A Southern Baptist church that hired a woman as its lead pastor – breaking with the conservative denomination's traditional doctrine – may lose its voting rights at the Tennessee Baptist Convention meetings next week.
First Baptist Church of Jefferson City was deemed by the TBC committee to be 'not a cooperating church' because of its female senior pastor Rev Ellen Di Giosia, according to USA Today.
'It is regrettable when one of our churches makes a decision that results in a broken confessional relationship with our TBC network of churches,' Tennessee Baptist Mission Board President and Executive Director Randy C Davis said last month.
'We appreciate the efforts of all our churches to advance the Gospel together. I have the utmost respect for the long-held Baptist polity of the autonomy of the local church. But I also deeply respect and appreciate the clear convictions expressed by our Committee on Credentials.'
Baptists hold to a tradition of local church freedom from denominational hierarchy, but Southern Baptists also affirm that only men should be allowed to pastor churches.
The Southern Baptist Convention's 'Faith and Message' statement says that 'while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture'. In 2006 the statement was adopted by the TBC, of which First Baptist Church has historically been a part, with voting rights at the annual convention, which is this year held from November 12-15 at First Baptist Church of Hendersonville.
The TBC has now recommended the church's voting rights be suspended, thought the church would still be a part of the convention. First Baptist leaders Di Giosia and Dr John McGraw said they were 'saddened' by the TBC's 'painful' decision, and that it was 'unfortunate that the committee chooses to dismiss us without conversation or consultation.'
They added: 'The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board has the right to choose its partners, just as our congregation has the right to affiliate with whomever we choose...But the number of things on which we agree is vast, and the list of things on which we disagree is very small.'
'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.'
The Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (TCBF) – a group affirming female pastors with which First Baptist also partners – sent a letter of 'love and support' to Di Giosia's church.
'CBF has historically affirmed that God can call a woman to whatever God desires,' said TCBF field coordinator Rick Bennett.
It's unclear what will happen at next week's conference. The TBC isn't expected to unseat or chastise First Baptist 'messengers' if the church doesn't send them. Di Giosia said on Tuesday that she hadn't yet decided whether delegates would be sent, but said she had no interest in starting a 'fight' and hoped TBC partnership could continue.