Southern Baptists May Vote To Ban Churches With Women Pastors

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America’s largest Protestant denomination — the Southern Baptist Convention — could decide this week to ban congregations with women pastors during a two-day convention in Indianapolis.

Last year, the SBC Executive Committee made a preliminary move to warn churches allowing female pastors that they could face removal ahead of this year’s official vote. The move received overwhelming support.

Most famously, the convention expelled Saddleback Church in California, founded by famed preacher Rick Warren, author of the best-selling “Purpose Driven Life.” At the denomination’s 2023 convention, Warren appealed for his church to be reinstated, saying, “I am not asking you to agree with our church; I am asking you to act like Southern Baptists.”

Warren was referring to the fact that historically, the 47,000 Southern Baptist congregations have been able to independently determine how they should conduct services or otherwise serve their more than 13 million members. But the SBC can determine which churches are allowed to be affiliated with the convention.

Within weeks of the SBC’s decision to expel Saddleback, another large and influential congregation, Elevation Church in South Carolina, sent a letter withdrawing their SBC affiliation without giving a reason, though it did make clear that the church would continue with Southern Baptist teachings.

Elevation Church, led by Pastor Stephen Furtick, hosts events at which women, including Furtick’s wife Holly, regularly preach. Elevation’s weekly attendance surpassed 26,000 congregants a week, according to the most recent SBC records. Their worship team was also awarded one Grammy, two Billboard Music Awards and seven Dove Awards including worship album of the year in 2023.

The question to be decided during the convention Tuesday and Wednesday will be whether the Bible verses about men’s and women’s roles should be taken as a literal, universal code of conduct or be considered within the context of the era in which they were written.

In 2000, Southern Baptists amended the Baptist Faith and Message, the church’s statement of doctrine, to state that, “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The scriptures referenced in the article are in the “Book of 1 Timothy,” which includes this passage attributed to the Apostle Paul:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Tim. 2:11-12)

However, Biblical scholars disagree on the Bible’s teachings regarding the question of women’s roles in the church. Proponents of women’s involvement in the pulpit point to another passage attributed to Paul as a counterpoint:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28

Historian and evangelical author Rick Renner, founder of Oklahoma-based Renner Ministries, says a deeper study about women remaining “quiet” in the churches reveals that the texts do not depict muting or shunning women.

Instead, he argues that up until the time of the writings in the New Testament, women were not allowed in public religious gatherings and were being taught how to conduct themselves in public for the very first time after years of sexism.

“It was not about speechlessness. It was about women learning not to usurp authority, by manipulating or dominating when serving under a pastor,” Renner said. Paul “wasn’t against women speaking, teaching. He was against them wrongly using their positions. And he would have said the same thing to men.”

Renner has highlighted powerful women in the book of Romans, including those who served in pastoral and deacon roles in the early church, indicating according to him that the early church was in support of women in leadership roles.

“The verses that people have misconstrued that say that women are to keep silent in the church, actually meant that women have great liberty,” he said.

Proponents of the ban say that the Executive Committee must align with being “unapologetically biblical,” the meaning of which is something Southern Baptist Convention conregations, among others, have yet to agree on.