Producers of an in-progress documentary about the rise of contemporary evangelical Christian feminism say answers to what went wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention’s method of handling domestic violence and child sex abuse may lie in a film that aired on PBS in 1997 just now available for viewing in the Internet.
“For many following the Houston Chronicle’s recent coverage of the avalanche of abuses in Southern Baptist Convention church networks, Battle for the Minds is a relevant documentary today about SBC’s leadership,” say filmmakers working on Baptizing Feminism, a forthcoming look at the heated debate over what the Bible teaches about the roles of women and men.
Steven Lipscomb, producer and director of Battle for the Minds, recently digitized the film chronicling the subjugation of women in Southern Baptist life in the mid-1990s and gave permission to post it in entirety on YouTube.
The Baptizing Feminism production team said both films examine “male-headship theologies” that many people now believe “contribute to the culture of abuse, sexism and abuse cover-ups in SBC churches and related networks.”
Initially intended to document Lipscomb’s mother’s personal struggle as a Southern Baptist woman in ministry, Battle for the Minds relives a turbulent period in Southern Baptist life when women studying to become ministers at SBC seminaries were being told their place was not in the pulpit but in the home, where the wife is “to submit herself graciously” to the husband’s godly headship.
The film opens with words from David Miller, at the time a trustee officer at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I personally think that it has been somewhat deceptive and misleading for Southern Seminary to invite women to come there and receive theological training under the delusion that they are going to be able to serve as pastors in Southern Baptist churches,” says Miller, who served 25 years as director of missions for Little Red River Baptist Association in Heber Springs, Arkansas, before his retirement in 1995.
“It ain’t going to happen,” says Miller, who went on to found an itinerant preaching ministry called Line upon Line Ministries.
The film’s title is from a line in the movie by Paul Simmons, a professor in Christian ethics at Southern Seminary for 23 years before he was nudged out by a rising “fundamentalist mindset” in 1993.
“We are in a battle for the minds of Southern Baptists,” says Simmons, since 1997 a clinical professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “Right now the fundamentalist-conservative new-right political type Baptists are in control of the offices, agencies and commissions of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“They likely will never give that up,” Simmons says in the film. “That does not mean that they’ll be able to control the consciences and minds of all Southern Baptists. That’s our hope, that Baptists will genuinely be Baptists and will not accept the tyranny of the mind and spirit that fundamentalist political types are attempting to impose upon them.”
Battle for the Minds also touches on the doctrine of autonomy of the local church, the most-often cited reason to justify the nation’s largest Protestant body’s relative inaction toward known or suspected sexual predators in Southern Baptist ranks.
“A lot of people like to think that because Southern Baptists believe in local autonomy of the church that what happens at the national level doesn’t affect their local church,” says Nancy Ammerman, recently retired professor of sociology of religion at Boston University.
“But when you have people in charge at the Sunday School Board and in the seminaries and so forth, what happens is those products do make their way into the local churches,” explains Ammerman, author of the highly acclaimed 1992 book Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“So ideas about everything from scripture to abortion to the role of women in the church all make their way from the national organization by way of the seminaries and Sunday School Board and so forth into local churches.”
Battle for the Minds features a defiant and sometimes tearful Molly Marshall, today president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, and a youthful Albert Mohler defending his policy against hiring professors who advocate female pastors implemented after his selection as Southern Seminary’s ninth president in 1993.
“I would expect our faculty, certainly all those who are hired to this faculty, and I would expect in the classroom for students to understand that Jesus Christ is the only savior, to understand that abortion is a great, great moral evil, to understand that homosexuality is a sin,” Mohler says in the film. “And, without apology, we are hoping that in the classroom, we are expecting that all those who are added to this faculty will uphold the position that the pastorate is a male office and though we support women in ministry we do not believe women should serve as pastors.”
Baptizing Feminism producers say their movie will tell stories “of outspoken women and men pulling back the curtain on the power of the contemporary Christian patriarchy in such church networks and in our country, while exploring the voices of opposition.”
It “investigates how a handful of Bible scripture translations regarding gender roles stand at the heart of this all — with Christian feminists and egalitarian Christian biblical scholars standing strong in challenging what they believe to be patriarchal interpretations and misinterpretations by modern day evangelical and Christian leaders who say that God ordained men to lead.”
“Battle for the Minds is a must-watch film that brings viewers up front and close to the days when the seeds of the contemporary Christian patriarchy were planted and, many believe, the oppression of women began full force in the Southern Baptist church,” says an entry on the Baptizing Feminism website.
The link to Battle for the Minds is here.