The Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board has decided to no longer endorse ordained women chaplains. The action, taken at a trustee meeting Feb. 6, reflects another adaptation of denominational policy following revisions of the faith statement of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

"The Chaplains Commission has not required or considered ordination in the endorsement of chaplains in the past," said a statement from the trustees. "However, in the future we will refrain from endorsing ordained women to the office of chaplain. We recognize ordination as a local church action, but endorsement and its requirement is the action of a national agency."

The trustee board oversees the work of the Chaplains Commission, which endorses chaplains to work in such areas as prisons, hospitals and businesses. Mission Board spokesman Martin King said 2,600 chaplains are endorsed by the denomination, including 235 women. Ninety-four of those women are ordained.

King said the decision "applies to future endorsements." He said the matter was discussed at several meetings after a delegate attending the June 2001 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention made a motion that the issue be reconsidered in light of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. That version of the faith statement states that "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The trustees also cited a 1984 resolution that opposed women's ordination. They affirmed that women can serve in areas of ministry, including chaplaincies, without ordination and said they will legally defend women chaplains who are denied the right to serve as a chaplain by any institution "because of their religious conviction concerning ordination."

The Rev. Karen Massey, president of Baptist Women in Ministry, predicted the board's decision will lead women to seek endorsement from other agencies, such as the American Baptist Churches, USA, or Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which are both more theologically liberal than the Southern Baptist Convention's leadership. "I think there will be a lot of women who will exit," she said.

Since there are relatively few women pastors in the denomination, Massey said chaplaincies have been one of the main career opportunities for ordained Southern Baptist women until this decision. The group estimated in 2000 that there were just under 100 women serving as pastors or co-pastors in Southern Baptist churches. "Eventually ... there will be no women in Southern Baptist life who are ordained," Massey said.

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