Two area ministers have been expelled from the Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington D.C. and Vicinity for refusing to apologize to the fellowship after they participated in a woman's ordination.
The Rev. Bernard Reid of Johenning Baptist Church in Anacostia and the Rev. James Russell of Occoquan first came under attack by the fellowship of mostly black ministers for allegedly violating the group's constitution by participating in a "clandestine ordination" in Virgina last May.
The conference is an organization of approximately 450 Baptist ministers, most of them black, who often traded pulpits and sometimes cooperate on community issues. The group also is called on to approve some prospective Baptist seminarians for ordination.
"'Clandestine ordination' has become a code word for women's ordination," said Reid, who is considering taking the case to court on grounds that his expulsion was against the group's constitution. "I'm not interested in being readmitted," Reid said. "I just want to prove a point."
Russell, the second minister involved, refused to comment on his expulsion.
The conference president, the Rev. Carey E. Pointer Sr., denied that sex was the sole issue for declaring the ordination clandestine. An ordination is clandestine, according to Pointer, when it is approved by a council of conference members who are not representative of the entire conference. Pointer has charged that in this case the council was "stacked" with clergymen from the Baptist General Conference of Virginia who support women's ordination "even though I know most ministers in that conference are not in favor of women's ordination." The Virginia conference is distinct from the Washngton conference.
Although Pointer said he opposes women in the ministry, "there is nothing in our constitution which prohibits the ordination of women." Pointer said he could not recall a woman ever being approved for ordination by the Washington conference. Women have been ordained in conferences in other areas, including Baltimore, however.
Reid and at least one other member, who requested anonymity, contend that sex is the issue. "There are men's clandestine ordinations all the time but they have never asked anyone to apologize for attending the clandestine ordination of a man," said Reid. The ordination in question was that of Doris Wyatt Ashton last May 16 at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria. Ashton is a cum laude graduate of Virginia Union Theological Seminary in Richmond.
"I think it was one of the most courageous things I ever did," Reid said, "When they demanded that I apologize, I told them I'm not going to eat crow and shame our women like this.
"Black Baptists have been in the vanguard of civil rights and all kinds of other rights, but when it comes to black women -- who paid for our churches, bought our pews, our Cadillacs and put the clothes on our backs -- we want to keep them in the kitchen."
Reid said his ouster would not hurt his standing in his own church but "my reputation in the community will be somewhat damaged now and I'll rarely be invited to exchange pulpits in the community again."
Exchanging pulpits or preaching at neighboring churches is considered to be prestigious in black Baptist circles and an important way to gain community esteem, according to Pointer.
In 1974 the conference ousted five ministers on the same charges; three were later readmitted after apologizing to the conference, according to Pointer.