest in my thinking. But then it exploded with a comment made to me in personal conversation with Dr. Carl F. H. Henry in the mid-1980s. Walking across the campus, Dr. Henry simply stopped me in my tracks and asked me how, as one who affirms the inerrancy of the Bible, I could possibly deny the clear teaching of Scripture on this question. I was hurt, embarrassed –and highly motivated to answer his question.
I launched myself on a massive research project, reading everything I could get on both sides. Here I encountered the problem — there just wasn’t much written in defense of the complementarian position. Egalitarianism reigned in the literature. That makes sense, given the fact that proponents of change are more inclined to write in support of their positions than those who would defend a traditional understanding. Thankfully, with the rise of groups like CBMW and the influence of scholarly books by Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Mary Kassian, and so many others, this is no longer the case. The complementarian position is now very well served by a body of scholarly literature, for which we should be thankful.
Nevertheless, my study of the question led me to a very uncomfortable conclusion — my advocacy of women in the teaching office was wrong, violative of Scripture, inconsisent with my theological commitments, injurious to the church, unsubstantiated, and just intellectually embarrassing.
Thus, I consider this account to me a matter of my personal accountability to the Church and to the Christian world. It is no small thing for a teacher to teach anything that is in any way contrary to God’s Word. My change of mind on this issue, now about two decades old, is just part of my story. It explains, in part, why I consider this issue to be of such importance, and why over the past two decades I have given so much of my attention to this question and to ministries such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
So, I am thankful for Dr. Page’s change of mind, and I hope to know more about it in coming months as he shares more of this story with Southern Baptists. There is no shame in embracing the clear teachings of Scripture.