The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, announced Wednesday that it has voted to uphold its Executive Committee’s previous decision to disfellowship member churches with women pastors. These churches include the huge and influential Saddleback Church in California, founded by author Rick Warren.
The decision was made by the SBC’s voting members, known within the organization as “messengers.”
The vote for Saddleback was 9,437 to 1,212, while Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Ky., also up for a vote, came in at 9,700 to 806.
The topic has been much discussed since May 2022, when pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia sent a letter to the Executive Committee asking for clarification on the topic, as he claimed to know of numerous SBC congregations that had women pastors. That request set off something of a firestorm within the denomination, with the Executive Committee deciding on disfellowship, a move that would ultimately be approved or disapproved by the messengers at the June 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans.
At times, the debate grew heated, with noted Baptist heavyweights Dr. Al Mohler and Warren going at each other.
“I’m not sure why Al Mohler gets to do all the rebuttals,” said Warren on Tuesday while making his case for why Saddleback, for whom he installed a husband-and-wife pastoral team upon his retirement, should remain in the Convention. Warren has reportedly ordained three women pastors since 2021.
Pastor Chris Guinn, a messenger to the convention and director of missions at Sand Mountain Baptist Association, a north Alabama branch of the SBC, claimed the vote was a win for traditional biblical doctrine.
“The overwhelming vote to disfellowship Saddleback and Fern Creek Churches means that we as Southern Baptists are a people who still hold clear the teaching of Scripture, that the office of pastor is reserved for men only,” Guinn said.
He also claimed the decision would add clarity to the denomination’s values, which will, in turn, help with its role as a missional organization in North Alabama.
“Many of our pastors were really concerned about a liberal drift in our convention,” he said. “Some of them were even considering leaving the convention based on this vote.”
Another messenger, Dwight Everett, director of missions at the Tennessee River Baptist Association, an affiliate of the SBC, said the vote does not mean that the Convention is anti-woman.
“I respect women and women pastors,” Everett said. “We just have a disagreement on this issue.”
The annual meeting of the SBC began on Sunday and ends Wednesday afternoon.
Allen Keller can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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