Southern Baptists reject formal ban on churches with female pastors

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Southern Baptists narrowly rejected a proposal Wednesday to write into the denomination’s constitution a ban on churches with female pastors after their opponents argued it was unnecessary because the denomination already has a way to oust such churches.

The vote received the support of 61% of delegates, but it fell short of the required two-thirds supermajority. The action overturned a preliminary vote last year in favor of the official ban.

But it still leaves the Southern Baptist Convention with its official doctrinal statement that the office of pastor is limited to men. Even opponents of the ban said they favored this doctrinal statement but did not believe it was necessary to strengthen it in the constitution.

Opponents noted that the SBC can already serve churches that say women can serve as pastors — as it has done. Last year and even Tuesday evening.

The vote was perhaps the most anticipated of the annual meeting, reflecting years of debate within the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. It’s the last day of the SBC’s two-day annual meeting in Indianapolis.

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 16, 2021, file photo, people attend the morning session of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Southern Baptists, meeting at their next annual meeting June 11-12, 2024, in Indianapolis, will vote on whether to enact a constitutional ban on churches with female pastors.  (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)

Since 2000, the SBC’s non-binding statement of faith has stated that only men are qualified for the role of pastor. It is interpreted differently depending on the denomination, with some believing that it does not apply to associate pastors as long as the senior pastor is male.

The proposed amendment, which received preliminary approval last year, would formally exclude churches that have women in pastoral positions, from senior pastor to associates, or even confirm them in that role. Supporters believe it is biblically necessary, estimating that hundreds of Southern Baptist churches have women in these roles.

The rejected amendment would have stated that any church considered to be in “friendly cooperation” – the official term for SBC affiliation – must be a church that “affirms, appoints or employs only men as any type of pastor or d ‘ancient as qualified by the Scriptures’.

Opponents have argued that the convention already has the power to suppress churches over this issue, and that the amendment will have unintended consequences, including disproportionately affecting black Southern Baptist congregations, which tend to have women in their pastoral staff.

But the motion was quickly put to a vote after only a brief debate.

Ryan Fullerton, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, said the measure “is not intended to prevent women from exercising their gifts” in church staff roles. of the church such as “children’s ministers”. But he added that the Bible is clear: the office of pastor is reserved for men.

He said there is “confusion about gender” in the broader culture and cited what he called “the ravages of the LGBTQIA agenda.”

But Spence Shelton, pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, argued that was unnecessary.

He said there is no doubt that Southern Baptists are “complementary” because they describe the view that men and women have equal value but different roles that complement each other.

But he noted that the convention voted Tuesday to oust a historic Virginia church and two other churches last year, including the California megachurch Saddleback, all of which have female pastors and have claimed that they could occupy high-level pastoral positions.

The reason they were ousted was that they did not have a faith and practice consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message, the document approved in 2000 which includes the assertion that the pastoral position is reserved for men.

“All of you, we have shown that the mechanisms we currently have are sufficient to resolve this issue,” Shelton said.

Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia and author of the amendment, cited a report that said about 1,800 women pastors work in the denomination. He cited biblical verses limiting the pastoral function to men.

“Our culture may view this ban as harsh, but our God is all wise and wrote this word for the flourishing of men and women,” he said.

“This amendment is not about women in ministry,” Law added. “This is specifically about women in the pastoral office.” He did not explain the difference in his brief speech.

The denomination cannot tell its independent churches what to do or who to appoint as pastor. But they can say which churches are in and which are excluded.

Last year, Southern Baptists refused to take over Saddleback, one of the convention’s largest congregations, and a small church in Kentucky, over this issue.

Both churches, which had women in prominent pastoral positions, called for their ouster at the 2023 annual meeting and were overwhelmingly rejected by delegates. A similar scenario played out in Indianapolis on Tuesday, when messengers voted overwhelmingly to evict the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia, which has a woman in an associate position and also asserted that women can hold top positions. students.

Supporters of the amendment say it likely won’t result in an immediate large-scale purge, but opponents have expressed concern that it would burden SBC volunteers and staff with numerous investigations of churches.

Delegates also elected a North Carolina pastor and longtime denominational statesman as their convention’s next president in a contest among six candidates that went to two rounds of voting.

Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, will be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention after winning 56 percent of the vote in the final runoff.

The SBC president – ​​one of the most prominent faces in the network of conservative evangelical churches – presides over the annual meeting and appoints members of the denomination’s committees.

Pressley’s closest opponent, Tennessee pastor Dan Spencer, received 44 percent of the vote after four other candidates were eliminated in previous rounds.

Pressley said he supported a measure passed later Wednesday to amend the SBC constitution to ban churches with female pastors.

Pressley earned a master’s degree in divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisiana, one of the official seminaries of the SBC. He has led Hickory Grove since 2011 after pastoring churches in Alabama and Mississippi. Pressley served as first vice president of the SBC in 2014-2015 and has served on numerous other boards.

On Wednesday morning, the messengers rejected a proposal to abolish the SBC’s public policy agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The move reflected the view of some that the staunchly conservative commission was not conservative enough.


Meyer reported from Nashville, Tennessee.


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