In the aftermath of my recent post, “Female Pastors & Graceless Responses in Mayberry,” where I wrote about the recent kerfuffle surrounding the disfellowshipping of Flat Rocks Baptist Church from their local Baptist Association in Mt. Airy, NC (“Mayberry”), someone asked me:
Since you posted this item, what has surprised you the most in the comments you have received?
After reading all of the 78 comments on my blog (the most ever for any of my posts) and the ones at SBCVoices, that question has become rather easy to answer. For me, I would have to say the most surprising aspect of this debate has been:
the complete unwillingness of most people who are against female pastors to at least acknowledge that what Surry Baptist Association did was less than grace-filled. Some have tried to bend over backwards (both here and at Voices) to defend the Association’s actions. That is surprising, but I guess it shouldn’t be since this issue is one that is so black-and-white for so many people that they can’t even see the shades of gray.
As more facts are brought to light, one would think that there would at least be some acknowledgment — however meek — that how Surry Baptist Association (SBA) went about disfellowshipping Flat Rock Baptist Church maybe — just maybe — was not entirely proper. But, despite these additional facts, some (many) theological conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention seemed determined to defend SBA’s handling of this case as well as defend the ultimate outcome, even in spite of the facts. Ronald Reagan once quipped that “facts are stubborn things.” Apparently there are just as many stubborn people.
Some have argued that Flat Rock must have been a troubled (read moderate/liberal) church that was pulling away from the Association and that calling a woman as their pastor was the final straw. There’s only one problem with that argument — the facts seem to indicate otherwise. There doesn’t appear to have been much, if any, straw that could break the old camel’s back prior to Bailey Nelson becoming a candidate for and subsequently being called as the pastor of Flat Rock.
One could only conclude that Flat Rock, while perhaps a more moderate church than other churches in the Association, was not theologically “out there” or otherwise suspect prior to the church calling Pastor Nelson as the first female pastor in the Association. How could one make such a conclusion? By the fact that the wife of the Association’s Director of Missions was employed by the church as an Administrative Assistant. I can certainly understand why she would resign after the church decided to call Bailey Nelson as pastor. However, unless the DOM and his wife were also theologically suspect — which defies common sense and logic — there was no burning theological issues which would have made Flat Rock a target prior to Nelson’s call.
Others have argued that Flat Rock asked to be disfellowshipped from the Surry Baptist Association. For those who have not heretofore heard of this special request made by Flat Rock, you will be happy to know that by: 1. Calling a woman pastor and, 2. Refusing an invitation to meet with representatives of the Association to discuss the church’s having called a woman pastor, that either one or both of these facts somehow automatically morphed into Flat Rock’s begging SBA to kick them out. In a word, that argument is ludicrous!
So, a scant 16 days after assuming her responsibilities as pastor of Flat Rock Baptist Church, with one refused meeting invitation, and with no advance notice that a motion to disfellowship the church would be discussed, much less voted on at the quarterly meeting, approximately 80% of those present voted to sever all ties with a sister church that had been a part of a local Baptist Association since 1905. The motion to disfellowship, which many Associations (including my local Association) have procedures for, would generally be brought by the Membership or Credentials Committee. Although the Chairman of the Membership Committee, in his personal capacity, brought the motion, this was not a recommendation of the Committee itself. As William Thornton has pointed out, it has taken far longer to disfellowship churches that approve of homosexuality than it did for SBA to disfellowship a church with a female pastor. And, in case you’re wondering, the two issues are not in the same league.
While some have argued that they see nothing wrong with the outcome or the process, I would simply ask if they would want the same type of process employed if their church was the one being disfellowshipped? To give Flat Rock advance notice of a vote to disfellowship (which, by all accounts was not done) is surely not asking too much, is it? Is arguing for a vote at a subsequent meeting — where representatives of Flat Rock could be heard on the motion to disfellowship — now seen by most conservatives as “turning a blind eye to sin?”
I fully understand that my defense of Flat Rock’s right to a fair process will be seen as cooperating and/or enabling moderates. However, when did it become acceptable for conservatives to adopt an “ends justify the means” mentality when it comes dealing with theological opponents with whom they disagree? Now, some will take umbrage at my characterization, but I am quite frankly at a loss considering the myriad of comments that in effect said that since Flat Rock called a woman pastor, the Association could do whatever it wanted, however it wanted, to get rid of this clearly “rebellious church.”
Am I surprised that Surry Baptist Association (or most any Baptist Association) would vote to disfellowship a church who called a woman as pastor? No, I am not. I will continue to be surprised at the majority of conservative Baptists who are so willing to abandon principles of fairness and due process when it suits their theological objectives. They would do well to remember Jesus’ admonition, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Who knows? They might one day find themselves in the same position as Flat Rock. Oh, not for the “sin” of calling a female pastor, but for whatever the majority wants to call sin that day.