Top NewsSouthern Baptists reject a formal ban on churches with female pastors

Southern Baptists reject a formal ban on churches with female pastors

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Southern Baptists on Wednesday rejected a proposal to ban churches with female pastors, after opponents argued it was unnecessary in the denomination’s constitution, leaving them with the means to expel such churches.

The vote received support from 61% of delegates, but fell short of the required two-thirds majority. The move reversed a preliminary vote last year in favor of an official ban.

But it still follows from the Southern Baptist Convention with its official doctrinal statement that the priesthood is reserved for men. Even opponents of prohibition said they supported the doctrinal statement but did not think it necessary to enshrine it in the Constitution.

Opponents noted that the SBC can already expel churches that insist women can serve as pastors — just like that Last year Again Tuesday night.

Perhaps the most anticipated vote at the annual meeting was the referendum, reflecting years of debate by America’s largest Protestant denomination. It’s the final day of the SBC’s two-day annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Since 2000, the SBC’s Intransigent Statement of Faith has declared that only men are qualified for the priesthood. As long as the senior pastor is male, some believe this does not apply to associate pastors, which is interpreted differently across the denomination.

The proposed amendment, which won preliminary approval last year, would formally exclude churches that hold women in any pastoral positions, from lead pastor to associates, or confirm them in that role. Proponents believe it is biblically necessary, estimating that hundreds of Southern Baptist churches have women in those roles.

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The rejected amendment would have said that any church considered a “fellowship” — the official term for the SBC affiliation — “confirms, ordains, or employs only men as pastors or elders of any kind qualified by Scripture.”

Opponents argued that the convention already had the authority to remove churches on the issue, and that the amendment would have unintended consequences, including disproportionately affecting black Southern Baptist congregations that have women as pastors.

But after a brief debate the motion quickly went to a vote.

Ryan Fullerton, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, said the move is “not to prevent women from using their gifts” in the church, in church staff roles such as “children’s ministers.” But he said the Bible clearly says that the priesthood is for men.

She said there was “confusion about gender” in the wider culture and cited what she called “the ravages of the LGBTQIA agenda”.

But Spence Sheldon, pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, argued it was unnecessary.

He said there is no doubt that Southern Baptists are “complementarians” as 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 confirm the removal of two other churches, including a historic Virginia church and California megachurch Saddleback.

The reason for their expulsion was their lack of belief and practice consistent with the Baptist faith and message recognized in 2000, which includes the affirmation that the priesthood is reserved for men.

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“Yes, we have shown that the mechanisms we have are adequate to deal with this question,” Sheldon said.

Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia and author of the revision, cited a report that said about 1,800 female pastors work in the denomination. He quoted Bible verses limiting the episcopal office to men.

“Our culture may find this prohibition harsh, but our God is wise and wrote this word for both men and women to prosper,” he said.

“This amendment is not about women in ministry,” Law added. “This is especially true of women in the episcopate.” He did not spell out the difference in his brief speech.

The denomination cannot tell its independent churches what to do or whom to appoint as a pastor. But they can tell which churches are in and which are out.

Last year, Southern Baptists refused to back Saddleback, one of the conference’s largest congregations, and a small Kentucky church on the issue.

Both churches, which have women in high-ranking pastoral positions, appealed to the 2023 annual meeting to expel them and were overwhelmingly rejected by delegates. A similar scene played out in Indianapolis on Tuesday, when delegates overwhelmingly voted to expel First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia, which has a female associate and has insisted that women can hold higher office.

Supporters of the amendment say it won’t lead to an immediate, large-scale purge, but opponents worry it could burden many of the churches’ investigations on SBC volunteers and staff.

Delegates chose a North Carolina pastor and longtime religious politician to be the next president of their convention in a contest between six candidates that came down to two run-off votes.

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Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, will be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention after receiving 56% of the vote in the final run-off race.

The SBC president — one of the most prominent faces of the conservative evangelical network of churches — presides over the annual meeting and appoints members to the establishment’s committees.

Four candidates were eliminated in earlier rounds after Presley’s closest rival, Tennessee pastor Dan Spencer, received 44 percent of the vote.

Pressley has said he wants to vote later Wednesday on a measure to amend the SPC constitution to ban churches with female pastors.

Presley earned a Master of 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. Presley was first vice president of the SBC in 2014-15 and has served in several other denominational bodies.

Delegates earlier Wednesday rejected a proposal to abolish the SBC’s public policy body, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee. The move reflected views by some that the staunchly conservative commission was not conservative enough.

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The mayor reported from Nashville, Tennessee.

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Associated Press religion coverage is supported by AP together with With Conversation US, funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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