Former Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism on Sunday for his evasive answers on whether he supported the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision to expel churches that have women pastors.
Pence, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “women ministers have had a big impact” on his family, but refused to say if he agreed with the denomination’s move to oust five churches that had “a female functioning in the office of pastor.”
“I support the right of any faith to guide their policies according to the dictates of their conscience,” Pence said, dodging the question.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to uphold earlier decisions to expel the churches during their annual meeting in New Orleans. The convention’s 2000 statement of faith, called Baptist Faith and Message, asserts that only qualified men can serve as pastors.
The vote was seen as a sign of the conservative direction of the denomination, which has been embroiled in controversies over race, gender and sexual abuse in recent years. According to The New York Times, there may be up to 2,000 women acting as Southern Baptist pastors, and many of them are Black women.
One of the expelled churches, Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky, has had a woman pastor, Rev. Linda Popham, for more than three decades. She appealed to the convention to reconsider their decision, arguing that women should be allowed to serve as pastors and that her congregation adhered to an earlier version of the Baptist Faith and Message, adopted in 1963, that does not exclude women from holding the office of pastor.
“We have a faith and practice that identifies more closely with the Baptist Faith and Message than many other Southern Baptist churches, and I am personally more conservative than the most Southern Baptist pastors I know,” Popham said.
But her appeal was rejected by prominent SBC theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler, who argued that the Bible restricts the role of pastor to men only.
“The issue of women serving in the pastorate is an issue of fundamental Biblical authority that does violate both the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler said.
Pence’s reluctance to defend women pastors drew backlash from critics who accused him of pandering to his conservative base and ignoring the rights of women. Pence has a history of treating women as secondary citizens and associating with controversial evangelical ministers. In 2002, he told The Hill that he would never dine alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, and he once said that Disney’s Mulan was a propaganda film that promoted “women in the military, bad idea.”
Pence also has a clear anti-abortion agenda. As governor of Indiana, he signed every anti-abortion bill he could—including one in 2016 that mandated miscarried or aborted fetuses receive funerary services such as burial or cremation. That bill was blocked by a federal judge, but Pence has since made it clear that he will not rest until abortion is outlawed in every state.
“Religious freedom” is the perfect excuse for conservative bigotry,” wrote Ruth Murai, a research editor at Mother Jones, in an article titled “Mike Pence Refuses to Defend Women Pastors in Southern Baptist Churches.”
The article also noted that Pence’s stance on women pastors could hurt his chances of winning over female voters in 2024, especially after his former boss, former President Donald Trump, lost ground among suburban women in 2020.
“Women are not going to stand for this kind of discrimination and disrespect,” Murai wrote. “And neither should anyone else.”
– Mike Pence Refuses to Defend Women Pastors in Southern Baptist Churches — “Religious freedom” is the perfect excuse for conservative bigotry., Mother Jones, June 18, 2023
– Pence dodges on whether to expel Southern Baptist churches led by women pastors, NBC News, June 18, 2023
– Influential Southern Baptists Compare 2024 GOP Presidential Candidates, Patch, June 7, 2023
– Southern Baptists uphold expulsion churches with women pastors, NPR, June 14, 2023