Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber is featured in the September issue of the Illinois Baptist. An hour-long interview focused on several key issues, including actions on the role of women in pastoral life. Editor Eric Reed asked Barber to respond to the recent use of “comfortably complementarian” to describe where the SBC has landed after decisive votes at the New Orleans convention in June. Here’s an excerpt:
Bart Barber: I find that I’m most likely to get in trouble when I adopt other people’s terminology, so I think the best thing is to talk about underlying questions here. The Southern Baptist Convention is a complementarian convention. And I think the data that I can point to are clear on that matter. The votes that we had in New Orleans, 90% to 10% on the appeals about disfellowshipping, that’s pretty resounding as far as outcomes go.
And I do want to say that I’m proud of the messengers in that for years, there’s been hand wringing about the idea of celebrity culture in the SBC. And yet the margins were nearly identical across all of those questions. It seemed to me that our messengers were voting not on the basis of personalities, not on the basis of either admiration or any kind of antipathy or animosity toward individual people, but instead, they were just expressing their convictions with their ballots. And so I think those votes are good data that point toward the settled complementarian conviction to the SBC.
Illinois Baptist: How does that impact the question of women in pastoral roles?
What we really find at this moment is people who have embraced kind of a plural elder understanding of the ecclesiology of the church. And they would look and say, The Baptist Faith and Message talks about the office of pastor and limits it to men. Maybe we’ve got five or six people in our church who are in that office of pastor, elder, or overseer, and none of them are women.
And then you had some other churches in the SBC that are saying, We believe also in the office of pastor, and we believe the office of pastor is limited to men and not women. We don’t have a lot of people in our church who are in that office. It’s just that we feel free to use the label pastor to describe people who are not in the office of pastor.
The question here really is, Can you use the word pastor to refer to someone who’s not in the office of pastor as described in The Baptist Faith and Message? That’s a question we need to discuss further. It’s not really a mature question for us.
Illinois Baptist: Well, just for clarification, the word pastor applies to an office, but it also describes a set of nurturing and shepherding gifts.
And that’s where the difference of opinion is. Here’s the thing: Our church at Farmersville does not use the word pastor beyond people who occupy the office of elder, pastor, overseer. If a church is doing that, then I would love the opportunity to persuade them why they should think about not doing that. But I think that by delivering ultimatums at the Convention level, we’re shutting down the opportunity for persuasion.
This question about using the title “pastor” outside of the office is a question that we haven’t even really started talking to each other about. Where are the books about that, or the conferences to discuss different points of view, or the journal articles? If we prematurely boot people out of the convention, we lose the opportunity to persuade people who might be persuadable.
Illinois Baptist: The NAAF raised the question—
Yes, the National African American Fellowship asked for prayer and dialogue, and I’m working to facilitate both of those things, not just dialogue with me, but dialogue with one another. And what could possibly be wrong with doing that? I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to come up with good conversation and good solutions by which we can continue to cooperate with one another to pursue the Great Commission.
Coming in Part Two: Defining “friendly cooperation.”
The full interview is featured in the September issue of the Illinois Baptist.