Anatomy of a Schism

What would happen if the lives of five Baptist clergywomen were set at the center of a conversation about changes to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the last four decades? Author, researcher, and Central Tennessee professor of practical theology, Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed does just this. She argues for a new psychological and theological interpretation of the Baptist schism that emerges from the women’s stories.

On Sunday, May 15, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., in Harambee Auditorium at Scarritt Bennett Center, Campbell-Reed will tell the stories of clergywomen, and make a case for a new interpretation of the Southern Baptist schism, to Belmont religion professor, Dr. Judy Skeen. Skeen will interview the author and host an audience Q&A. The newly released Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen’s Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be available for sale by Parnassus Books. The author will sign copies as well.

Pastoral theologian, Dr. Mary Clark Moschella, Yale Divinity School, says about Anatomy of a Schism, “Campbell-Reed’s book is unique. No other book that I am aware of takes on the study of historical events in the life of an ecclesiastical body and wrests meaning from them, privileging the voices of a silenced group, in such careful fashion.”

From 1979 to 2000, the SBC was mired in conflict, with the biblicist and autonomist parties fighting openly for control. This highly polarizing struggle ended in a schism that created major changes within the SBC and also resulted in the formation of several new Baptist groups, including the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Discussions of the schism, academic and otherwise, generally ignore the church’s clergywomen for the roles they played and the contributions they made to the split of South’s largest religious body. Ordained women are typically treated as a contentious issue between the parties. Only recently are scholars, such as Campbell-Reed, taking seriously these women’s contributions and interpretations as active participants in the struggle.

In Anatomy of a Schism Campbell-Reed brings her unique perspective as a practical theologian in conducting qualitative interviews with five Baptist clergywomen and allowing their narratives to focus attention on both psychological and theological issues of the split.

The stories she uncovers offer a compelling new structure for understanding the path of Southern Baptists at the close of the twentieth century. The narratives of Anna, Martha, Joanna, Rebecca, and Chloe reframe the story of Southern Baptists and reinterpret the rupture and realignment in broad and significant ways. Together they offer an understanding of the schism from three interdisciplinary perspectives—gendered, psychological, and theological—not previously available together. In conversation with other historical events and documents, the women’s narratives collaborate to provide specific perspectives with universal implications for understanding changes in Baptist life over the last four decades.

The schism’s outcomes held profound consequences for Baptist individuals and communities. Anatomy of Schism is an illuminating ethnographic and qualitative study sure to be indispensable to scholars of theology, history, and women’s studies alike.

Dr. Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Seminary, Shawnee Kansas, and a pioneer among ordained Southern Baptist women, was ousted from her teaching post at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in 1995. Marshall says of Campbell-Reed’s new interpretation in Anatomy of a Schism, “Her focus on the dynamics of gender is profound, and this significant work can guide and empower women as continuing agents of transformation. Dr. Campbell-Reed rightly notes the creativity of these and other women in renegotiating their social role, especially as they reframed what constitutes leadership. Rather than simply being seen as a chief ‘cause’ of the fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention, clergywomen were catalytic in new biblical interpretation, theological construction, and renewal of ministry identity.”

Campbell-Reed is associate professor of practical theology at Central Tennessee, in Nashville, and co-director of the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, a longitudinal study of ministry. She is the author of Being Baptist: A Resource for Individual and Group Study and numerous articles about women in ministry.

Sponsors of the book release event on May 15, are Central Tennessee, Scarritt Bennett Center, and Nashville bookseller, Parnassus Books. Doors open at 2:00 p.m. Refreshments will be available, and Skeen’s interview of the author will begin at 2:30 p.m.