Southern Baptists expel Saddleback, 2nd church over female pastors, approve further clampdown

Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual conference voted overwhelmingly this week to confirm the expulsion of Saddleback Church in California, previously the second-largest Southern Baptist church, and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for having female pastors. After the results of Tuesday’s votes were announced on Wednesday, the delegates enshrined the ban on female pastors in the denomination’s constitution. 

The SBC, America’s largest Protestant denomination, changed its theological doctrine in 2000 to say “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” but Southern Baptist churches are independent and there was no consensus until recently that the ban on women pastors should be enforced.

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The SBC executive committee voted to expel Saddleback, Fern Creek, and three other Southern Baptist churches with women as lead or senior pastors in February. Only Saddleback and Fern Creek appealed their defellowshipping. At the New Orleans convention on Tuesday, 88% of SBC delegates rejected Saddleback’s appeal and 92% voted to expel Fern Creek. The delegates, or messengers, then went further and approved a constitutional amendment specifying that Southern Baptist churches must “affirm, appoint or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

That amendment, which the SBC leadership committee had opposed as unnecessary, “threatens to unleash a crisis for the denomination” if it is confirmed at next year’s convention, The New York Times reported. The SBC credentials committee will now face pressure from the denomination’s ascendent ultraconservative wing to investigate and expel the estimated 1,900 Southern Baptist churches that have female pastors. 

Southern Baptists “must stand our ground and keep the door shut to feminism and liberalism,” argued delegate Sarah Clatworthy, a church administrator from Texas. “We should leave no room for our daughters or granddaughters to have confusion on where the SBC stands” on the roles of men and women.

“If you think if every Baptist thinks like you, you’re mistaken,” Saddleback’s founding pastor Rick Warren told the delegates before Tuesday’s vote. “Saddleback disagrees with one word (of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000). That’s 99.99999% in agreement. Isn’t that close enough?” It was not. “The face of Southern Baptists does not look at all look like our annual meeting,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

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