One of the country’s leading Black Protestant denominations elected a woman to a key leadership role for the first time.
On Aug. 11, during its 61st annual session, the Progressive National Baptist Convention elected Jacqueline A. Thompson as second vice president.
Thompson serves as senior pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., a congregation well known for its social justice work. She was the first woman to serve as assistant pastor at the church and then became the first woman to serve as pastor, following the retirement of J. Alfred Smith.
She now becomes the first woman to hold an elected leadership role in PNBC’s six decades of existence.
“It is my hope that women and girls working in our churches and conventions today know that God has given them the gift of service and the gift of leadership,” Thompson said. “Progress often occurs at a place slower than we had hoped, but — as Dr. King reminded us — though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”
PNBC President David Peoples added: “For the first time in any Black Baptist denomination, a Black woman has been elected to a national leadership position. “We are excited about what Dr. Jaqueline Thompson brings to our convention as well as what she brings to the leadership of religious organizations throughout this country. Dr. Thompson’s elevation tells others in this country — young boys and girls — that your gift makes room for you.”
The largest Baptist denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, has only a slightly better track record of electing women to leadership roles. Although no woman has been elected president of the SBC in its 177-year history, two women have served as second vice president and one woman has served as first vice president. All three of those elections happened before the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC that solidified a male headship theology.
Those three women were Marie Mathis, elected second vice president in 1964; Myra Bates, elected second vice president in 1977; and Christine Gregory, elected first vice president in 1982.
The American Baptist Churches USA have a much stronger record of women in leadership, with a women first elected president in 1921. That woman was Helen Barrett Montgomery, who became the first woman president of any Protestant denomination in the United States.
Two late-20th century breakaway groups from the SBC have elected multiple women to top leadership roles. Debbie McDaniel, currently serving as moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is the third woman in a row to hold that post.
Of her historic election to leadership in the PNBC, Thompson said: “The people of PNBC are recommitting to their founding premise: leadership elected of the people, by the people, and for the people. They honor the spirit, service and sacrifice of decades of progressive women who paved the way for this moment.”
Lynn Brinkley, associate director of Baptist Women in Ministry, attended the meeting where Thompson was elected and offered this context: “Women are serving faithfully in ministry across this country, and they are continually breaking new ground. I am excited to see this historic election and new frontier for the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Dr. Thompson not only brings wisdom and expertise to this role, but she’ll be a shining example for little girls wondering about the ways they can serve Christ and the church.”
Peoples, pastor of Jabez Missionary Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., was affirmed as president of PNBC, a role he assumed in September 2021 after the death of President Timothy Stewart. Keith Byrd, pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., was elected first vice president, a role he also had been filling since Stewart’s death and Peoples’ elevation to president.
Women and the call to lead | Opinion by Erich Bridges