The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held its annual meeting on June 13th, with the most pressing matter on the agenda being the confirmed “disfellowship” of two churches for having female pastors and amending the SBC constitution to ensure that the office of pastor remained for men only. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church was one of the two churches expelled from the SBC after the church ordained three women in the role of pastor in 2021. The other church was Fern Creek in Louisville, KY, where Linda Barnes Popham has served as pastor since 1993. Both congregations were appealing the SBC’s decision for disfellowship out of five churches that had been expelled last year. The SBC also voted by a two-thirds majority to amend its constitution that the SBC “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder.” This expanded the position of elder to be for men only in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, which states, “The office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Saddleback and Fern Creek will continue as churches but will no longer be part of the SBC. The amendment will have to be confirmed next year by another two-thirds majority to take effect. 

Rick Warren, who retired from pastoring Saddleback last June, defended Saddleback’s decision to ordain female pastors at the meeting. “We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sin, racial sin, financial sin and leadership sin – sins that harm the testimony of our convention,” he stated, saying that churches with women pastors “have not sinned.” “If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered a sin, we all get kicked out,” he added. Popham stated she has been serving in church since she was a teenager and stated that her church was adhering to a 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, which did not restrict the role of pastor to men. “We have a faith and practice that identifies more closely with the Baptist Faith and Message than many other Southern Baptist churches, and I am personally more conservative than most Southern Baptist pastors I know,” she said. 

Jess Gaul, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church and now ministers at Washington Community Fellowship in Washington, DC., told CNN that the decision saddened her. “There are women who have served faithfully in Southern Baptist churches for centuries,” she said. “And they will continue to, but they will not get the recognition that they’re due, or their gifts will not hold the same value for the church.” The point of contention about the position of pastor comes from 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul states, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (ESV) Other churches point to prominent roles women had in the early church, such as Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus first and Christian converts Priscilla and Aquila being mentioned as leading a church together, as evidence that women were allowed to have pastoral positions. SBC President Bart Barber defended the decision at a press conference, saying, “We’re shaped by what we read in the New Testament and Southern Baptists, just as we said in the year 2000, when we last amended the Baptist Faith and Message, we’ve reiterated that over the course of this meeting, that we believe that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.”

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