The Baptist General Association of Virginia adopted by a wide margin a motion to create a task force “to explore programs, resources, policies, initiatives and relationships which further support and advocate for women in pastoral, ministerial and leadership roles among Virginia Baptists.”
That Nov. 14 action — with the word “advocate” — stands in contrast to a July effort to put the Baptist General Convention of Texas on record fully affirming women in ministry.
In Texas, a motion that asked to “affirm women in all ministry and pastoral roles” was amended to remove that explicit affirmation. The final motion asked BGCT staff to “continue developing more strategies, resources and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming, appointing and employing women in ministry and leadership roles.”
Advocates for women in ministry left the Texas meeting disillusioned — also in part because of vocal opposition to the concept of women in ministry and being told “change takes time” — but left the Virginia meeting more upbeat.
Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, expressed dismay this summer that BGCT leaders were not open to discussion and tried to discourage her motion being presented. Virginia was different, she said.
“The leadership of the BGAV was open to conversation and finding a way forward that honored the group’s intention and desires,” she said in an email to supporters the day of the Virginia vote. “I served as a mediator between the group of people who had been in conversation and a representative of the BGAV leadership. She (yes, she!) and I spent quite a few hours on the phone and in conversation. She and the other BGAV leaders wanted to know the experiences of women in ministry in Virginia and wanted to consider what they could do to make it better.”
Virginia Baptists and Texas Baptists are the two traditional state conventions that have most steadfastly stood their ground against the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, which in June took several actions that would ban churches from affirming women in ministry or giving women jobs with the word “pastor” in them.
The motion to the BGAV, meeting at Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, was offered by Kristin Whitesides, pastor of First Baptist Church of Winchester, Va., one of the female pastors targeted in a now-infamous list circulated in the SBC earlier this year.
The motion states: “I move that the Executive Board of the Baptist General Association of Virginia appoint a seven-member task force to explore programs, resources, policies, initiatives and relationships which further support and advocate for women in pastoral, ministerial and leadership roles among Virginia Baptists, and that the task force present a report of findings and recommendations to the messengers of the 2024 Baptist General Association of Virginia annual meeting.”
As she spoke, about 40 people rose to stand with her as a symbol of solidarity. Her motion passed by an 85% majority.
In explaining her motion, Whitesides said: “As women in ministry, we have answered the Spirit’s calling on our lives to serve God’s purposes in the world. We teach, and we preach. We pray and we serve. We visit hospitals and bedsides, plan mission trips and lead Vacation Bible School.
“Our ministry does not denigrate or undercut the ministry of men.”
“Our ministry does not denigrate or undercut the ministry of men. Instead, it enhances, deepens and expands our shared mission. We are an integral part of the church’s work, whether we are ordained or not.
“However, all too often, we are viewed as an exception rather than as exceptional. We are tolerated rather than celebrated. We believe the BGAV can do more and be more when our voices are valued and our perspectives are sought out.”
No messengers spoke in opposition to the motion.
Earlier this year, after the SBC motion, the BGAV Executive Board released a statement affirming women in ministry. That statement said, in part, “Both women and men are seen as vessels through which the Spirit works, and the Spirit equips all believers for myriad ministries including the role of pastor within the church. This basic understanding affirms the inherent worth and potential of all followers of Christ.”
Since the SBC’s provocative actions against women in ministry in June, BWIM has increased its visibility and advocacy.
“Our desire is that Baptist denominational organizations which ‘allow’ the ministry and ordination of women would boldly affirm women in all ministerial and pastoral roles and take action on that affirmation” Stone said. “After the pain that has been caused by the SBC, congregations and women in ministry deserve to know that there are Baptist spaces where they are valued.”
One other recent success in that effort came last month when the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina adopted a resolution affirming women in ministry — affirmed women in ministry are called by God to lead in all aspects of church leadership.
The GBSC, formed in 1867, is the oldest Black Baptist association in North Carolina.
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