(RNS) — Southern Baptists, after lengthy debate Wednesday (June 14), voted on new language for their constitution that would state only men can be pastors of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The wording, which must be approved two years in a row, would be added to an article of the constitution that describes ways that churches can be in “friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention, which the current constitution defines as churches that agree with the SBC’s statement of faith, contribute to its funding program or entities, do not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and do not condone sexual abuse.
The new language would add that a church “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”
At the 2022 annual meeting, Virginia pastor Mike Law recommended an amendment that would only allow churches to cooperate with the SBC if they do not “affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”
He spoke to his intent at a microphone at New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on the second day of the two-day annual meeting.
Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church, described being in an area with a small percentage of evangelical Christians when he spoke on the floor of the convention on Wednesday.
“Over a year ago, I realized that five Southern Baptist churches within a five-mile radius of my congregation had women serving as pastors, including senior pastors,” he said. “When an unbeliever looks for a Southern Baptist church in my area, we want them to find a church that holds the Bible’s teachings and our convention’s beliefs.”
Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, introduced a substitute motion with language that focused on men instead of women.
“This motion states what we believe positively: We agree that both men and women are gifted for service in the church,” he said. “Women are a gift to the church, and we affirm their vital roles in the ministry of the church and church staffs.”
The SBC Executive Committee voted Monday (June 12) to approve placing the amendment before the messengers, or delegates, during this year’s meeting. But they also noted their opposition to changing the constitution to address the issue, with some members saying during the meeting that the faith statement is the place for such doctrinal issues.
“While the messengers to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting entrusted the Executive Committee with this motion, we recognize the significance of the matter, at this given time, and therefore believe it is prudent to place the referred motion before the entire body of messengers,” the committee stated, “while also expressing our opposition to the suggested amendment to SBC Constitution Article III.”
The Baptist Faith & Message states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Baptists have differed over whether that faith statement currently refers to barring women from all pastoral roles or only from serving in the role of senior pastor.
Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church, has compiled a list of 170 women serving in pastoral roles. Fewer than a third are senior pastors. The remainder include associate pastors and children’s pastors.
Baptists were divided Wednesday about whether the amendment was necessary or would cast a poor reflection on the ministry work of its women members.
Sarah Clatworthy, whose husband is a pastor in San Angelo, Texas, affirmed the need for an amendment and viewed it as a way to keep “feminism and liberalism” outside the conservative denomination.
“For those churches who have women serving under the title of pastor in any capacity, the constitution should encourage them to change those titles, rather than allowing their titles to dictate what the constitution says,” she said. “Let those who affirm women and pastoral leadership attend the United Methodist convention, where they will be welcomed with open arms. We should leave no room for our daughters and granddaughters in the generations ahead to have confusion on where the (SBC) stands.”
Bob Bender, pastor emeritus of Cross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, implored his fellow Baptists to not fight amongst themselves when they all share conservative beliefs.
“Regarding women in ministry and associate roles, should not title and function be synonymous? Let’s not give women responsibilities to shepherd other women and children and youth and not have their title line up with their responsibilities. That’s being disingenuous and in business could be litigious.”
He also expressed concern about how the convention looks to non-Southern Baptists.
“If we do this, do we really want 100 churches appealing being dismissed with three minutes each at next year’s convention?” he said. “What does it say when we seem to be slow on the take in addressing the sexual abuses of women but fast on the draw to disqualify them from nonpastoral roles?”
The issue of women pastors figured in the debates on the first day of the meeting, with representatives of two churches with women pastors given three minutes to ask for reinstatement in the denomination. On the second day, the Baptists affirmed the Executive Committee’s decision to oust those churches.
Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, urged the reinstatement of his Southern California congregation on Tuesday. The megachurch had given Stacie Wood, wife of Andy Wood, who replaced Warren as lead pastor last summer, the title of “teaching pastor.” The church previously ordained three women who were longtime staffers on Mother’s Day weekend in 2021. And in May, Katie Edwards was announced as the new campus pastor of the church’s Lake Forest, California, location.
The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham, pastor of Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, likewise appealed the ouster of her church because she holds its pulpit.
While Warren and Popham considered the issue one over which Baptists could disagree and remain together, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, rebutted their views by saying women pastors violate SBC doctrine.