Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders have lobbied for female leadership in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for about a year now, most recently throwing out the name of Beth Moore as a possible president of the convention. Most recently, however, SBC leaders are lobbying for a female to have authority in the denomination’s most prominent teaching function.
LifeWay Christian Resources, which was called the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board from 1891 to 1998, is the denomination’s publishing arm that is responsible for crafting, drafting, and publishing teaching material for SBC Sunday Schools, small groups, and Bible studies. The president of LifeWay is chosen by trustees, and is entrusted with overseeing the process of vetting teaching material and deciding what material to sell in its online retailing.
There is perhaps no position in the SBC as doctrinally influential as the president of LifeWay (which explains why the SBC is in theological shambles). Neither the president of the SBC nor the president of the SBC executive board have as much influence over what is taught in SBC churches as the president of LifeWay.
Former SBC president, Steve Gaines, floated the idea of a female leader for the teaching entity:
Gaines served as president of the convention for two terms, prior to the election of JD Greear. Russell Moore, who ‘amened’ his suggestion, is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC.
The Bible, of course, forbids women from positions of teaching authority in the church (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34). Southern Baptists take a complementarian stance (regarding the different roles of men and women) in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which is their official doctrinal statement. However, proponents of women leading the Southern Baptist denomination argue that these passages merely prohibit women from serving as pastors – or in some cases, only lead pastors or “preaching pastors.”
Nonetheless, the idea of a female running a Southern Baptist entity besides the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) has never been suggested since conservatives won the Conservative Resurgence. This is a new idea for today’s SBC and one that is growing quickly.
LifeWay has promoted female pastors and preachers through their retail division for years, so it should come as no shock that they would be fine with a woman in such a powerful teaching position within the denomination.