Within the nation's largest Protestant denomination, a woman may not lead a church or a home. But prominent Southern Baptists see nothing wrong with Sarah Palin serving as vice president – or perhaps even commander-in-chief someday.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain's selection of the Alaska governor as his running mate – the first female on the party's ticket in history – has thrilled conservative Christians. It also has led Southern Baptist congregations and seminary students to confront their beliefs about the role of women in leadership.
Interpreted from Scripture, the teachings on women are held close in thousands of Southern Baptist Convention churches. Among them: “The office of pastor is limited to men,” and a wife should “submit herself graciously” to her husband. Earlier this month, more than 100 Lifeway Christian Bookstores – a retail chain affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention – pulled from the shelves a magazine featuring five female pastors on the cover.
Yet many in the denomination say the nation's second-highest leadership post is an apple to the pulpit's orange. Palin's potential work in a McCain administration – or even as president in the event of McCain's death – would be separate from her family life with her husband, Todd, and their children.
“There's no disconnect or inconsistency whatsoever,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We don't go beyond where the New Testament goes. Public office is neither a church nor a marriage.”
It's a question that's more than theological. The Southern Baptist Convention, with 42,000 churches and 16 million members, is reliably Republican. President Bush has addressed the denomination's annual meeting several times. And during the 2004 race, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign hosted a reception for Southern Baptist pastors at a hotel across the street from the assembly.