The Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday adopted a statement on the family that defines marriage in heterosexual terms and calls upon a husband to lead and provide for his family and a wife to "submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband."
The amendment now becomes the 18th article of the "Baptist Faith and Message." The Baptist Faith and Message has not been amended since its adoption in 1963. While not binding on the 15.9 million members of the faith, it is the closest thing the Southern Baptist Convention has to a creed.The statement also defines the start of life as conception.
While no one challenged the heterosexual definition of marriage, the statement that wife is to submit to husband sparked debate.
"It is clear when we amend (the Faith and Message), we should do so scripturally," said the Rev. Kim Owings of Augusta, Ga. He said the article should be based on Ephesians 5:21, which tells husband and wife to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Owings proposed the article be reworded that "Both husband and wife are to submit graciously to each other as servant leaders in the home, even as the church willingly submits to the lordship of Christ."
Anthony Jordan of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and chairman of the committee that proposed the article on the family defended its wording. "We believe the proposed article captures the essential teachings of the Bible regarding family."
Dorothy Patterson, wife of just-elected convention President Paige Patterson and a member of the committee that recommended the article, cited biblical examples of "a clear admonition to wives to obey or submit yourself to your husband." She opposed changing any wording in the article.
The Rev. Craig Sherouse, Lakeland, Fla., countered by saying it is clearly "God's created intent" that men and women be equal. But "when sin entered, hierarchy replaced judgment." Women and men can work toward a mutual partnership, patterned after God's intent, not that "curse" of judgment, he said.
But the majority of "messengers," or delegates, opposed the amended version and by a huge margin voted to retain the admonition that wives submit to their husbands.
While the article says nothing about mothers working outside the home, one of the drafters, Richard Land, director of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said if a husband doesn't want a wife to work she shouldn't.
During a press conference, Land told reporters that under the concept of "servant leadership" outlined in the Bible, a husband would always put his wife and family first. His own wife is a professional counselor, he said, but that doesn't change the personal dynamics of biblical living as outlined by the family statement. The couple came to the decision to have his wife work together.Submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.
Mary Mohler, also part of the committee that drafted the document, said because she believes the Bible to be the "infallible, inerrant and sufficient word of God," she wholeheartedly supports the concept of submission. "Submission is not a politically correct word, but it is a biblically correct word. I will do it because it's a command from God Almighty to me as a Christian woman."
The new article also says "God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society" and defines its composition as "persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption."
Messengers defeated efforts by Dennis Wiles of Huntsville, Ala., to amend the definition of family to include single adults, widows, widowers and childless couples.
Jordan opposed that amendment on the grounds it's "difficult to add all the items you might want to add. The statement includes all of them under related by marriage, blood or adoption."
A reporter's comment that the newly adopted article contained "hot language" drew a laugh from convention president Patterson. "It would only be hot language to someone who happened not to be very familiar with the Bible," he said.
He said the statement was needed because this is a time of "growing crisis in the family" and the Southern Baptist Convention believes that family needs to be defined in biblical terms.