During its annual meeting Tuesday, the Tennessee Baptist Convention voted to turn away representatives from an East Tennessee Southern Baptist church that recently hired a female senior pastor, effectively ending its ties with the church.
The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the decision to not seat “messengers,” or voting representatives, according to the Baptist and Reflector news outlet.
The convention is meeting through today in Hendersonville. Tuesday’s vote confirmed a finding last month by the credentials committee that a church with a woman senior pastor cannot be considered a “cooperating church” according to convention bylaws. Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Ellen Di Giosia has been in her position as senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City since Aug. 1. She and six other representatives from the church attempted to register in person for the annual meeting.
During a discussion before the vote, a few people spoke in support of Di Giosia and First Baptist.
Tambi Swiney, a female associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist in Nashville who works under a male senior pastor, said the Jefferson City church “has a long legacy of faithful service to God.” Kelly Moreland-Jones, a representative from First Baptist Church in Nashville, said, “Did Jesus tell you not to seat the messengers?” She spoke of soul competency, the priesthood of the believer and local church autonomy and said, “We trust God to call pastors of churches.”
However, others who spoke said the Tennessee Baptist Convention needed to be faithful to the Bible. “Compromising the gospel is destructive to our cause,” said Chris King of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Winchester.
Di Giosia gave a statement to the media that said the vote means her church is no longer part of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The statement said:
While the outcome saddens us, it is fair to say that we are not surprised. Our congregation’s long-held position that God calls all people into service regardless of gender has not always been received well, even by some brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been heartened, however, by a tremendous outpouring of support we have received from Christians, both Baptist and non-Baptist, from Tennessee and around the country in recent weeks…
We will still serve our community and partner with those who further the work of God’s kingdom throughout the world. We will still proclaim the name of Jesus to the best of our abilities.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, told the media that Di Giosia is “a good and godly sister in Christ. There was just a theological difference in how we interpret Scripture that relates to the female being the senior pastor of a local church.” He said he hopes the convention has sent a message that “we are going to be committed to Scripture and that in spite of how others may interpret this action, it is very important that we have some anchors and that we have a belief system that is tied to Scripture.”
Jefferson City’s First Baptist Church is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which allows female senior pastors.
Mainline Protestant denominations now allow women to be senior pastors, but most evangelical churches continue to limit all pastoral positions or the role of senior pastor to men. Catholics also continue to require priests to be men.