An East Tennessee Southern Baptist church is likely to lose its standing with the Tennessee Baptist Convention over hiring a female senior pastor earlier this year.
At their annual meeting in Hendersonville Sunday through Wednesday, Tennessee Baptists may vote on whether First Baptist Church in Jefferson City can seat “messengers,” or voting representatives, reports the Baptist and Reflector news publication.
The convention’s credentials committee agreed last month that a church with a woman senior pastor cannot be considered a “cooperating church” according to convention bylaws.
“If a church with a woman senior pastor tries to register messengers, the request will be denied, but the decision to seat messengers from the church ultimately will be decided by a vote by messengers,” the Baptist and Reflector reported.
Ellen Di Giosia became the pastor of First Baptist Aug. 1.
“It is regrettable when one of our churches makes a decision that results in a broken confessional relationship with our TBC network of churches,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
First Baptist issued a statement from Di Giosia and deacon chair John McGraw saying they were “saddened” by the position taken by the credentials committee. The statement said the convention “has the right to choose its partners just as our congregation has the right to affiliate with whomever we choose. Baptist principles require it and may it ever be so.” The statement further said:
But the number of things on which we agree is vast and the list of things on which we disagree is very small. It is unfortunate that the committee chooses to dismiss us without conversation or consultation.
We urge Tennessee Baptists to consider the picture this paints for those who have yet to hear the gospel. Our culture is polarized and angry. We have an opportunity to demonstrate a different way of living — one that does not capitulate to the spirit of the age which says that if we do not agree on everything we cannot cooperate on anything. In choosing a different way we believe that together we can be a witness of unity which was Jesus’ desire for His people…
We will continue in mission with other partners and friends as we seek to be faithful to Scripture, believing that ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female’ as we ‘seek to be one in Jesus Christ.’
The biblical passage about there being no male or female in Jesus Christ has become a contentious one as changes in gender roles, homosexuality and transgender identity have become more accepted in the culture, in mainline churches and to some degree even in evangelical churches. Christians who hold to orthodox beliefs say the passage refers to spiritual relationships and that other verses point to God’s intentional design of people as male and female and complimentary gender roles in the home and church.
Jefferson City’s First Baptist is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which does allow women to head churches as pastors.