Once a Sunday school teacher in Raleigh, the Rev. Billy Graham'sdaughter has become a symbol of a women's revival movement. But bowing to the beliefs of the more than 15-million strong Southern BaptistConvention, she's careful to refer to herself as a "Bible expositor," asopposed to a preacher.
Still, the popularity of Lotz, and a handful of female evangelicalleaders like her, is putting church dictums to the test, as tens ofthousands of women from Nashville to Minneapolis flock to theirrevival tours.
Amid this surge of feminine power, the Southern Baptist Convention--thelargest Protestant denomination in America--is poised to formally barwomen from the pulpit when it holds its annual meeting, beginning Tuesday in Orlando.
"These female evangelists are coming into their own in a group that'sbeen traditionally ambivalent about women leaders," says Mickey Maudlin,a writer at Christianity Today magazine. "This trend has been evolvingfor years, but it's now taking that next step."
The popularity of Lotz, who has launched a world revival tour that isfilling 25,000-seat arenas, has emerged as one of the biggest challengesto the prohibition of women preachers.
Though she maintains she has no interest in being ordained as aminister, the idea of a powerful woman preaching the Bible has in thepast spurred men to literally turn their backs on her. And it irked manymale evangelicals that she was named last year by The New York Times asone of five possible candidates to take over her father's mantle.
Lotz is the best known of a growing number of female evangelists acrossthe U.S. Texas evangelist Beth Moore, whose women's Bible studies coursefocuses on "magic, romantic, and majestic" Bible interpretation, is alsotouring extensively.
And Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Kay Arthur encourages practitioners of hernondenominational approach to interpret the Bible for themselves.
Vital in Baptist churches for decades, women's ministries have in manyplaces gone from small midweek meetings to Bible studies that drawthousands. In the past decade, for example, attendance at Lotz's homemissionary in Raleigh has gone from 300 to 3,000.
"There's a large and growing contingent of very significant and vitalministries by and for women," says Danny Akin, a dean at the SouthernBaptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "We're very understanding ofteaching ministries of an Anne Graham Lotz or a Beth Moore, and, at thesame time, when it comes to leadership positions in local churches andin the home, we see that God still calls men to that."
The decision would prohibit future ordination and would not affect thestatus of the roughly 100 Southern Baptist women who currently leadcongregations. It comes two years after the convention formallyinstructed Baptist women to submit graciously to their husbands'leadership. Patriarchs within the church say their decision to bar womenfrom the pulpit is not a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, they see women inleadership roles as a "novelty" that does not jibe with a strictinterpretation of the Bible.
Those beliefs have caused some congregations, such as those affiliatedwith the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, to distance themselves from theconvention. Other Protestant denominations have allowed women to beordained as ministers for decades. Such concessions admit that "culturemakes the church, instead of the church the culture," Mr. Akin contends.
Indeed, the decision to put its foot down on a feminist movement manysee as threatening Christian lifestyles is not "so much of a backlash asa proactive statement," says Akin.
"It's to state clearly, this is who we are, this is what the Bibleteaches and has always taught. We're delighted to take a stand and makeknown this is where we are and what we believe."
Lotz herself has agreed that "God has closed the door" on ordination forwomen. She recently told 3,500 women in Raleigh that, "When people havea problem with women in the ministry, they need to take it up withJesus."
The growth in popularity of women evangelists has risen in an age inwhich people are less interested in being identified with a specificreligious denomination. Age, too, appears to be part of it, as Americansunder 40 seem to be more ready to accept women as church leaders.
"If you went to one of her rallies, you'd see singing and preaching,lifting hands, people giving evidence of certain charismatic expressionsof spirit that are becoming the new ecumenism, where you're seeing thecooperation of a variety of denominations in a unified action," saysBill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School in Winston-Salem,N.C., which was established by moderate Baptists.