``While men and women are gifted...the office of pastor is limited to men by Scripture,'' said the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., chairman of the statement drafting committee.
The vote was by a show of hands so there was no formal count. However, an overwhelming majority of the 11,000 church representatives--called messengers--at the SBC's two-day annual meeting appeared to have voted for the new statement.
``I'm very sad,'' said the Rev. Martha Phillips, interim pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., where Vice President Al Gore is a member.
``Women ministers are not going to have a place in Southern Baptist life anymore,'' she said in a telephone interview from Arlington. ``I think more churches will leave the convention.''
The Faith and Message statement does not address whether women should be ordained; it addresses only their role as pastors, who lead congregations. About 100 of the the 1,600 or so Southern Baptist clergywomen are leading congregations. The denomination has 15.9 million members and 41,000 local congregations.
However, the statement is not binding on individual Southern Baptists, and local congregations remain free to ordain women and hire them as pastors. Phillips said she hopes to remain pastor of her church.
Women attending a meeting of pastors' wives Tuesday afternoon overwhelmingly supported the statement.
``I don't feel like it's biblical for a woman to be a pastor,'' said Melissa Folds, a pastor's wife from Trenton, Fla.
Margaret Davis, a pastor's wife from Newport News, Va., was a rare voice of dissent: ``I believe if God calls you to pastor, it doesn't matter if you're a man or woman. My husband disagrees.''
The women pastor issue comes on top of a hotly disputed 1998 amendment to the 1963 version of the document, stating that ``a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.'' That was the last straw for an estimated dozen congregations that quit the denomination.
Approval of the men-only clergy clause will probably drive out other congregations, said the Rev. Daniel Vestal of Atlanta, coordinator for a group of 2,000 theologically moderate congregations. Convention officials strongly disagree.
Other changes in the church statement underscore that the Bible is ``totally true'' and God is ``all-powerful and all-knowing,'' 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.
Outside the convention, 100 or so gay and lesbian protesters marched with signs that said ``Stop Spiritual Violence.'' More than two dozen demonstrators were arrested, accused of illegal assembly.
The first to be arrested was the Rev. Ed Harris, 65, a retired Southern Baptist pastor who acknowledged his homosexuality in the 1990s.
Dr. James G. Merritt, 47, pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., as its new president. He promised to make overseas missions, reaching young people and ``soul winning'' his priorities.
``I will lift high the banner of truth found in God's inerrant word,'' said Merritt, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a trustee of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
``We're one of the few denominations to stand strong in the sharp winds of political correctness and to call sin, sin,'' Merritt said.
Merritt said he agrees that only men are called to be pastors.
Robert Parham, executive director of the more moderate Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, said that because of his age, Merritt was not part of the conservative leadership's original takeover of the convention in 1979.
``He will have to prove himself to the aging fundamentalist leadership, (and) my suspicion is that he will aggressively push a right-wing political agenda,'' Parham said.
Southern Baptists also voted Wednesday to support the death penalty.
The capital punishment resolution said the convention's delegates "support the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death."
It cites biblical references forbidding "taking of innocent human life" and affirming the death penalty as appropriate for capital crimes.
"We are saying that they may, not that they must," said Hayes Wicker, chairman of the resolutions committee, of civil courts. He said Southern Baptists did not wish to remain silent in the midst of the current debate on the issue, in which a number of other religious bodies have called for moratoriums and studies on capital punishment.
Wicker, a Naples, Fla., pastor, said the resolution's language notes capital punishment should be used only when there is "clear and overwhelming evidence" of guilt and should not be based on race or class of the guilty person. Wednesday's vote marked the first time the denomination has spoken on capital punishment.