The leaders of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia (WMUV) adopted a statement rejecting the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)’s opposition to women pastors and chaplains, during the group’s annual meeting at CrossRoads Camp and Conference Center on Sept 11, 2004.
“Our declaration is that women are leaders in the church, called by God, commissioned by Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, with a strong, noble heritage,” the “Declaration of the Dignity of Women” read.
The core of the statement was centered on the SBC’s recent adoption of the “2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” a “message” that prohibits women from serving as pastors within the denomination.
The SBC, the largest denomination in the U.S. with over 16 million members, does not ban women from serving as pastors directly. However, the denomination keeps women from the pulpit by setting restrictions on the churches that choose to elect women pastors, such as a restriction on funding to the church or a restriction on representation of the church during national convention. Additionally, the members from churches with women pastors are excluded from the list of “eligible” missionaries through the SBC’s mission entities, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB).
The NAMB, IMB and the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) are all auxiliary groups of the SBC; the WMUV is an affiliate of the WMU, but is governed independently by its 14-member board of trustees and 68-member advisory board.
The WMUV’s statement, signed and endorsed by both boards, emphasized three points in relation to the SBC and SBC-led groups: “We reject all blanket discrimination against women in the work of Christian ministry, in particular, as elaborated in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message; We reject the findings and policy of the North American Mission Board with regard to the non-endorsement of women to chaplaincy positions; We reject any devaluation of women worldwide.”
“In rejecting these humiliating affronts to the dignity of Christian women, we affirm the autonomy of the local church, God’s call to every believer to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, and the core values of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia. These values include the priesthood of the believer, the call to mission, the giftedness of believers, response to social and moral crises, the development of leaders, partnership with Christians around the world, and the creation of diverse organizational models,” the declaration continued.
The NAMB voted in February 2003 to cease the endorsement of women chaplains “where the role and function of the chaplain would be seen the same as that of a pastor." Thus limiting military and prison chaplaincy positions to men; positions in hospitals or industrial settings remained upon to women.
The document notes: "Our declaration is that women are leaders in the church, called by God, commissioned by Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, with a strong, noble heritage. Empowered by our mission, values and heritage, we pledge to support all people, especially women and girls, as they live out their diverse and unlimited vocations. Through the study and exposition of Scripture, public advocacy, mentorship, networking, inclusive language, careful dialogue, proactive speech, seminary scholarships and influence on pastoral search committees and nominating boards, we will encourage and continue to develop the leadership of women and girls in all spheres and at all levels of church life."
Earlene Jessee, executive director of WMUV, commented, "The women of Virginia have always seen themselves as leaders in the church. But in recent years they have seen the role of women in the church devalued and no one has stood to speak against the devaluing. In discussing that, our women came to the conclusion that they must say something. As one of our trustees said, silence is consent."
Pat Bloxom, the WMUV's president, agreed with Jessee in calling women the “servant leaders” of the church.
"They are the backbone of the church in many cases," she said. "We have been waiting for someone to speak out on this [devaluing of women's roles in church]."
According to Bloxom, every member on the WMUV board was eager to sign the declaration, a statement they all deemed necessary in these “hard times.”
"It became apparent as we discussed it that they were eager not only to vote for it but to sign it," she said. "We only had three places for signatures -- for the president, vice president and executive director. But they all said, 'We want to sign this, too.' So we turned the page over and they put their signatures on the back,” explained Bloxom.
The declaration closed with a statement that distinguished the group as “leaders and prophets,” as opposed to “activists.”
The statement read: “In this Kingdom work, we are not activists, but leaders and prophets, calling the Church toward its true, original, and best identity. As women, our call to leadership is the Great Commission of Jesus Christ; our guide is the Holy Spirit of God; our heritage is scriptural, ancient, and living; our crisis is urgent and our declaration is firm: “your sons and daughters will prophesy.”(Joel 2:28) (Acts 2:17)”