Ends & Means: When Baptists Abandon Their Principles

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.

About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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22 Responses to Ends & Means: When Baptists Abandon Their Principles

  1. Tom Parker says:


    May I add this. This vote was taken by standing if you were for the motion to disfellowship.
    No advance notice was given to the messengers who vote at the associational meeting about this issue being voted upon by them.

    1. Would this vote have been different if advance notice was given of this vote?
    2. Would allowing people to vote by secret ballot have changed this vote?

    To disfellowship a church seems to me to be something very serious. Could not the above two points have been followed. We will never know but the very same outcome may have occurred.

    The process to disfellowship followed surely does not look like a fair one.

  2. Gary Snowden says:

    I’ll attempt to answer one of your questions. 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? That would be precisely during the Conservative Resurgence when the goal of rooting out and eliminating all moderate Baptists from trustee boards and as heads of agencies and institutions adopted that modus operandi. One of the most salient examples of that was the firing of Dr. Dilday at Southwestern, involving locking him out of his office, just a couple of days after the same board of trustees had voted to approve of his overall performance as seminary president. That was merely one of a lot of similar actions taken in which grace was totally absent from the picture.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your answer to that question. I remember the firing of Dr. Didlay at Southwestern. I was finishing up my law practice and getting ready to head to Southern Seminary with my wife for what would turn out to be 3 1/2 years in Louisville. I was blissfully unaware of SBC politics back then (not so today), but still thought that the treatment — perceived and in fact — was not right. Even when we disagree theologically, there is absolutely no reason to treat brothers and sisters in Christ with such disdain. If people do not speak out, more of the “ends justify the means” actions are sure to follow. God bless,


  3. Gary Snowden says:

    For clarity’s sake, my response should have been worded “when the goal of rooting out and eliminating all moderate Baptists from trustee boards and as heads of agencies and institutions led to the adoption of that modus operandi.”

  4. Tom Parker says:


    Looks to me like you are giving folks a chance to say they were wrong about the conclusions they jumped to without the facts about Flatrock Baptist Church. They might even say that they would not like to be treated this way. I believe you have given them an avenue and now it is up to them.

    I want to say again, I applaud your courage in your take on this issue and in putting it right out there for these other “conservatives” to see. Sadly, you have now become a Liberal to some of them and not one of them and suspect to them. I know you can handle yourself but beware of the new world you have stepped into in the SB world.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks for the comments this morning. I’m comfortable in my own skin, so it doesn’t bother me when people resort to name calling. In the end, God knows our hearts. As to your additional facts in your previous comments, obviously the no advance notice (to anyone) is troublesome, particularly on such a serious matter as disfellowshipping a sister church. That the vote was taken by standing is simply mind boggling. Even in such an instance 20% of those present stood in opposition to the action being taken. Can you imagine the tremendous pressure that those must have felt, knowing that they would be labeled as sympathizing or even accepting of female pastors. No doubt there may have been others who would not have voted at that time for disfellowship because of a severely flawed process, but did not have the courage to stand in such a public manner. If a secret ballot would have been taken, there still may have been a majority, but probably not near 80%. In my own Association, a motion to disfellowship can be brought only by the Credentials Committee after a thorough investigation. The motion itself can only be brought at the Annual Meeting and it requires a 2/3 vote in the affirmative to disfellowship a church. I am only presenting the facts as I know them. If other conservatives want to continue to argue that this process was not flawed, that is their right, but I think that most unbiased observers would disagree. Thanks again and have a great day,


  5. Tom Parker says:


    You said:”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? ”

    You also said:”For clarity’s sake, my response should have been worded “when the goal of rooting out and eliminating all moderate Baptists from trustee boards and as heads of agencies and institutions led to the adoption of that modus operandi.”

    Yes back to 1979 when Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler and others began working their plan to take over the convention. Get the votes (bus them in if necessary) and put them out was the hidden strategy while other motives were given publicly. It did not matter what happened to these people that were ousted, they had to go regardless of the means.

    I’m still waiting for the defentive list of all the true liberals that were ousted from all of these SBC seminaries and agencies. It was always said that there were many liberals and they were making life so miserable for these conservatives, but funny how it was usually a really small number when names of actual people were listed.

    These chickens are continuing to come home to roost and maybe some people’s eyes will be open more to how raw politics works in the SB world.

  6. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Howell,

    You ask:

    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?”

    First, if I was informed that my church was requested to attend a meeting on August 8, some 3 weeks after this young lady was called as pastor, and I refused to attend by telling the committee, in writing mind you, “you can do what you want” we are not going to attend. Then, yes I would expect a swift action to be taken. Second, there was no advance notice to be given to Flat Rock as the association did not know the vote was going to be taken. The membership committee did not know the vote was going to be taken. The membership committee chairman could not get in contact with all of the members on the committee to give them the response they received from the church. The motion was made by a messenger of the association, not a committee. A motion for a vote at a subsequent meeting would probably have been well received by the association in session. Once again, the motion came to the floor by the chairman of the membership committee who clearly indicated he was not acting in his capacity as chair. The one voice that was in disagreement of the motion simply stated eveyone’s minds were made up and it was no reason to continue trying to discuss it. That messenger could have made the motion to delay and I would bet you $1,000 to a Krispy Kreme doughnut that it would have passed. Would I have voted to have another meeting for a vote? I cannot really say at this point. Do I believe a delayed vote would be turning a blind eye to sin? No, I do not. However, once a church, or an individual, says plainly they will not meet with you to discuss anything, there are really only two options left. One, you just move one and not speak about the issues any more allowing that church to continue as if they are in full fellowship in the association. Two, take the vote and then move on.


    • Howell Scott says:


      You stated:

      Once again, the motion came to the floor by the chairman of the membership committee who clearly indicated he was not acting in his capacity as chair.

      So, there was no formal recommendation from the Membership Committee on this issue, but yet the Chairman of the Committee, not acting as Chairman, but just as a regular messenger to the meeting, made the motion. Was this of such grave circumstances that the Membership Committee Chairman did not want to take a few weeks (during the summer, mind you, when most people are on vacation) to have a meeting of the Membership Committee to discuss how to proceed? The Chairman of the Membership Committee should not have made the motion, but instead told those assembled that the proper thing to do would be to hold off until the Membership Committee could gather. At a more appropriate time, the Membership Committee itself could have made the recommendation. Of course, that assumes that the other members of the Committee would have been in agreement to move to disfellowship Flat Rock. One last thing. That Flat Rock refused to attend one meeting apparently resulted in the “nuclear option” of disfellowshipping being put into play. It would behoove all churches to now realize that merely refusing to meet with a Membership Committee is enough to get your church disfellowshipped in the quickest time possible, all without any further notice given of the vote for disfellowshipping. Even if the outcome would have been the same, what happened is wrong. For SBA to treat a long-standing member of their Association in such a way speaks more to their theology and practice than it does to Flat Rock’s. William Thornton has a great post up today about the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications for pastors.
      Since SBA has shown how it deals with churches who call female pastors, I’m sure they will go after the churches who have “quarrelsome” pastors, “greedy” pastors, and those churches whose pastors cannot keep their own house in order. But, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a great and blessed day,


      • Tim Rogers says:

        Brother Howell,

        I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. In the practical light of this situation, I will agree with you that the appearance of “jumping the gun” is something that makes this situation worse than what it should be. I will disagree with you that churches should be aware that if they refuse to meet they should understand their membership is in jeopardy. This particular situation is one that screams; “I am not going to speak with you about anything because my mind is made up and no amount of time or debate is going to change it.” Now, Brother, you are a Lawyer and, I presume, have been involved with negotiations. When one side decides to end negotiations it ties the hands of the other side. If we are going to have true cooperation it takes both sides talking to each other. Did the association move rather quickly? Yes, I would agree with you. Does it warrant calling them graceless? I would disagree with that assessment. Is the association the only ones to blame on this issue? No, Flat Rock bears as much of the blame for refusing to meet as SBA does for voting too quickly.


      • Howell Scott says:

        Bro. Tim,

        Let me share with you something similar that I shared with Mark over at his blog. This is really not about negotiations. I would not even used “victim” to describe FRBC and I certainly would not use that word to describe SBA. Does FRBC bear any responsibility for this situation. Yes and No. There course of action in calling Pastor Nelson obviously was what got the ball rolling, so to speak. Again, there is nothing to indicate that this church was “in trouble” with the Association prior to this. I’ve maintained all along that SBA could have done what they did. I really do not have major heartburn over an autonomous Association disfellowshipping a church because they called a woman pastor, although I readily admit that I am not as dogmatic on the issue as I once was (particularly if the only issue was the pastor’s gender — which is usually not the case as illustrated by the lesbian pastor also in NC who doesn’t want to do weddings — what’s up with NC 🙂 )

        That being said, I guess that my expectations for a Christian organization like SBA is pretty high. I think that those in the Association, regardless of the actions of FRBA, should have been above reproach, both with fellow Christians and non-believers (see 1 Tim. 3:7 & 2 Tim. 2:24-26). I just don’t see that these standards were even close to being met, but you and others are of course free to disagree with my assessment. While we may not come to agreement on this particular issue, I appreciate the dialogue. Thanks and God bless,


  7. Tom Parker says:


    Are you not finding it interesting that the defenders of this action are cranking out their blog posts almost as if to attempt to minimize yours on this issue?

  8. Bennett Willis says:

    The justification for not having pastors who happen to be women seems to be that they would “have authority over men.” I have never been sure what “authority” a pastor had over me, a church member.

    What authority does the pastor have that members are required/expected to acknowledge and accept?

    I’m not trying to change the subject, but am actually puzzled about this–and have been for a long time. Maybe it could be a posting some time in the future if it is an involved topic.

    • Tom Parker says:


      I would like to no “exactly” what women can do in SB churches. Maybe someone can codify this. There is sarcasm in this comment.

  9. Howell, this was a very interesting post. For over 14 years I officed in a Baptist associaton office while employed by the BGCT (Texas Baptists). While I worked there the women secretaries were kept in the dark by the politics of the SBC and the BGCT. We had no idea what was going on. Finally, when I got a new supervisor who was a missionary who was fired because he would not sign the BF&M 2000, I began to understand what it was about.

    As you can imagine, I am not popular within Baptist circles anymore because I blog and speak out for women’s equality in our Baptist churches. I, too, had been guilty of saying that women shouldn’t preach. In fact, I will admit that when I started this ministry almost 3 years ago, it wasn’t a priority. I just wanted women to be able to be a deacon in the church. But I realized that equal means equal. There are no buts. You can’t be equal and have anything withheld from your service.

    Thanks for a reasonable post on this sensitive subject.

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to read and to share your thoughts on what is definitely a “sensitive” subject. I do not think that this issue is going away anytime soon. While I may not be where you are in terms of your belief about women serving as senior pastors, I think that we can and should employ an “above reproach” standard in our dealings with one another. I will continue to argue that Surry Baptist Association’s process in disfellowshipped Flat Rock came no where near meeting that standard. Thanks again for stopping by. God bless,


  10. Stephen Fox says:

    As for Baptists abandoning principles I think Exhibit A is Richard Land.

    And B would be the testimony of Carey Newman and David Gushee about their brief sojourn at SBTS under Mohler’s Covenant agreement of the mid 90’s where they report in Hankins Uneasy in Babylon God is not in this place.

    Maybe C would be Paul Pressler as an activist for Coke Stevenson which he turned into his eggregious crusade against the Baylor Fresham intro Bible Course People of the Covenant by Jack Flanders, Crapps and Smith.

    NPR this very morning on an easily googled segment about Al Mohler and the Garden of Eden had a proff from Calvin college saying fundamentalists have a bad habit of eating their own young.
    Maybe if they had more principle they’d find a better, more righteous and prudent diet.

    • Howell Scott says:


      I had Dr. Gushee for Christian Ethics back in the mid-1990’s at Southern. Found him to be very gracious and thoughtful. And, he was definitely teaching in line with the conservatism on the ascendancy at Southern at the time. Professor Newman had just come on board toward the end of our time at SBTS, so I did not have a chance to take any classes with him nor get to hear about how he taught. I have never read Hankins’ Uneasy in Babylon, but I think I need to do that at some point. Might give me even more insight into the current climate of the SBC. Hope things are going well for you in Alabama. Take care and God bless,


  11. Pingback: Fundamental nastiness | bWe Baptist Women for Equality's Blog

  12. tiro3 says:

    This incident has become popular in the blogisphere. I appreciated your concerns.

    “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.”

    You nailed a major issue here. And a whole new topic. Is it accurate to call a female pastor to be in sin for preaching and teaching truths of the gospel and Scriptures. If it isn’t, then the SBC could be sinning for their treatment of women who preach, teach, and pastor.

  13. Tom Parker says:


    You said:”This incident has become popular in the blogisphere” Do you think that was the goal of the SBA?

  14. tiro3 says:

    Tom, that would be difficult to determine for a certainty. Depends on the circumstances of who originally called for this response and exactly how it all came down. And I’m not privy to those details. But I think we could say that they made little or no effort to keep it quiet.

    It seems we can also say that their primary goal is to keep women ‘in their place’ as the SBC has determined women’s place to be. And they are willing to make their interpretive determinations a requirement of all Baptist churches who wish to affiliate with them. This is vastly different than 50 years ago when each church body was autonomous on how they organized their church ministries.

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