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The Future of Feminism in American Evangelicalism: Southern Baptist Battles as a Case Study

The following are conference details for the Roundtable Discussion where I’m a presenter later this week. This same group of scholars presented in January of 2012 at the American Church History Society meeting in Chicago, IL.
Watch for a follow-up blog about the session.

33rd Annual Conference Oakland, California
November 8-11 2012
Oakland Marriott City Center, Oakland, CA

General Conference
Theme 1: Revolutionary Futures

Schedule Information:

Scheduled Time: Sat, Nov 10 – 12:50pm – 2:05pm
Building/Room: Oakland Marriott, Grand Ballroom G
Title: The Future of Feminism in American Evangelicalism: Southern Baptist Battles as a Case Study

Session Participants:
Moderator: Kryn Freehling-Burton (Oregon State University)
Moderator: Susan Shaw (Oregon State University)
Moderator: Elizabeth Flowers (Texas Christian University)
Moderator: Eileen Campbell-Reed (Luther Seminary)
Moderator: Karen Seat (University of Arizona)

As the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention exerts enormous political influence, especially in the South. For the past three decades the nature and role of women have been bitterly contested in the denomination. Despite prevailing religious conservatism, feminism has been a significant dynamic in Baptist battles and has influenced even conservative rhetoric about women. In this roundtable, feminist scholars of American religion raise such issues as women’s ordination, “women’s studies” in fundamentalist seminaries, “complementarianism,” LGBT Baptists, “progressive” wings that split from the Convention, and missions and neocolonialism to assess the future of feminism among Southern Baptists.


In recent years, a number of feminist scholars have turned their analysis toward women in conservative and evangelical churches (Bendroth 1993; Griffith 1997; Brasher 1998; Manning 1999; Ingersoll 2003; Flowers 2012). They have, on the whole, found that conservative women’s understandings and practices of gender are much more complicated and conflicted than they may seem on the surface. Southern Baptists, as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, present a particularly important opportunity for feminist analysis because of the tremendous political influence they exert, especially in the deep South (Flowers 2012). As the feminist scholars on this roundtable assert in their own work, feminism has been an active dynamic in Southern Baptist life and played a central role in the Baptist battles of the 1980s and 90s. Parts of the “progressive” wings that split from the Southern Baptist Convention claim openness to feminism. Conservatives who now control the Convention are also influenced by feminism as evidenced in certain rhetoric around issues such as “ontological equality” and “women’s studies” in the seminaries. While most Southern Baptist women reject “feminist” as a label, they do support (primarily liberal) feminist concerns such as equal pay, equal opportunity, and safety from sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Because of the significant role of Southern Baptists in shaping public policy, feminist analysis of the Convention is important. This roundtable seeks to explore a wide range of women’s and gender issues in the Convention and offer an assessment of the possibilities for feminism’s future among Southern Baptists.