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Southern Baptists double down on their opposition to women as pastors
Convention sets stage for 2024 vote that would put men-only provision in denomination’s constitution
At a time when even many conservative Christian denominations are moving to recognize a greater role of women in ministry, Southern Baptists are doubling down on their understanding that women should not serve in pastoral roles.
At their annual meeting in New Orleans last week, the Southern Baptist Convention received plenty of attention as it overwhelmingly affirmed its ouster of California’s Saddleback Church, which at the time was the SBC’s best-known local church, from the denomination because it had women pastors (although not as the main pastor).But one step the convention took could be even more far-reaching: Delegates (known as messengers) approved a change to the SBC constitution to provide that a church could belong to the SBC only if it employs or appoints “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”
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Messengers approved by the constitutional change by more than the two-thirds vote needed to advance it to the 2024 convention. It does not become part of the constitution until approved the second time.
The convention approved the amendment despite the opposition of the SBC’s Executive Committee, which said it isn’t necessary because a ban on women as pastors is already part of the church’s statement of faith, known as the Baptist Faith and Message. That statement includes this provision, adopted in 2000:
While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The proposed amendment arguably would be stronger than the existing provision, since local churches presumably can now give women pastoral roles without recognizing them in the office of pastor.
Among the opponents of the amendment was Bob Bender, pastor emeritus of Cross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, I beg of you,” he was quoted as saying in the Baptist Press. “Do not do this. All the liberals have left us. It looks like we conservatives are left to fight amongst ourselves.”
Bender said it is “disingenuous” to give women pastoral responsibilities “and not have their title line up with their responsibilities.”
On the other side was Denny Burk, a messenger from Kentucky and, as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a leader on this issue. He said the amendment “does nothing to diminish” the role of women.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Its stance on women as pastors makes it an outlier among U.S. Protestant denominations. Of the 10 largest Protestant denominations in the U.S., only one other — the Church of God in Christ — does not ordain women as pastors.
Evangelical denominations are divided on the matter. Many churches from Pentecostal or Wesleyan traditions, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Nazarene, respectively, ordain women, although it is uncommon for the theologically conservative churches to have a woman as a head pastor. Others, particularly those in the Calvinist or Reformed traditions, take a position similar to that of Southern Baptists. Many U.S. evangelicals attend independent megachurches, which decide for themselves the qualifications for ministry.
The largest Christian group in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church, does not ordain women as priests, although women can hold various leadership roles that do not require the priesthood. Three years ago, a woman was given a vote at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, the top advisory panel to the pope.
Another large Christian group, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not ordain women to its priesthood, which includes nearly all men who are active church members. Formal women’s leadership is mostly limited to the church’s programs that serve women and children.