The Southern Baptist Convention has stood firm in its refusal to embrace progressive changes, rejecting appeals from two churches led by women pastors.
This decisive move was made during the annual convention held from 13th to 14th of June 2023.
The prominent California megachurch, Saddleback Church, and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky both sought reinstatement after being ousted in February for their inclusion of women in pastoral roles.
With an air of gravity permeating the convention hall, packed with approximately 12,000 Southern Baptists, the outcome of the votes was announced on the concluding day of the two-day gathering.
The convention, known as the largest Protestant denomination in the nation, adheres to a statement of faith that asserts the exclusive qualification of men for pastoral positions.
The calls for restraint, expressed earlier by SBC President Bart Barber, seemed to have had their effect on the crowd’s demeanor.
The retired founding pastor of Saddleback and author of the best-selling phenomenon “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren, saw his appeal fall short as the messengers, with a vote tally of 9,437 to 1,212, opted for conformity and uniformity rather than unity.
Warren, undeterred by the outcome, lamented the decision at a news conference, stating, “Messengers voted for conformity and uniformity rather than unity. The only way you will have unity is to love diversity. We made this effort knowing we were not going to win.”
Similarly, Fern Creek Baptist Church’s plea was denied by a vote of 9,700 to 806.
The church’s pastor, Reverend Linda Barnes Popham, expressed her disappointment with the result, admitting, “I knew they would uphold the expulsion. However, I guess I am a bit naive. I did not think it would be that drastic a result. I thought there were more people left in the Southern Baptist Convention who support the autonomy of the local church if not women in ministry.”
She found solace in the fact that some messengers acknowledged their disagreement while appreciating the church’s passion for the Gospel.
Although the Southern Baptist Convention cannot dictate the actions of independent Baptist churches, it retains the power to determine which churches are considered “not in friendly cooperation,” resulting in their expulsion.
While the SBC’s statement of faith specifies that pastoral positions are reserved for qualified men, this marks the first instance of the convention expelling churches on these grounds.
In February, the SBC’s Executive Committee had voted to oust Saddleback and Fern Creek, along with three other churches that opted not to appeal, due to their inclusion of women pastors.
The appeals made by Rick Warren and Linda Barnes Popham served as their final efforts to sway Southern Baptists in favor of reconciliation.
Speaking on behalf of the Executive Committee, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Albert Mohler, emphasized the significance of biblical authority in advocating for the ouster of Saddleback and Fern Creek.
Mohler remarked, “The issues were clear, and the messengers were clearly united… This was a real defining moment, and making certain that those doctrines that must be common among us be publicly acknowledged.”
For years, questions surrounding the role of women in ministry have sparked turmoil within the SBC.
In an effort to bring clarity to these roles, messengers voted to amend the convention’s constitution, stipulating that Southern Baptist churches must “affirm, appoint or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”
The amendment awaits approval at the next annual meeting to become effective.
A member of Lifepoint Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, Sarah Clatworthy, fervently supported the amendment, urging the SBC to “shut the door to feminism and liberalism.”
In a culture where the roles of men and women are often unclear, she believed it was vital for the SBC to provide unequivocal guidance, leaving no room for confusion among future generations.
Rick Warren further expressed his critique of the direction the SBC has taken, asserting, “There are people who want to take the SBC back to the 1950s when white men ruled supreme and when the woman’s place was in the home.
“There are others who want to take it back 500 years to the time of the Reformation… I say we need to take the church back to the first century. The church at its birth was the church at its best.”
As for Fern Creek Baptist Church, its future affiliation remains uncertain. It may consider joining a new denomination or continuing as an independent congregation.
Nonetheless, Reverend Barnes Popham remains optimistic, believing that God has great plans in store for Fern Creek Baptist.
The church now faces possible expulsion from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the SBC’s state affiliate, based on a recommendation from its credentials committee.
During the meeting, messengers also addressed issues of sexual abuse, upholding the expulsion of Freedom Baptist Church in Florida due to the alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct allegation.
Furthermore, a resolution condemning gender-affirming care and all forms of gender transition interventions was approved, denouncing them as “a futile quest to change one’s sex and as a direct assault on God’s created order.”
Pastor of Towne View Baptist Church in Georgia, Reverend Jim Conrad, which was expelled from the SBC three years ago for its LGBTQ-affirming stance, expressed little surprise at the denomination’s anti-transgender stance.
He expressed hope that the SBC can redirect its focus toward cooperation in missions, service, and evangelism, rather than demanding uniformity of thought.