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Southern Baptist Convention Affirms Disaffiliation of Two Churches Over Women Pastors

Linda Barnes Popham, pastor of removed Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La.
RNS photo by Emily Kask

The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Adelle M. Banks and Bob Smietana was published on June 14, 2023. It has been edited for length, and the ninth paragraph, with context for the Christian Reformed Church, has been added.

Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting affirmed a decision to expel two Southern Baptist churches, including Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., because they employed women as pastors. The churches had appealed to the meeting, the denomination’s ruling body, to be allowed to remain. 

Both churches were denied by a strong majority of the delegates, known as messengers, in vote outcomes announced June 14. 

The body affirmed the removal of Saddleback by a vote of 9,437 to 1,212. The vote went against Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., by 9,700 to 806. 

A third church, Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., was also voted out after the SBC’s credentials committee had recommended it be expelled for its “lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation.”

Representatives of the churches were given three minutes to appeal the decisions made by the SBC’s Executive Committee earlier this year. The announcement of the vote totals came the next day.

Saddleback, whose case was argued by founding pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren, had been removed for naming Stacie Wood, wife of Warren successor Andy Wood, as “teaching pastor” when she and her husband arrived at the Lake Forest, Calif., megachurch last summer.

Warren and the Rev. Linda Barnes Popham, who leads the Fern Creek church, each argued that Baptists don’t agree on a range of matters—from Calvinism to COVID-19—but that hadn’t halted their ability to have a shared commitment to spreading the gospel.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued against keeping either Saddleback or Fern Creek within the Southern Baptist fold. He said the idea of women pastors “is an issue of fundamental biblical authority that does violate both the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The Christian Reformed Church in North America, which also held its general assembly (synod) last week, affirms two biblical views on the role of women in the church. One of the many decisions that synod made between June 9-15 was to remind annual synods of those two views, by way of reading a written statement, should any delegate or group of delegates note a protest to the seating of women delegates. 

At the SBC gathering, newly reelected SBC President Bart Barber appeared before the outcome of the votes were announced to urge an appropriate response. “I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but I know sometimes in our churches people wind up in biblical divorce,” he said. “But we don’t throw divorce parties at our church, OK?”

After Baptists responded with applause, he added: “And whatever these results are, I’m asking you: Behave like Christians, OK?”

After the June 14 vote, Warren appeared resigned. “We lost,” he said at a press conference. “I wasn’t expecting to win. We actually got about 700 more votes than I expected.”

Warren said he took on the appeal for the sake of pastors of other churches who don’t have the same kind of platform that he does and who worry that SBC leaders will come after them. “They can’t hurt me,” he said. He noted that Saddleback will still be part of its local Baptist association and the California Baptist state convention. 

But Warren criticized the move for its shortsightedness. “It’s not really smart when you are losing half a million members a year to kick out people who want to fellowship with you,” he said.

The retired pastor, known for his wisdom on the topic of planting and growing churches, said, “The messengers voted from conformity and uniformity, not unity. … The only way you can give unity is to love diversity.” He added, “Truth wins out over tradition.”

Popham was equally undaunted. Dressed in a green T-shirt from her church’s children’s music program, the pastor said the church will keep doing what they’ve been doing for decades. Last week, she said, three kids in the church had accepted Jesus as their Savior during the church’s Vacation Bible School.

“I think God has greater things for us now because the God we serve is so much bigger than the Southern Baptist Convention,” she said.

©  2023 Religion News Service


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