LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) — A seminary president who served on a committee that 10 years ago revised the Southern Baptist Convention's confessional document to declare that only men should be pastors told students Sept. 14 that he was embarrassed by his former advocacy of women in ministry.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., recalled in a seminary chapel sermon the reaction when the Southern Baptist Convention in 1984 for the first time adopted a resolution declaring the office of pastor is restricted to men qualified by Scripture.
"That incited one of the most incredible denominational controversies — in the midst of that great controversy of the '70s and the '80s and the '90s — that one could imagine," Mohler said. "Many people took umbrage at that statement. Many people were hurt and outraged and stunned that the Southern Baptist Convention would say that a woman ought not to be pastor."
"I was one of them," Mohler confessed. "I was a student in this institution. This institution at that time taught monolithically that women, just as men, could and should be called to serve as pastors of churches. There was no [Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood]. There was no book on recovering biblical manhood and womanhood."
Mohler said he can give "first-hand testimony" about how error by a teacher or preacher can set a course leading to error of others.
"When the denomination adopted that resolution in 1984, I not only took part, I led an effort to protest it," he said. "We bought an ad in the [Louisville] Courier-Journal and made a statement about God is an equal opportunity employer."
Mohler, said he did that while "absolutely sure the Bible was the inerrant and infallible Word of God," but he finally saw the error of his ways about a year and a half later, when he was assigned as campus host for visiting theologian Carl F.H. Henry.
Already a fan of Henry through his books, Mohler said the two discussed theology while walking across campus and Henry brought up the subject of women in the pastorate.
"With the insouciance of youth and with the stupidity of speaking more quickly than one ought, I gave him my position," Mohler recalled. "He looked at me with a look that surprised me, and he simply said to me, 'One day this will be a matter of great embarrassment to you.'"
Mohler said that for him, the embarrassment was immediate.
"I went to the library. I looked for every book that I could possibly find on the subject," he said. "Frankly, the urgency on me was such that I didn't think I could eat or do anything until I found out why I was going to be so embarrassed. The campus was full of people who appeared to be wonderfully unembarrassed about the whole issue."
Mohler said he didn't find much, but there was a book by Stephen Clark titled Man and Woman in Christ that "led me, thankfully, into some Scripture study."
"I ended up staying up until I could figure this out," he said. "Somewhere between Carl Henry saying what he said to me and the dawn of the next day, my position had completely changed."
Mohler, 50, who after his election as president in 1993 refused to hire any new faculty members who believed it was possible that God would call a woman to preach, served on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message study committee that recommended several revisions to the SBC faith statement, which had only been amended once since its previous adoption in 1963.
Among changes, the committee added to an article on the church, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
Mohler said Henry did not change his position on women in ministry, but rather, "It was the Scripture that changed my position."
"I had to come face to face with the fact that I had just picked this up," he said. "I had just breathed this in, and I just capitulated it out without checking it according to the Scriptures. By the way, going to the Scriptures, it doesn't take long. It wasn't like I embarked on a lifelong study to discover what Scripture says on this. It didn't take long at all.
"And I realized that Carl Henry was right, that one day I would be very embarrassed about this. When I saw him the next morning, well, I was already in a different world."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.