ALPHARETTA, Ga. (ABP) — The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention will cease endorsing women to chaplain positions “where the role and function of the chaplain would be seen the same as that of a pastor.”
The move will apparently bring an end to the SBC's endorsement of new female chaplains for the military but apparently will not prevent women from serving as hospital chaplains.
NAMB trustees took the action during their Feb. 4 meeting, where they noted military and federally employed women chaplains serve in a pastoral role because they administer the Lord's Supper and baptism, preach, counsel and perform weddings and funerals. Ordaining women to minister in that capacity would be inconsistent with the “spirit of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” according to Terry Fox, NAMB trustee chairman and pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan. The document limits “the office of pastor” to men.
The move will affect new Southern Baptist women chaplains in the military, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Veteran Affairs. Outside military and federal roles, chaplains are not viewed as pastors by the SBC, Fox said.
Following discussions with military and civilian chaplains, the trustees came to understand soldiers often view military chaplains as pastors, Fox said. Soldiers look to the ministers for counseling, weddings, funerals, preaching and baptisms.
“If you think the military chaplain is not seen as a pastor, you're kidding yourself,” Fox said.
He argued that pastoral role sets military chaplains apart from those who work in other venues such as health care.
However, many hospital chaplains routinely perform most of the acts that NAMB trustees deemed fit only for a pastor, according to Mike Patrick, chaplain at the Hendrick Health System in Abilene, Texas. They counsel patients, perform weddings and funerals and lead worship services.
But hospital chaplains rarely administer ordinances, choosing to leave those to church staff, said Patrick, who has ministered in the hospital since 1990.
That self-limitation does not stop people from viewing Patrick as a pastor, he said. Individuals commonly use the term “pastor” in referring to him and often look for chaplains to provide spiritual guidance.
“It is a generic term that many people use in ministry for someone representing God,” he said.
Of the approximately 2,500 NAMB-endorsed chaplains, 196 are women. Twenty of the 430 NAMB-endorsed military chaplains are women. Seven endorsed female chaplains work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those already endorsed by NAMB and ministering in those fields can continue serving.
Chaplains working in any setting typically are required to be endorsed by a denominational entity. NAMB is the Southern Baptist Convention endorser. The Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship also endorse chaplains and will continue endorsing women military chaplains.
A NAMB task force was formed to examine the issue following a motion at the SBC annual meeting by two military chaplains who felt NAMB should make ordination a requirement for endorsed military chaplains.
Ordination is not required by the military to be a chaplain, but can be required by a denominational endorser. Endorsement is necessary to be a military chaplain.
The trustees' decision follows NAMB's 2002 action to stop endorsing all ordained women. But Fox insisted the action does not spell the end of Southern Baptist women chaplains. They play a crucial role in Southern Baptist work, he said.
“The one thing I was real excited about is there was a stronger affirmation of women chaplains than I thought would be there,” Fox said.
The testimony the trustees heard distinguished hospital chaplaincy from military chaplaincy, Fox said. Hospital chaplains are not called to perform many of the pastoral duties that military chaplains are asked to carry out, particularly when dealing with the Lord's Supper and baptism.
“I think we are satisfied,” Fox said. “We are happy with women being hospital chaplains.”
Sherry Blankenship, member of the NAMB task force and a non-ordained chaplain at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis, insisted women chaplains serve under different circumstances in hospital and counseling roles.
She considers the role of pastor to be for men, as stated in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. She gives a “devotional” every other week during a worship service for a crowd “about the size of a Sunday school class,” but said she is viewed as a “care-giver,” not a pastor.