Southern Baptists mull second vote to amend constitution to exclude women pastors

Three of the six candidates expected to be nominated for the SBC presidency favor the so-called ‘Law Amendment,’ and three do not.

Messengers vote during the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La., on June 13, 2023. (RNS photo/Emily Kask)

(RNS) — Southern Baptists could take the debate over women pastors to a new dimension as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination holds its annual meeting June 11-12 in Indianapolis.

Local church representatives, or messengers, will be asked to vote a second time to amend the Southern Baptist Convention’s constitution to state that one way a church is considered to be in “friendly cooperation” is if it “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

At last year’s annual SBC gathering, messengers affirmed a decision to no longer affiliate with the well-known Saddleback Church, founded by Rick Warren, due to its women pastors on staff and a Kentucky church led by a woman.


Pastor Mike Law. Photo via ArlingtonBaptist.com

Pastor Mike Law. (Photo via ArlingtonBaptist.com)

But organizations and individuals are divided on the amendment, with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on one side and Baptist Women in Ministry on the other. Three of the six candidates expected to be nominated for the SBC presidency favor the so-called “Law Amendment” to ban women pastors and three do not.

Pastor Mike Law of Arlington, Virginia, said at last year’s meeting that he introduced the amendment because he was seeking clarity through the measure: “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.”

The amendment passed overwhelmingly last year, but it must get a second vote of at least two-thirds of the messengers at the upcoming meeting, with 10,500 preregistered as of Thursday (June 6), for it to become a part of the constitution.


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“If it were to fail, this would LIKELY be the first time that has happened,” Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications of the SBC Executive Committee, told Religion News Service about the lack of a precedent for a second vote overturning the outcome of the first.

Some churches made the decision to leave before they might be asked.

The Rev. Christy McMillin-Goodwin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Front Royal, Virginia, said she was surprised to discover that another Virginia clergyperson had listed her church as an example of one whose clerical leader was “sinning against God.”


“Our church decided to take a vote last May (2023) and the decision was unanimous,” she said of the church that had long stopped sending donations to the SBC and is affiliated with the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “People actually yelled ‘Yes.’ It was very impassioned that we don’t want to be a part of an organization that does not fully support women in leadership in the church.”

The Rev. Christy McMillin-Goodwin. (Courtesy photo)

The Rev. Christy McMillin-Goodwin. (Courtesy photo)

A third Virginia pastor, Robert Stephens, is planning to speak against the amendment. His First Baptist Church of Alexandria announced on its website that it learned from the SBC’s Credentials Committee that it is the subject of a “formal inquiry.” The church, which has a woman serving as pastor for children and women, also said it has been informed that a request could be made to “unseat” its messengers, which could prevent any of them from addressing attendees at the annual meeting.

“First Baptist Church of Alexandria believes that while the scriptural record around women in ministry is complex and sometimes difficult to interpret, there is plenty of reason within the Bible to affirm women serving in pastoral roles,” the church told the committee in response to its questions.

Across the country, African American clergy within the denomination have been some of the most vocal opponents of the amendment.

“I am cautiously optimistic that our Southern Baptist messengers will choose to honor the autonomy of the local churches and not seek to delve into the operational mechanics of the church,” said Pastor Gregory Perkins, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC.

Pastor Gregory Perkins, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC. (Courtesy photo)

Pastor Gregory Perkins, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC. (Courtesy photo)


He said many of the 3,800 churches in his fellowship believe the senior pastorate is reserved for men but that women can hold other roles, such as Pastor Regina Bennett, who oversees women’s and children’s ministries and sometimes preaches to his predominantly Black congregation, The View Church in Menifee, California.

“I believe that God called men and women to preach and to teach,” said Bennett, citing 2 Timothy’s reference that says to “show thyself approved.” “And so I think it would be sad if they decided to do that to reduce the diversity, but also being able to hear from both men and women, as the Bible tells us.”

Opponents to women in pastoral roles, including Law, cite verses in the previous New Testament book, 1 Timothy, as justification for excluding women pastors. Its verse, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet” is already cited in the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC confessional statement, but proponents of the Law Amendment do not think it is sufficient for the denomination’s stance on the issue.

“At a time when many churches within the SBC operate in contradiction to the BFM by ordaining females to the pastorate (lead, co-pastor, associate or otherwise), confessional clarity is necessary,” wrote Jonathan Swan, managing editor of CBMW’s Eikon Journal in a spring article. “One could go so far as to say that in moments like these, it is the spiritual duty of Southern Baptists not to just say what they believe, but to be doers of what they believe.”

Other leaders say the Law Amendment is not necessary and could lead to an array of consequences that could damage the convention and its affiliates.

In a first-person article in Baptist Press, the official news service of the SBC, Jeff Iorg, the new president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, said the amendment could lead to potential litigation, loss of board members on SBC agencies if they are affiliated with an expelled church, and overwork of a volunteer Credentials Committee to investigate churches that may violate the words in the amendment.


“Despite the fact the proposed amendment reflects my beliefs and practices, my concerns about the following implications and consequences of its adoption lead me to oppose it,” he wrote in May.

Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, speaks during services in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, June 6, 2021. In December 2020, McKissic was one of the co-signers of a statement by a multiethnic group of Southern Baptists asserting that systemic racial injustice is a reality. “Some recent events have left many brothers and sisters of color feeling betrayed and wondering if the SBC is committed to racial reconciliation,” the statement said. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, speaks during services in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, June 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Pastor Dwight McKissic, a Texas pastor who has criticized the SBC for not having more African American leaders in executive positions and successfully pushed messengers at past annual meetings to pass resolutions condemning white supremacy and criticizing the Confederate flag, said in an interview that passage of the Law Amendment would prompt him to no longer be affiliated with the SBC.

“The Law Amendment attacks personhood and it devalues women, and it takes away a local church’s decision to determine the role of women within that particular congregation and what title they might hold,” said McKissic, who has women with the title of “minister” on staff at his predominantly Black church. “In a way, I think no national organization should attempt to play such a role in the life of a local church.”

Perkins said he expects other African American churches, some of which, like McKissic’s, are affiliated with historic Black denominations, to possibly leave.

The Rev. Meredith Stone. (Courtesy photo)

The Rev. Meredith Stone. (Courtesy photo)

The Rev. Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, said a wide array of other churches are also mulling what they might do next if the amendment gets a second affirmative vote.


“The Law amendment will put it back on the churches,” she said, “some of those churches that are waiting to see what happens for them to decide: Are we going to stand firm and make them kick us out? Are we going to change titles? Or are we going to just go ahead and disfellowship ourselves from the convention preemptively?”


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