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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Al Mohler, FBC Decatur, and Julie Pennington-Russell

"Gay-baby curing" Al Mohler is the recipient of the highly prestigious Quote of the Day...

Mohler recently wrote...
A look at Julie Pennington-Russell's education, experience, and related qualifications would appear to qualify her for a major pulpit . . . except for the fact that she is a woman.
Yuck. Too bad the 1984 Al Mohler who took out an ad in the Louisville-Courier in support of women in ministry is long gone...

Mohler concludes....

Would the election of Julie Pennington-Russell as pastor of this church make history? Of course it will. This development would set a precedent that, until now, has eluded those pressing for women in major pulpits. First Baptist Church, Decatur, is in the heart of the South, has a proud place in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, and can claim a legacy of prominent pastors. For a church of this stature to call a woman as senior minister is undeniably historic.

What does this mean? Only time will tell. Advocates for women as pastors will hope to see this precedent followed in other historic moderate pulpits. Any number of factors may play into this equation, including a generational shift and a relatively small number of male seminary graduates from moderate schools headed for the pastorate.

One prediction is an almost certain -- Julie Pennington-Russell will quickly become one of the most prominent leaders among moderate and liberal Baptists.

One additional development is just as certain. This move increases the visible distance between the Southern Baptist Convention and the constellation of moderate Baptist organizations disaffected from the denomination. The distance is theological, cultural, ideological -- and growing.

The Decatur church is set to vote on Pennington-Russell as Senior Minister on June 17. By all accounts, the church is indeed set to make a statement -- and to make history. The distance between those who hold to different positions on the question of women in the pulpit is most evident in the fact that while some will see this move as a triumph, others will see it as tragedy.

Read the entire article here.

Al must not pay close attention to moderate Baptist life anymore. Julie Pennington-Russell is and has been a prominent leader in moderate Baptist life for quite some time. Weeks before being called to FBC Decatur, Pastor Julie was named as a speaker at the upcoming Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant. That's kinda a big deal, Al.

This is much ado about nothing. Through its involvement with the CBF, FBC Decatur has been preaching for years that God actually does call women to preach and pastor. So, how big of a statement is Decatur making now that they've been given an opportunity to practice what they preach?

Oh well.

To me at least, Al Mohler's recent quote is the real tragedy.

Next time he's in the ATL, maybe Brother Al should stop by Decatur for an hour of worship and high quality preaching.....might do him some good.

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Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Another thing that's a tragedy is that it's only the size and age of this church--the prominence of the pulpit--that impresses Mohler. My pastor, Cindy Weber, has been pastor of Jeff Street Baptist Community @ Liberty since before Mohler started his Ph.D. studies, but that doesn't mean anything to him. Nancy Hastings Sehested was pastor of Prescott Memorial BC in Memphis in the '80s, which then called a Second woman, Martha Brahm, when she left. April Baker and Amy Mears are co-pastors of Glendale BC in Nashville. Mary Wilson is pastor of Church of the Savior, Cedar Park, TX; Laura Fregin is pastor of CityChurch, Dallas; Kathy Fuson Hurt is pastor of FBC Granville, OH; Kim Keether Ball is pastor of University BC, Columbus, OH; Nancy Petty is co-pastor of Pullen Memorial BC in Raleigh, NC (a more storied pulpit than any yet); Amy Jacks Dean is co-pastor of Park Rd. BC, Charlotte; Susan Sparks is pastor of Madison Avenue BC, NYC (American Baptist); Karen Senegal, Pastor of Judson Memorial Church, NYC (ABC); Rene Colson Hudson, pastor of FBC Moorestown, NJ (ABC), Ashley Wiest-Laird, former Baptist chaplain at Harvard is pastor of FBC Jamaica Plain, MA; Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary BC, Washington, D.C.--on an on it goes.
Several of these women have preached at the American Baptist bienniel or the Alliance of Baptists Convocation or the CBF, etc.

But the only thing that impresses Mohler is size of the pulpit that is calling Julie Pennington-Russell. He must have steeple envy.

8:18 PM

Anonymous Nathan Finn said...


To be fair, I do no think Dr. Mohler is focusing on the size of the church so much as he is noting that FBC Decatur is an historic SBC congregation with a notable past within the denomination. Of the (former) SBC churches you mention, the only one that is genuinely historic is Pullen, which is historic for being probably the most progressive church in the SBC during most of the 20th century. Prescott Memorial is now considered historic, but only because of Sehested. Calvary is reasonably historic, but has always identified more with the ABC than the SBC, like most Baptist churches in DC.

Mohler's point is that FBC Decatur is an historic church that is about to call a woman pastor, not merely a church that is making history by calling a female pastor (like Prescott Memorial). Decatur will be the most historic church that is not definitively liberal (like Pullen) to call a female pastor. It is an historic church that is making history.


8:41 AM

Blogger Dan Trabue said...

"Of the (former) SBC churches you mention, the only one that is genuinely historic is Pullen, which is historic for being probably the most progressive church in the SBC during most of the 20th century."

What defines "historic?" Jeff St - where Michael and I attend - has had multiple books written about or referencing it and its illustrious 100+ year history (see here, here or here. We had Henlee Barnette as an early leader and he was introduced to the church by none other than Clarence Jordan.

How does one get in the Historic Club?

9:04 AM

Anonymous Nathan Finn said...


I am not saying that all of the churches do not have history, even significant history. Nor am I saying that nobody has ever heard of the other churches. What I am saying is that some churches have been more widely known because of key leaders, issues, or controversies than other churches.

Jeff Street is a well-known church within progressive Baptist circles because of some of the very things that you mention. Progressives are familiar with the church. Baptist historians are familiar with the church. Louisvillians are familiar with Jeff Street. But most Southern Baptists (to step back a few years) never heard of Jeff Street. But they did know about Pullen, and later Prescott. And that's my point.

That said, I concede that I am using "historic" as somewhat synonymous with a combination of "old" and "well-known," so your point is well taken.


9:35 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I do hope Julie shakes up things at FBC Decatur. When I lived in Atlanta in '84, I attended a few times. A more boring, middle class, insulated congregation would've been hard to find.

I quickly found a home at Oakhurst BC in Decatur. Nancy Hastings Sehested was Assoc. Pastor at the time and her husband, Ken, was helping to form the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

I guess I am less impressed with a church's size, age, influence, etc. and more impressed with whether or not it has a holistic gospel and is doing empowering things for the Kingdom. I am suspicious of large churches because I think people are not meant to worship in anonymity and it is difficult to practice "life together" in a large church.
A church that grows larger than someone can reasonably know 3/4 of the members should voluntarily split and start a mission.

12:01 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

BTW, why is it that people feel compelled to refer to Al Mohler as "Dr. Mohler?" Yes, he has a Ph.D. (I wasn't impressed with his dissertation because it didn't make an original contribution to knowledge--just rehashed things already done.) So do I. So do many. But people don't go around referring to me as "Dr." and thinking this gives me some kind of magic spell on my opinions (thank God).

12:04 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Well, if Mohler wasn't Mohler, I'd likely call him Doctor.

I typically refer to most folks with doctorates as Dr. Parham or Dr. Prescott, etc. Though if we chit chat often, I'll likely drop the Doctor.

Nathan and I are South Georgia boys - though Finn's getting old. It's my nature. Yes mam. No mam. Yes sir. No sir. Everyone is a Mr. or Mrs. or Dr.

1:47 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Umm. I like Southern politeness, but I remember Baptists as being folk who disliked titles. My home pastor would not let himself be called "Rev." He was Mr. Rice or Brother Rice.

When I finished my dissertation, Frank Tupper, one of my teachers but not on my dissertation committee, said that everyone who makes it through the Ph.D. process ought to be called "Doctor" for a week--and then forget about it. I took that seriously.

3:17 PM

Anonymous Nathan Finn said...


I am a Southern Baptist, so I was trying to show respect for one of my agency heads (and my former seminary president). I was raised right. :-)

But I don't care much for titles myself, especially "Rev." I would rather be a Mr. (even though I am way too young for that) than a Rev. any day of the week.


4:54 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

How about "right Reverend," Nathan?

For the record, I don't want to be referred to as "Doctor" ever. Anyone who does that will be forced to read my dissertation.

7:01 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Another thing occurs to me: Mohler says that FBC Decatur's hiring of Julie Pennington-Russell shows that "moderate" Baptists are growing farther apart from the SBC. I want to ask, "Who moved?" When I read blogs by Southern Baptists or news from the SBC, now, it seems to me that even the dissidents are MUCH more right wing than the center was in the '70s and '80s.
CBF congregations may be moving slightly "left" and Alliance of Baptists congregations somewhat more so, but SBC congregations and the SBC bureacracy are moving "right" at a far quicker pace--and I think they are failing to take the nation with them. The SBC is still large, but it is greying and sentiments like Mohler is expressing show that it is in danger of becoming culturally isolated and, perhaps soon, even irrelevant.

7:23 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


Yea, most mods haven't moved one iota.

Influential CBF congregations have moved slightly left, I guess. But look, JPR is leaving a church that doesn't give a penny to the SBC (I'm 99% sure about that) for a more influential CBF congregation that gives 20% to the SBC. If 20% goes to the SBC (by individual's choice) - how far to the left could an influential church like Decatur have moved?

More or less, CBF churches are stuck in the middle with the CBF trying to stay healthy - which isn't the easiest task.

Mohler's line...

A look at Julie Pennington-Russell's education, experience, and related qualifications would appear to qualify her for a major pulpit . . . except for the fact that she is a woman.

..just pisses me off. The way he says it - arrogance just drips from his elitist lips. I'm glad in my corner of Baptist life, this isn't an issue. Hopefully, other CBF churches will follow Decatur's lead and practice what they've been preaching. Because there is a generation of mid-20's MDiv grads from these new CBF-affiliated seminaries who are women that have been called to preach...

If churches doesn't open their doors, these women will leave the Baptist tradition or should leave to find a pulpit.

10:19 AM

Blogger Phil K. said...

At the risk of drunk driving this thing right off the road, is there something to be said for Moderate BCs in Texas? A large chunk of progressively moderate-to-liberal BCs give their monies to not only AofB and CBF but also Bapt. Gen. Conv. of Texas. I'd say BGCT is still walking down the middle of road, taking money from anyone who'll let go of it. Does the SBC only acknowledge the SBTs of the world? Or..how hard-line do you have to be to stay in with the SBC?

11:44 AM

Anonymous Jeanette said...

Has Al Mohler met Julie or talked to her? I have. I have known her for years and have the seen the fruit of her ministry. Doesn't the Bible also say we will know them by their fruit? There is no doubt that Julie's fruit is God blessed. I believe that opinions need to be based on personal experience as well.

5:46 PM


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