Southern Baptist (and other) women, unite! If ever there were a rallying cry for women of one faith to teach a lesson to their menfolk, it comes this week at the Southern Baptists' annual convention in (of all places) Salt Lake City.

The Baptist Faith and Message - the church's declaration of beliefs - is probably going to be amended at the convention to include a statement on marriage and family that reads, in part, "A husband . . . has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family," while "a wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."It goes on to says the wife has "the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his `helper' in managing her household and nurturing the next generation."

With all due respect to Southern Baptists, they are clearly not the only religious group to treat women in a subservient manner. And there probably are plenty of Southern Baptist women who fall for the idealized vision of a protective husband and a sheltered home and child-centered existence. But that said, this amendment is so degrading and atavistic that it is hard to believe even a group of male devotees could suggest its approval in 1998. Where have these people been hiding for the past 35 years?

The Rev. James Dunn, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, a coalition that promotes religious liberty, criticized the amendment. He told the Washington Post it contains "not a hint of mutual submission," which he calls critical to successful marriages.

The Rev. Virginia Swaim White of Arlington, Va., told the Post the Baptists' concept of wifely submission is "not quite the way I interpret the scriptures." She has abandoned the annual conventions due to the leadership's "right-wing" drift and "rigid" nature, which she says many Baptists avoid because the "spirit of love and concern we felt earlier" no longer exists among church hierarchy.

If the convention wishes to become a very small and select group, it can continue along the path it has chosen. If it wishes to re-integrate wise women (and men) such as Swaim White, it will broaden its extremely narrow views.