Do women belong behind the pulpit? The nation’s largest Protestant denomination made their decision loud and clear: No. They've just voted overwhelmingly to officially expel two popular churches with women pastors.
The two churches – Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, California, and Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky – are now formally ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
A Denomination Divided
The overwhelming vote to expel Saddleback in particular comes as a shocker.
Built by Pastor Rick Warren, it is the largest church in the SBC, and one of the largest churches in the United States. Warren was one of the favorite evangelists of President Obama, and gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. He's also the author of one of the best-selling books of all time "A Purpose Driven Life". When he formally retired, Pastor Katie Edwards took over as lead pastor at the church’s flagship Lake Forest campus.
That didn’t sit well with SBC leadership. The SBC believes that women do not have the biblical authority to minister, and allowing women in ministry is widely viewed as an opening of the door to more liberal church practices by many of the church’s most conservative members.
Earlier this year, the SBC voted to remove Saddleback and Fern Creek. Now they've just voted – by a margin pushing 90% – to uphold that ban.
The message is clear: women are no longer welcome to preach for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Women Officially Ousted
If Tuesday’s vote to formally remove Saddleback wasn’t enough of an indication, on Wednesday, thousands of delegates representing SBC churches across the nation voted to bar women from preaching altogether. More than two-thirds of delegates passed the amendment to the SBC constitution affirming only men can pastor.
Now the estimated 1,800 women serving in pastoral positions in SBC congregations are going to have to find a new job.
“I never believed this would happen,” said Linda Barnes Popham, pastor of Fern Creek Baptist Church for some 30 years. “Why would you want to silence the voices of the faithful churches? Why?”
The war over women in Southern Baptist churches was boiling for years; now it seems settled.
Important note: if you're a female SBC member whose path to ordination has now been officially blocked, consider joining the ULC! The Universal Life Church welcomes people of all backgrounds into the ministry and does not discriminate based on immutable characteristics.
Writing on the Wall
If this came as a surprise to those churches, however, it probably shouldn’t have. The SBC’s own statement of beliefs makes clear their stance: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” it reads.
In arguing to keep women in pastoral positions in the church, former Saddleback head pastor Rick Warren pleaded with church leadership to ignore that statement.
“No one is asking any Southern Baptist to change their theology. I am not asking you to agree with our church. I am asking you to act like Southern Baptists who have historically ‘agreed to disagree’ on dozens of doctrines in order to share a common mission,” he said. “Saddleback disagrees with one word,” he argued. “That’s 99.99999999 percent in agreement! Isn’t that close enough?”
The answer, per a majority of delegates at the SBC convention in New Orleans: No.
For many of the SBC’s conservative majority, women in pastoral leadership was a secret back door to other progressive stances. By closing that door, they are hopeful that they've squashed any chance of leftward drift.
Women in ministry was “as an early harbinger of a raft of other changes,” explained American Reformer Executive Director Joshua Abbotoy.
As their theory goes, the very idea of women pastoring over men blurs the line between “god-given” gender differences. If women are allowed to preach, what’s next?
What do you think? Is the SBC wrong to deny women the opportunity to stand at the pulpit, or is this an example of a church rightfully sticking to its theological guns?