Stores pull magazine honoring female clergy

What was supposed to be an honor – a cover story about a group of successful women pastors – has been tarnished for a Durham nondenominational church leader.

Sheryl Brady, pastor of The River Church, was among four other women pastors on the cover of Gospel Today, a Christian publication based in Atlanta. The article, “Women Pastors: Breaking the Glass Ceiling,” was pulled from the shelves of LifeWay Christian stores because it upset the owner – the Southern Baptist Convention.

The convention believes the position of pastor is for men.

“I respect the theological debate about women in leadership and the Southern Baptist Convention's decision to disagree, but to deny Gospel Today the right to freedom of the press to cover it and discuss it is alarming,” said Brady, 48, who preaches in the Pentecostal tradition of prophesy and healing.

The Detroit native and her husband, Bishop Joby Brady, bought the old Homestead Heights Baptist Church in Durham three years ago and built it to a congregation that draws 800 people on Sundays. They travel widely on the Christian conference and seminar circuit, and grabbed the attention of Gospel Today founder and publisher Teresa Hairston.

Hairston said she was impressed with Brady's dynamism, and decided to feature her in the women pastors lineup.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Hairston, when she learned last month that LifeWay and its 150 stores nationwide was pulling the September/October edition. The chain is a major distributor, but the magazine is still widely available elsewhere.

A spokesman for LifeWay Christian Resources, based in Nashville, said the magazine story was contrary to the Southern Baptist denomination's statement of faith and therefore stores were asked not to promote it. Customers may ask for a copy of it at the counter, said spokesman Rob Phillips.

Southern Baptists have for years opposed women in church leadership roles. In 2000, they made it formal when they amended their statement of faith to say the position of church pastor is only for men. That put the 16-million-member denomination at odds with many mainline Protestant denominations, including a growing segment of Pentecostal denominations, which have ordained women for years.

It also puts the denomination in a peculiar place now that U.S. Sen. John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his presidential running mate. Southern Baptists are among the Republican Party's most loyal constituents, although Palin is a Pentecostal believer, not a Baptist.

“My problem with all this is, how can we have a Sarah Palin running for vice-president and yet Southern Baptists don't think a woman can be preacher?” asked Brody.