Submit to your husband, Southern Baptist wives told Church amends beliefs to include family life

June 10, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination and an increasingly conservative force among American religious organizations, amended its essential statement of beliefs yesterday to include a declaration that a woman should "submit herself graciously" to her husband's leadership and a husband should "provide for, protect and lead his family."

The amendment, a 250-word declaration on family life, was adopted by a show-of-hands vote at the Baptists' annual meeting here as an addition to the denomination's basic theological statement of beliefs, the Baptist Faith and Message Statement.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an attempt to soften the language was soundly turned back.

The amendment ranks as among the most prominent statements on family life by a major religious organization in recent years.

The Southern Baptist denomination claims nearly 16 million members, among them President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

While it says that husband and wife have "equal worth" before God, the choice of words about marital relations also makes it one of the most conservative of such statements.

Paige Patterson, a seminary president from North Carolina who was elected yesterday as the denomination's president, said the amendment was a response to "a time of growing crisis in the family."

He also said that people who found the language of the amendment provocative are those "who happen not to be real familiar with the Bible."

Because the Southern Baptist Convention is a creedless organization, no Baptist is required to agree with the Faith and Message Statement or the current amendment.

But the statement is nonetheless important: It stands as a central theological proclamation for the denomination, and Southern Baptist employees, seminary professors and often ministers are expected to agree with it.

One who criticized the amendment was Robert Parham, executive director of the independent Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.

"They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home," Parham said.

Recent Baptist conventions have passed resolutions that express a sense of the denomination on social issues such as opposition to abortion but have said relatively little about the family.

The Faith and Message Statement is a broad theological statement dealing with God and church and until now has not included social stands. Until yesterday, the message statement had been amended only once, in 1963, when a section on higher education was added.

Amending the statement represents a triumph for the denomination's conservative leadership, which came to power in and has gradually shifted Southern Baptist agencies and seminaries to the right.

Theological moderates have remained within the denomination, but many have started their own seminaries and other institutions, and they have also largely quit coming to the annual conventions.

Yesterday's vote helps reinforce the image of Southern Baptists as staking out some of the most conservative positions among evangelical Protestants, a growing group who account for about a quarter of the American population, according to recent polls.

A year ago, Southern Baptists called for a boycott of the Walt Disney Co., alleging that the entertainment giant condoned homosexuality. In 1996, the annual convention voted to appoint a missionary specifically to evangelize Jews, a move that provoked outrage among Jewish groups.

The amendment was drafted by a seven-member committee drawn from among the denomination's top leaders or their relatives. One of the two women on the committee was Dorothy Patterson, Paige Patterson's wife.

The amendment states that the family is the "foundational institution" of society and is composed of people related by "marriage, blood or adoption." It implicitly rejects divorce, the validity of homosexual unions and abortion.

It says a husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church, and a woman should submit to her husband's "servant leadership" as "the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ." Servant leadership means leading with humility.

The wife, the amendment says, "has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his 'helper' in managing their household and nurturing the next generation."

The vote to adopt the amendment may also have had a geographic significance as well.

This week's convention is the first Southern Baptists have ever held in Salt Lake City, headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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