Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, have been slowly kicking out churches with women pastors over the past year, the New York Times reported Tuesday night. Faith leaders overwhelmingly voted at their annual convention in New Orleans on Wednesday morning not to let a California megachurch and a Kentucky congregation back in over the issue, and they’re expected to vote on a further amendment stating that a church can be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind,” as part of a crackdown on a “dangerous liberal drift.”
According to the Times, the right wing of the already quite conservative denomination is “pressing for ideological purity and arguing that female pastors are a precursor to acceptance of homosexuality and sexual immorality.” More than 2,000 male pastors have already signed a letter in support of the amendment, which threatens to cast out roughly 1,800 women leaders. Southern Baptists have long said as a statement of faith that women shouldn’t be pastors, but this is believed to be the first time they’ve taken collective action to expel churches over it, according to the Associated Press.
Men in the denomination wringing their hands over “sexual immorality” comes after an independent investigation last year showed that national leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention covered up reports of male pastors sexually abusing women and children for over 20 years and intimidated the survivors. More than 700 victims have come forward alleging abuse. The Texas Tribune reported in March that anti-LGBTQ activist Jared Woodfill overlooked sexual misconduct claims against his law partner and Southern Baptist leader, Paul Pressler, by two young men. Yet the Times reports that the many victims pressing the denomination to take action against this widespread sexual abuse scandal are being “met with resistance from some men in the organization”—presumably the same ones who believe that allowing women to be pastors is a precursor to being gay.
Of course, Southern Baptists wouldn’t be the only major denomination to reject women leaders—Catholicism has only ever allowed men into the priesthood and clergy. But there’s something different about a denomination suddenly taking action and purging scores of existing women pastors in the year 2023, because—as one former Southern Baptist leader who left the church over it becoming too “liberal” put it to the Times—allowing women and men to have the same role calls into question whether “the human person is differentiated between two genders.”
This tracks with the broader gender panic that has tightened its grip on the right on the right over the past two years. Republicans suddenly became obsessed with the existence of trans people, even asking a Supreme Court nominee, “What is a woman?”; a senator wrote a book on the supposed crisis of masculinity; a conservative Young Women’s Leadership Summit told teen girls to abandon their career goals and have babies; Candace Owen unironically suggested that women should never have won the right to vote. So it’s no coincidence that the second biggest faith in the country, and the one that’s indoctrinated people on the right with many these beliefs in the first place, would feel emboldened in this moment to take a harder stand against women in its ranks.
If you’ve like to take a closer look at where this ideology is heading and how it plays out in the home, just watch the new documentary about the Duggar family and their religion.