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Anne Graham Lotz on Women in the Pulpit: ‘I Just Have to Follow the Lord’

By Adelle Banks
Anne Graham Lotz speaks at Second Baptist Church in Houston over Mother’s Day weekend. (Photo via Facebook)

After speaking at Houston’s Second Baptist Church on Mother’s Day, Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz got an email from one of the congregation’s 83,000 members.

“He said that morning, during the message, he was revived and brought back to the Lord, in confession of sin and repentance and just a recommitment to love and serve the Lord,” recalled Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. “And that was a man on Mother’s Day, with a woman in the pulpit.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, which Second Baptist affiliates with, has been roiled lately by the question of when, where and to whom women may preach the gospel. The same weekend that Lotz spoke in Houston, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California ordained three women, disappointing some in the SBC and delighting others.

But Lotz, who once belonged to an SBC congregation but no longer attends an affiliated church, said her focus, as it has been for decades, is not on being a woman in ministry.

“If people get all weirded out by the fact that I’m a woman in the pulpit when men are in the audience,” she said, “I just respect them but I agree to disagree, and I just have to follow the Lord and what he’s called me to do.”

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Lotz, 73 and a breast cancer survivor, talked in a recent interview about her belief that ordination is not for her, but that she is nonetheless called to speak in a variety of settings. Those have ranged recently from pulpits to a prayer breakfast at a baseball stadium in Fresno, California.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Questions have resurfaced about women preaching and teaching in recent weeks. How do you react to that development?

I have great respect for Rick Warren. To me, the issue is not whether he’s ordained women, but whether the people he ordained, man or woman, are faithful to God’s word, and are people of integrity and character and point people to Jesus.

You preached at Second Baptist in Houston on Mother’s Day weekend. What was that like?

It was really fabulous. It was very intense, because I spoke Saturday night and then two back-to-back messages on Sunday but at two different venues. So we had to travel about 20, 25 minutes in between the first and second service on Sunday morning. (Second Baptist Senior Pastor) Dr. (Ed) Young has been asking me for three years to come down for Mother’s Day and I haven’t been able to do it. But this time I accepted and (he) could not have been more gracious.

To give you a small example, when he introduced me, he came over to me, took me by the hand, led me up on the platform and then introduced me with me standing by his side. And he did that for all three services. It was an obvious statement that he was making, I felt, for women in ministry. I felt very affirmed and supported.

How would you describe the reactions you’ve received after appearing at Second Baptist on Mother’s Day weekend?

Everything I have received has been very positive. I feel like the people that at least have contacted me have ears to hear what the Spirit was saying. I gave a message for everyone — not just women — women and men and young people and elderly. And it was a message on the Holy Spirit.

Did you hear any negative reaction?

I did not. It could be that my ministry received it and just didn’t pass it along. I’ve just heard very encouraging affirmations.

What’s your position on the ordination of women as pastors, and on women teaching from the pulpit?

Ordained as a pastor and being a woman in the pulpit are two very different things. Ordination of women, I’ll tell you this: I was at Amsterdam 2000, when they had 10,000 evangelists gathering. During one session, I was sitting in the main auditorium and they broke us up in groups to pray. And I turned around to pray with the people in back of me and it was a whole row of Chinese women who were pastors. And, I thought, “Oh my goodness,” because so many men had been killed, or were imprisoned, persecuted, the women had risen up and taken on this position. And so I’m going to tell you I would never come out against women being ordained. Worldwide, that’s between a woman and God.

I will tell you that I feel specifically God has forbidden me to be ordained. And when I say ordained, I mean that you would have authority in the church to marry, bury, baptize. So I feel like he’s withheld that from me. My call is to be faithful to give out God’s word to the people that he puts in front of me and try to do it without messing it up.

Do you see a connection between (pioneering Southern Baptist missionary) Lottie Moon and your decades of speaking about the Bible or Beth Moore‘s Bible teaching?

I’m not immersed in Baptist history. I just serve the Lord as he’s called me. And I appreciate Beth Moore. She’s gotten many, many women into their Bible. Actually, I’ve only had one conversation with her. I wish I knew her better.

This issue isn’t new for you because earlier in your career you had instances where clergymen turned their chairs around when you spoke.

That’s right. It’s been there the whole time and I’ve been doing this over 40 years.

I’m not accountable to these critics or to the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m accountable to the Lord God who has called me to be a messenger for him. It’s about his word that he puts on my heart.

Certainly at Second Baptist I was, I felt, under the authority of Dr. Young, and I was accountable to him and I was there under his leadership. There are leaders in the church today that would not allow me to be in their pulpit or to speak to their churches and it’s OK with me. God’s given me so many opportunities.

It’s often pointed out that your father called you the “best preacher in the family.” What do you think he would say about the debate about women preaching?

When he made that statement, “60 Minutes” was getting ready to do a profile on me. And I believe he made the statement not because I’m the best preacher in the family but it was his way of giving his blessing to me and what God’s called me to do. Nobody’s a better preacher than Daddy. If you judge the response of people to the messages, nobody, nobody was better than Daddy. But it was his way, in a sense, of just putting his hand on my shoulder and giving blessing to an outlet that would have a broad range.

Adelle Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.



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51 Responses

  1. Wow-what an article! Thank you Adelle Banks! After 46 years as a Christian and numerous read-throughs of Scripture, I admit to being still somewhat confused about the role of women speakers in the Church. But I know that Anne Graham Lots is the real item.

    1. one can make a biblical case for just about anything. even amongst conservative theologians, there is widespread disagreement on many topics.

      like all christians, you pick and choose what you deem ‘biblical’.

      are the only people to make it to heaven those who have the right list of all the right ‘biblicals’, and only the right ‘biblicals’? (heaven will be lonely indeed!)

      is there only one biblical / one right answer to everything? like a kind of death-defying ‘biblical’ gauntlet we’re required to run?

      what happens if you have all the right answers, except for one ‘unbiblical’ one? is it that the sky will fall? is that God will suddenly be mad at you? is it that your name will be erased from the Lamb’s Book of Life?what’s the limit on ‘unbiblicals’ before one starts feeling the heat and smelling the sulfur of hell?

      what would happen if you let this one go and welcomed women speakers in the same way you welcome men speakers and let your life be enriched by it all?

      very curious. what would happen? (aside from being enriched, that is)

      1. Your secular mindset renders you totally incapable of understanding God’s truths (1 Corinthians 2:14). Hmmm, who was it that said: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool — than to open one’s mouth – and remove all doubt?” Stick to secular topics; God’ Word holds absolutely NO meaning for you.

        1. Orlando, you win the grand prize for the most presumptuous comment i’ve ever received. As if you, a complete stranger, could possibly know what does and does not hold meaning for me.

      2. Scottie-

        I really resonated with your comment here. You may not resonate with my next comment, but I am halfway there to being utterly disgusted by the word or term “biblical.” Primarily when uttered by an evangelical.

        The evangelical American church seems to be much much much more about attendance, buildings, and cash…and image…and pointing fingers…rather than those 2 commandments that used to be known as great. Or should be known as great.

        You self righteous scripture spouting know-it-alls, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re making the church a very unwelcoming place. In your efforts to do what’s “biblical” (massive eye roll here) – you’re chasing away a multitude.

        And by me making my comments here, I am most certainly a part of the problem.

        1. Kevin Dean, I fully resonate. i’m beyond utterly disgusted. Well, disgust is only part of the equation — the stupidity and illogic are unbearable.

          every evangelical who wields the words ‘biblical’ / ‘unbiblical’ as offensive and defensive weapons either

          –truly believes they will be one of only a few people in heaven (only those who agree with them on their peculiar list of what’s biblical and what’s not),

          –or they simply haven’t through things through because they don’t know how, or because it hasn’t occurred to them to do so.

          (really, i think they partly shut their brains off let themselves be lulled to sleep in passive apathy & impotence, and partly just go along with the party line because of what they get out of it — all by design and according to powerbrokers’ plans for consolidating power, wealth, and silencing all other voices)

          Are there even any words to use at this point? Does “mortified and embarrassed over the ridiculous stupidity and corruption of what my religion has become” say it strong enough?

          all i know is i’m out. i’m done. not with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, though, nor in being productive for ‘them’.

          it’s quite a thing to see that the integrity standards of one’s religion are well below one’s own personal integrity, and that of the much maligned ‘heathen’ of ‘the world’.

    2. Hard to believe that any ‘Christian’ who has had “numerous read-throughs of Scripture” can still “admit to being somewhat confused” about “the role of women speakers in the church.” The problem is not that God’ Word is in any way, shape, or form ‘vague’ on the woman’ role; God has ‘spoken’ in clear-cut terms about it (1 Tim. 2:12 is all I have needed to settle that particular score!). The REAL problem is that so-called evangelicals are hell-bent on making a liar out of God’s truth(s) by spinning His Words in order to placate this corrupt, post-modern culture where women have literally supplanted men (with their wholehearted ‘permission’) as “leaders” in what is being passed off today as “church.” If, having heard Beth Moore, Gloria Copeland, Paula White, Marilyn Hickey, Victoria Osteen, and Joyce Meyer (there are many, many more of their ilk occupying pulpits today), anyone can tell me that these frauds are genuine followers of Christ, well, I will not simply “question” your “spiritual discernment,” I denounce it!

  2. Biblical instructions forbidding women as leaders (or even to speak) in church are unique to Pauls letters. 2 Peter 3:15-16 describe Paul’s inspiration as “the wisdom given to him.” Interpreting Paul’s instructions as Godly wisdom seems much more compatible with the gospel than interpreting them as additional law.

    1. so women can’t even speak at church, then.

      are you married? how does that work? do you put tape over your wife’s mouth?

      1. You completely missed my point. Wisdom and law are not synonymous and should not be treated as such.

        1. Perhaps I’m not the only one who needs clarification on your point.

          How do you interpret “Biblical instructions forbidding women as leaders (or even to speak) in church” in the sense of Godly wisdom?

        2. Hello, Loren. Could you shed light on how you understand Paul’s ‘forbidding women to speak in church’ from a Godly wisdom sense standpoint?

          1. Hey Scottie. My point is about hermeneutics. Understanding Paul’s ‘forbidding women to speak in church’ as wisdom puts the commands in context. Wisdom is about good judgement in particular circumstances. We don’t know the particular circumstances of the Corinthian church, other than it was immature and chaotic. So these commands may make more sense in that context. But if Paul were revealing God’s everlasting law for women, his word choice would be very poor. He would have said, “God doesn’t permit women to speak” rather than “I don’t permit…” In other places in 1 Corinthians he does differentiate between his words and God’s words, which leads to some strange explanations on how it’s all God’s Words. But all that to say, viewing it as wisdom for that circumstance, makes a lot more sense than viewing as more Laws that Moses forgot to include, especially given how much Paul wrote about trying to be justified by Law.

            Maybe trying to cover too much ground in a little space, but hopefully helps gets the point across.

    2. 2 Peter 1:20-21
      2 Timothy 3:16

      Scripture is not opinion; rather, the absolute words of God through men by the Spirit. Paul’s writing is no Lee’s authoritative than any other writer/portion of Scripture.

      1. 1 Cor 16:20 & 1 Thess 5:26 tell us that we should great one another with a holy kiss. I assume your church does not practice this. Our culture would be quite uncomfortable with this custom, even though it’s biblical. Yet nobody makes a fuss about it. In 1 Cor. 7:40 Paul plainly states that in his opionion Christians will be happier if they don’t marry. My married life has been far happier than my single life. And if Christians followed this advice, there wouldn’t be many of us. And even if you try to get every percieved command right, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” Gal. 5:4

        1. There is no “Law” in the New Testament, and ALL of Paul’s words are inspired by Christ Himself. Read Acts. 1 Timothy cannot get any more clear, and ALL of God’s word is God’s Own Spirit breathed. (See 2 Timothy 3:16) When God “breathes” no women are to speak in a church assembly as in 1 Timothy, He means it. God does NOT change – EVER. The Bible doesn’t change with the whims of society. I’m not surprised though at all the compromise in these last days. The Bible is clear about the Apostasy, and here we are.

  3. Just curious…if a female turns out to be a predator, or abuser, will female reporters cover the story fairly and honestly? I hope we won’t cover it up just because it is one of us. So far there are a few female abusers I would like to see covered more like Mrs. Falwall and Mrs. Zacharias. I believe in equal coverage when a person veers off the Biblical path.

    1. Not sure I understand your insinuation of a double standard. The press hardly pulled their punches when reporting Becki Falwell’s antics, even though she wasn’t the president of one of the largest and most prestigious Christian universities in America at the time (that was her husband). She was rightly portrayed as every bit as much

      Likewise, is wasn’t Margaret Zacharias who was the founder and chairman of one of the internationally renowned apologetics ministry, and it wasn’t her that led a double life and sexually abused multiple woman over multiple decades — that would be her husband. What crime is she supposed to be guilty of? Being married to a serial adulterer? At worst, she is guilty of covering up for her husband’s behavior, which isn’t exactly uncommon in such circumstances.

      1. Mrs. Falwall slept with a male student without his consent. That is an abuse of power and if a male leader got in bed with a sleeping young lady to have sex with her the reporters would go bonkers. Margie has destroyed evidence and continues to abuse the victims of her husband’s abuse by denying they are telling the truth. If a male leader did that to female victims the reporters would once again go bonkers. I am afraid women abusers get a much lighter touch than men. Why? I think we believe the myth that girls are sugar and spice and everything nice when they are not. Women should be treated equal in the coverage. That is all I am asking. Is that a bad thing? I just want to make sure female reporters don’t have blind spots when it comes to our gender. Is that wrong?

  4. Keep spreading the good news Anne! JESUS is no respecter of persons. Go into ALL the earth.

  5. Just as Christians used the Bible to support slavery in the past, I am hopeful one day women that are called by God will have places to preach without all of the constant biblical controversy.

  6. I heard Ann speak live once. It was maybe 20 years ago now. It was at the University of North Carolina for a Fellowship of Christian athletes event.

    In the course of her remarks, she exclaimed that “an outbreak of cobras in Borneo was a sign of the Second Coming”!! I went into shock. The audience reaction was palpable.

    Years later I sent her a scholarly article about the Second Coming by a PhD Who had been saved under her father’s ministry. I received a thank you from her secretary and an envelope to send her a gift. I was thinking perhaps she should’ve sent me one.

    By contrast, back in 2000 I saw Jimmy Carter say something way out of line. I sent him a challenge to the remark. He not only replied then but has replied over 70 times since then.

    I have no objection to women in ministry. I just have objection to non-accountability.

    1. “I just have objection to non-accountability.”

      Well, it would be hard for women to do any worse than men in that regard…

      1. Agreed! Sure looks like there has been little accountability for the SBC leaders over the last few years.

  7. What she is doing is not the same as being a pastor – seems like a bait and switch. Women are not to be elders/ pastors but nowhere does it say we can not preach the Gospel to men. Huge difference.

  8. SBC continues the slide into apostasy, this only one more nail in their corrupt coffin
    the Scriptures are clear as to men and women’s roles in pastoral offices
    and God doesn’t care how famous you are

    1. Alfredo: The Scriptures are also very clear about slavery. Do you support the Bible’s scriptures about slavery being used today.

    2. The Scriptures are also clear that if your hand offends you should cut it off, and if your eye offends you should pluck it out.

      Yet I don’t see those who decry women pastors calling for their fellow men to pluck out their eyes–our cut off other parts of their bodies–when they are caught in lust or adultery.

      Are you committed to applying ALL of scripture literally, Alfredo? Or just the verses about women?

      1. Alfredo Borza, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

        …in the interest of being scriptural ‘n all.

        I’m really losing patience with proponents of a modern-day talmud of rules and laws in in an effort to be justified by the law.

  9. RE: Chinese women pastors, etc.

    Our friend in (outer) Mongolia tells of this also. In the early 1990s, the country began allowing missionaries to come in as they were no longer under Russian control. The church that was started in Erdenet, Mongolia consisted primarily of young women. One of which was our friend.
    God used these people to build His church and eventually some trustworthy and godly men stepped up and began doing their part in building and equipping the church there.

    Thirty years later, the Christian church is growing and spreading across the country!

  10. Observation: If in fact the New Testament teaches that she should not do what she is doing, then in fact God has not called her to do it. Point is, theology dictates practice, not the other way. You can’t wave “God called me” over your own practice like a magic wand, and that makes it right.

    1. Everyone does not agree that the Bible does not allow women to preach. Do you no for fact she has or has not been called by God?

    2. Much of this comes down to how you interpret the bible. Is it more reasonable and consistent to interpret this as God revealing His divine laws about what He wants women to do or not do, or practical wisdom for young churches still becoming established in ancient societies that had little respect for women.

    3. I had a lady in my Bible Study group say that the Scriptures were written by men so therefore we don’t have to obey certain parts of it. Bascially she would cherry pick what she obeyed and not obeyed. I think that is a slipperly slope and told her so. The lady never backed up her claims with scriptures. She just slipped away. Husband was in ministry too so have no idea what they taught those they ran across.

      Why is it that other religions are full of men as leaders/workers and Christian churches are not? Most Christian men just dump the work on women and the ladies just lap it up rather than saying no. Co-dependent or what?!

      1. That means she said none of the Bible is true, since all 66 books were written by men. Thus, she wasn’t even a a Christian.

      2. I am not seeing what this has to do with women preaching the Gospel? Are you also saying only men can be Leaders in the church?

          1. Frances, please acknowledge that it’s your interpretation of the Bible. And it would be foolish not to acknowledge that there is more than one valid perspective.

  11. So many self righteous men squirming when a woman preaches the truth, far above and beyond the failings of the fallen male counterparts, Zacharias,Lenz, et al.

    God will use the mouth of a donkey if he has to get his word out.

    I thank God every day for brave godly women who stand up and preach the gospel in the face of three enemies 1) Satan and his demons 2) Rulers who oppress Christians and embarrassingly 3) So called self righteous Christian men who scorn their own godly woman folk.

    I was an atheist, converted by the words of a woman preacher.

    I thank God everyday for her and my salvation.

    I would rather die, than listen to a “christian male”
    lecturing me about how wrong it is “biblically” that a godly woman pastor preached and saved many men and women, otherwise destined for hell.

    1. Yeahhhhh Larry. After reading so many glib self righteous comments finally a comment full of gods discernment. Hey evangelical industrial complex Christians. Why does the 2020 census report the most marked for religion is NONE? Because of all you smug better than thou people using the Bible as a WMD. And maybe the Bible was written and then miss-interpreted by people like Copeland who are not filled with the Holy Spirit but anger management issues and of course his massive ego and greed. Reminder what was put into the Bible was agreed upon by a bunch of dudes who claimed to be inspired by God. And now telling me I’m not a Christian in 3 2 1.

  12. Wow… so many people saying so many things. It is evident that objective truth is gone. Is it Biblical to say that we believe Jesus? When He said… “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life” (emphasis added). Because by the standards of approach to hermeneutics (principles of interpreting the Bible) listed above that would be questionable. So personal observation of a woman speaker seams to be the ultimate authority of or lens by which discernment is used. Nevertheless the idea of “our hearts are desperately wicked” or that the opposite “study to show oneself an approved workman rightly dividing the thrush/word of God.”
    It is agreed that it is sad that we have the modern day examples of fallen Christian heroes of the faith. It is equally sad that we had Um… “Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sampson, Saul, David (man after God’s own heart), Solomon, Elizabeth, Mary, Martha, Joseph, Eli, Peter, James, John, Paul and Judas. That is just to name a few in the Bible. What these examples tell us that only Jesus Christ is worthy of our affection. We tend to use characters in life that excuse the imperatives in the Bible or for a subjective lens by which we approach scripture and life. It creates a false dichotomy. For example.
    First Premise:The office of an Elder in the Bible is an office for men.
    Second Premise: When I hear Anne Graham Lotz preach I feel the call of the Lord on her.
    Conclusion: Therefore, I believe that a woman can be an Elder or Pastor according to me.

    That is a false dichotomy or at least admit when you post that your the ultimate authority in your reasoning. That would at least, honest. Is there a problem in the church today? You bet has it been going
    On for 7000 years? You bet. But when you read and you use examples by your observation and deeming that to be the standard… That is unbiblical.

  13. I’ll repeat, and then leave it: as a matter of principle about anything, you cannot claim something is God’s call on you, if it can be shown that the Bible says you should not be doing it. Example: you cannot claim divorcing your husband and marrying someone else was God’s call on you, if your divorce was anti-scriptural.

    Also, 100% of the arguments I have read in support of women elders (which is really what this is about), in 40 years of reading, break all kinds of logical and exegetical rules to force a predetermined conclusion.

  14. A well written article. I’m tempted to view AGL’s testimony as spiritually gracious. It appears that she negotiates what is controversial, rather than being drawn into being a player in controversy.
    I find her leitmotif appeal to be “called”, to be legitimate. I’m then drawn towards wanting to know more about her experiencing of being so called.
    As the daughter of Billy Graham, she has been uniquely exposed to what encounter with BG tended to mediate in others. Perhaps no one has been so much so exposed. Perhaps she can be taken, as a mediated human being, to be a test-piece by which the ministry of BG can be judged.
    That she can then interface with others to mediate what she does in her own ministry, is then a further testing of the BG ministry.
    I think the raised question of the place of women in the Church, is a dangerous distraction. I then like the way in which she negotiates that question to stay clear of its wrecking reefs and rocks and shoals of controversy.

  15. As an agnostic I am puzzled by the debates about biblical vs non-biblical. Why not acknowledge that the Bible was written in a particular era and may be largely irrelevant to what is right or wrong today? Although raised as a conservative PK, I long ago gave up the idea that the Bible was the ultimate truth.

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