Southern Baptists Reject Tighter Ban on Women in Pastoral Posts

Southern Baptists Reject Tighter Ban on Women in Pastoral Posts


Southern Baptists rejected a move on Wednesday to crack down on congregations with women in pastoral leadership. The vote dealt an unexpected rebuke to a hard-right faction that has been jockeying for influence in the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

The amendment that was put to a vote on Wednesday at the denomination’s annual meeting in Indianapolis would have added language to the denomination’s constitution saying that “only men” could be affirmed or employed “as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

The amendment’s language echoes the Southern Baptist statement of faith. Adding the language to the denomination’s constitution would have strengthened enforcement, and its proponents say, would have streamlined the denomination’s ability to oust individual churches that employ women with titles like “children’s pastor.”

With almost 13 million church members across the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention has long been a bellwether for American evangelicalism. Its reliably conservative membership makes it a powerful political force, and its debates have attracted widespread interest from outside commentators and politicians this year.

The convention also elected a new president on Wednesday morning: Clint Pressley, the pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in North Carolina. He is an establishment conservative who has pledged to tamp down heightened rhetoric among Southern Baptists, and he supported the amendment.

On Tuesday, delegates voted overwhelmingly to expel a church in Virginia that has a female pastor for women and children.

For opponents of the amendment, the expulsion showed that the existing system for keeping women out of the pulpit was effective and the amendment was not needed. Last year, Southern Baptists ejected five churches with female lead or senior pastors, including one of its most prominent congregations, Saddleback Church in Southern California.

“We have shown that the mechanisms we currently have are sufficient to deal with this question,” Spence Shelton, a pastor in North Carolina, said from the floor in opposition to the amendment. He pointed out that recently ousted churches include a small church, a very large one, and a historic one, suggesting that Southern Baptists are not afraid to take decisive action.

For the amendment’s vocal boosters, opposition to women pastors draws a line in the sand against the encroachment of more sweeping signs of progressivism, including acceptance of homosexuality and transgender identities.

“If we compromise our message, we will corrode our mission,” Mike Law, the pastor in Virginia who proposed the amendment, said on Tuesday at a lunch meeting that concluded in prayer for the amendment’s passage. “If we want the big giant ship of the Southern Baptist Convention to go for the long haul, a little leak is not OK. And the leak is growing.”

In their view, slow-moving and scattershot expulsions of churches that employ women as head pastors was not sufficient for such a core issue.



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