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Southern Baptists Overwhelmingly Vote to Expel Saddleback Church and Further Restrict Women in Ministry

Southern Baptists Overwhelmingly Vote to Expel Saddleback Church and Further Restrict Women in Ministry

In a highly contentious move, today the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) reaffirmed its decision to expel two churches that have women pastors. 

During its annual meeting in New Orleans, the SBC heard appeals from Saddleback Church, founded by prominent pastor Rick Warren, in California and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky, but the appeals were overwhelmingly rejected by the nearly 13,000 representatives voted. 

Nearly 88 percent voted to uphold the churches’ bans from the SBC.

Regarding the role of women in ministry, the SBC’s statement of beliefs states that, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

During the appeals, emotional pleas were made by the leaders of the expelled churches. Warren emphasized that Saddleback Church disagreed on only one word in the denomination’s 4,032-word theological statement.

“Saddleback disagrees with one word,” he said. “That’s 99.99999999 percent in agreement! Isn’t that close enough?”

The crowd shouted back, “No!”

The vote to expel the Saddleback and Fern Creek and the ongoing debate surrounding the role of women in leadership positions reflects a broader struggle within the SBC. While the denomination has historically emphasized congregational autonomy, allowing individual churches to make their own leadership decisions, conservative factions are now seeking to enforce a more uniform standard.

In the meeting today, Virginia pastor Mike Law proposed amending the SBC constitution to further restrict women’s roles in leadership, by stating that a church can be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.” 

The initial vote for that amendment did pass, but will require a two-thirds majority vote at next year’s convention to be enacted. 

Critics of the SBC’s aggressive approach argue that it may alienate women and discourage them from serving in the church. Some fear that turning the issue into a battleground could have far-reaching implications for the denomination. 

Law shared a list of 170 women who are pastors in Southern Baptist churches, including in roles like children’s pastor, worship pastor and women’s pastor.

If the SBC remains consistent with their decision to expel churches over this issue, then many more SBC churches will likely be disfellowshipped in the future.

But if today’s vote is any indication, 88 percent of SBC churches would be just fine with that. 

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