Organizers of the Southern Baptist Convention's Pastors' Conference are facing backlash from some SBC pastors who've reportedly threatened to boycott the conference over the inclusion of female teaching pastor and spoken word artist Hosanna Wong in the lineup of featured guests.
Wong is a network associate teaching pastor at the Chula Vista campus of the multisite EastLake Church in the San Diego, California.
She is expected to appear at the conference in her capacity as a spoken word artists but some SBC leaders, such as Sam Bunnell, pastor of worship and discipleship at South Reno Baptist in Nevada, have raised concerns about her planned appearance at the pastors' conference on June 7-8 in advice of the SBC's Annual Meeting that same week in Orlando, Florida.
“The last thing I want to do is sow discord in the body of Christ. And I do not believe I'm doing so. I must, however, question @PastorDavidUth on @SBCPastorsConf including @waynecordeiro & Hosanna Wong. This does not represent the majority of the SBC. We will fight for right,” Bunnell noted in a statement on Twitter.
Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was quick to point out, however, that: “A ‘teaching pastor’ is not the lead pastor. If Phoebe could be entrusted to deliver the Roman epistle to the church at Rome, & the church be told to ‘receive her in the Lord...and assist her,’ ...then the pastors conference can receive Hosanna Wong. Churches are autonomous.”
Michael Frost, a missiologist and theologian who founded the Tinsley Institute at Morling College in Australia asked his nearly 9,000 followers on Twitter to pray for Wong as he outlined efforts by objecting pastors to get Wong removed from the lineup.
“This is Hosanna Wong, the teaching pastor at EastLake Church. She was invited to speak at the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference, but SBC pastors have written a letter of protest, demanding that she repent, and threatening to withhold all funding until she is disinvited. Pray for her,” he said.
Frost also noted in a similar message to his more than 17,000 followers on Facebook that the pastors planned to organize a boycott of the event if Wong isn’t disinvited and it set off a firestorm of comments with many objecting to the negative reaction to Wong.
David Clemons, an instructor at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, argued, however, that the objecting pastors are acting on a valid interpretation of Scripture.
“You can disagree with them, certainly. You can call them sexists. You can call them hypocrites and I’m sure some of them are, but by reading most of the comments on this thread it looks as if there is absolutely no appreciation where they’re coming from.
"They’re not just making this up from thin air. The SBC like many Protestant American denominations are theologically evangelical. I’m sure many of you are aware, one notable trait of evangelicalism is a deep respect for a more literal reading of the scriptures. The key verse these guys are looking to is 1 Timothy 2:12-15,” he wrote in response to Frost’s call.
“True, there are some evangelicals who have female pastors because they interpret this verse a different way but I applaud anyone who sincerely wrestles with the scriptures and seeks to make her or his life conform to them even if I disagree with their interpretation.
"I respect their desire to live their lives in obedience to the Bible. If you’re a person of faith and you have a high regard for the scriptures (I know not everyone is or does. I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to those who do), then disagree with them all you want. Tell them their interpretation of the Bible is wrong, but at least meet them where they are—at a starting place that deeply respects the scriptures,” he added.
Frost argued, however, that seeking to boycott the event over a theological disagreement smacked of sexism and “hard-heartedness.”
“I appreciate where they’re coming from. I have colleagues who agree with them on the interpretation of those passages. But my colleagues know that it is legitimate to hold to the egalitarian position and they would NEVER boycott an event simply because a female teaching pastor was one of the presenters. I think they’ve gone beyond mere complementarianism to hard-heartedness and, yes, sexism,” he replied to Clemons.
Conference president and Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando David Uth told the Baptist Press that the speakers and music performers confirmed for conference have good relationships with his church. He also noted that Wong would not be preaching at the event.
"She's not preaching. She's not coming as a preacher. She's coming as a musical artist,” Uth told the publication.
"My goal, my prayer was that we could open ourselves up to hear from people that maybe were good friends of ours, but not in our Southern Baptist Convention," he said. "I feel like they have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it."
He further explained that his staff is monitoring social media to determine if Wong’s presence at the conference would put her in any danger.
"If we sense that it is going to be an environment that's not going to be helpful to her, or it's going to be in some way hurtful, I would not risk that for anything. She is a precious lady. She and her husband do a great work in San Francisco,” Uth said.
Lawyer, former gymnast and outspoken abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander also threw her support behind Wong in an extended statement on Twitter, in which she called out SBC pastors for treating their position on women in ministry more seriously than sexual abuse.
Popular Bible teacher and author Beth Moore who has come under similar criticism from SBC leaders for being an outspoken woman in ministry also appeared to support Denhollander’s response to the uproar over Wong’s inclusion.
“And then there’s what goes on away from the official table after they whistle for the attack dogs, which, of course, they are doing: relentless social media harassment, bullying, lying about & slandering the woman. It’s so sinful. And all in the name of Scripture,” Moore wrote on Twitter.
“I want nothing more to do with it. But I am going to have a dang hard time staying silent if they look like they are going to put Hosanna through anything similar to what others of us have endured over these people. She’s not preaching at it, for crying out loud,” she added.