ORLANDO, Fla. — Risking a wider split in the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention declared Wednesday that women should no longer serve as pastors.
The statement of faith is not binding on congregations, so the effect on the Southern Baptists' 1,600 or so clergywomen--about 100 of whom are pastors leading congregations--is unclear.
But some members warned that congregations will quit the 15.9-million-member denomination over the issue, just as some did when the Southern Baptists declared two years ago that wives should "submit graciously" to their husbands.
"I'm very sad. Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore," said the Rev. Martha Phillips, interim pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., where Vice President Al Gore is a member. "I think more churches will leave."
The revised Faith and Message statement was approved in a show of hands by the thousands of delegates at the denomination's annual meeting.
It includes a passage that reads: "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The previous statement, dating to 1963, was silent on the issue.
"Southern Baptists, by practice as well as conviction, believe leadership is male," said the Rev. Adrian Rogers, chairman of the drafting committee.
The new statement does not address whether women should be ordained, something the Southern Baptists have done since at least 1964; it addresses only their role as pastors, who lead congregations.
Individual Southern Baptists and the faith's 42,000 congregations would remain free to ordain women and hire them as pastors.
"If you are a Baptist, as long as there are congregations who have the courage to follow the will of God, there will be a place for woman pastors," said the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, who heads the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.
The Southern Baptists' passage of the statement continues a rightward shift in recent years that has included a boycott of Walt Disney Co. over its "gay-friendly" policies and a 1998 statement declaring that "a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." That was the last straw for about a dozen congregations that quit the denomination.
Approval of the men-only pastor clause will probably drive out more congregations, agreed the Rev. Daniel Vestal of Atlanta, coordinator for a group of 2,000 theologically moderate congregations.
The newly elected president of the Southern Baptists, James G. Merritt, a 47-year-old from Snellville, Ga., said: "I don't fear a split. I don't even fear a splinter."
Merritt is a trustee of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Other statement changes underscore that the Bible is "totally true" and insist that "there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord." It also urges Christians to oppose racism and reject abortion and homosexuality.
The convention also approved a resolution supporting capital punishment and said the Boy Scouts of America have the right to reject gay members.
Outside the convention, 100 or so gay protesters marched.