News Tip: Matters of ‘Enormous Public Interest’ at Southern Baptist Convention

The annual convention begins Tuesday in Birmingham, Alabama. The following Duke Divinity School professors are available to comment.

Curtis Freeman

“As the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) convenes this week in Birmingham, Alabama, messengers will be faced with two matters of enormous public interest,” says Curtis W. Freeman, research professor of theology and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School. “One is the reception of an official report on the denomination’s response to the sexual abuse crisis in its churches. The second is a boiling controversy between an all-male cast of hardline theological conservatives and Beth Moore, a highly popular female Bible teacher on the role of women in the church.”

“The official SBC doctrinal statement requires a woman to graciously submit to the leadership of her husband and limits the office of pastor exclusively to men. While sexual abuse and the place of women may seem unrelated, the two are intertwined in the underlying theological outlook known as ‘complementarianism.’”

“Strict complementarians in the SBC believe that the Bible not only excludes women from ordained leadership, but even prohibits them from speaking in a pulpit during Sunday worship. Yet the submission of women demanded by strict complementarianism has a darker side that fosters a toxic culture of patriarchy, misogyny and abuse.”

“The bottom line is that unless and until the SBC addresses the underlying theological issue of complementarianism that inhibits gender equality it will be unable to deal substantively with either the sexual abuse crisis or any meaningful participation of women in church and society.”

Curtis Freeman, is a research professor of theology and Baptist studies and director of the Baptist House of Studies. He is the author of “A Company of Women Preachers.”

Video interview on different subject:
“Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity”

For additional comment, contact Curtis Freeman at:


Jerusha Neal

"It is no accident that just when the Southern Baptist Convention is facing a sexual abuse crisis, its debate over whether women can be pastors should reemerge. Sexual violence is about power, and over the past year, the brave testimonies of abuse survivors have threated the power of men in SBC leadership,” says Jerusha Neal, an assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School and an ordained American Baptist minister.

“At this year’s annual meeting, delegates will vote on new safeguards against abuse and new measures of accountability to prevent its cover-up. But if the past week is any indication, they will also debate if Beth Moore, the immensely popular Christian speaker, is ‘preaching’ when she teaches the Bible. It’s a threatening idea to many in the church’s leadership. She is a ‘soft complementarian’ -- supporting the idea that men and women have different roles in the church. She has not voiced a desire to pastor. But she has spoken out about her church’s misogyny and her own experience of abuse.”

“The fact that she is being critiqued for ‘preaching’ in the aftermath of her truth-telling speaks volumes about what is at stake in the larger debate. Denying women the pastoral role has long been a way to control women’s speech – and ultimately, to control women themselves. But all the same, women have been preaching since the early days of the Christian church. Theological contortions that deny that fact only speak to its significance."

Professor Jerusha Neal’s research interests focus on postcolonial preaching, and preaching and gender. Neal is an ordained American Baptist minister with broad ecumenical experience, most recently serving as a Global Ministries missionary to the Fiji Islands through the United Methodist Church.

Video interview on different subject:
“Why Preaching Matters”

For additional comment, contact Jerusha Neal at: