JD Greear warns SBC could lose minority churches with permanent ban on women pastors

J.D. Greear, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, welcomes messengers and guests during the first session of the two-day SBC Annual Meeting at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee on June 15, 2021.
J.D. Greear, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, welcomes messengers and guests during the first session of the two-day SBC Annual Meeting at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee on June 15, 2021. | Courtesy of Adam Covington

As Southern Baptist Convention messengers prepare to vote on an amendment in their constitution, known as the Law Amendment, that would permanently ban women from serving as pastors “as qualified by Scripture,” the denomination’s former president J.D. Greear has called it “unwise” and “unnecessary” and said it could lead to a hemorrhaging of minority churches.

“I remain convictionally opposed to this amendment, not because of its content but because of its attempt to undermine our historic principles of cooperation,” Greear, who served as the SBC’s president from 2018 to 2021, wrote on his website Thursday.

“It overturns a system that works. I don’t oppose the Law Amendment because I’m a closet moderate or soft on theological issues. I am concerned that the missional, cooperative balance that has characterized our Convention since the Conservative Resurgence is about to be overturned.”

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines "pastor" as "one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor's functions." Article VI of The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 further notes that the scriptural offices are pastors and deacons and "[w]hile both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

At the SBC's Annual Meeting in June 2023, a proposed amendment to the SBC's constitution clarifying that women cannot serve as pastors passed with approximately 80% of the vote from more than 12,000 messengers.

The amendment, which was proposed by Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia, will become permanent if it gains majority support at the SBC's Annual Meeting which kicked off on Sunday in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The vote on the amendment last year came just hours after 88% of messengers voted to uphold the removal of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church for allowing a woman to serve in the office of a teaching pastor. The removal of Fern Creek Baptist Church for having a woman pastor was also affirmed by a vote of 92%.

During that meeting, roughly nine out of every 10 messengers voted to disfellowship churches that have women pastors. 

While Greear argued that he does not believe amending the SBC's constitution is necessary to keep women in the denomination from serving as pastors, Heath Lambert, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, disagrees.

Lambert, who has authored a number of books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World, argued in a primer on the issue shared on his church’s website, that the “Law Amendment is one of the most crucial issues facing messengers headed to Indianapolis for the 2024 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“The real issue on this matter is the Bible. The Bible is crystal clear that the office of pastor is reserved for men as qualified by Scripture (1 Timothy 2:11-123:1-7Titus 1:6). Baptists know this. That clear knowledge makes this whole thing much easier than some of the overcooked debates around this issue would lead you to believe,” Lambert explained.

“It is this simple. The Law Amendment has been placed before Southern Baptists. The question the amendment asks is whether we agree with Scripture that the office of pastor is reserved for men. Brothers and sisters, the clear answer — the only answer — is yes. Simple faithfulness demands our agreement with Scripture.”

While acknowledging that some SBC leaders, including current President Bart Barber, don’t see the amendment as necessary, Lambert argued that it is the controversy that erupted over Saddleback Church’s employment of female pastors which necessitated the clarification.

“Historically, this became an issue at the 2022 SBC meeting in Anaheim. At that meeting, rather than make a recommendation to remove Saddleback Church for employing female pastors, the Credentials Committee recommended further study to determine what a pastor is. This recommendation led to a great deal of tumultuous debate, to a withdrawal of the recommendation from the committee, and the ultimate removal of Saddleback in 2023,” Lambert wrote.

“It has been alarming that some leaders could express confusion about the clear biblical teaching restricting the office of pastor to men that is required by the BFM and SBC Constitution,” Lambert added.

Reiterating arguments he raised last summer,  Greear framed his objection to the amendment as an "unnecessary infringement upon the autonomy of the local church," especially for minority churches.

“I am more convinced than ever that the Law Amendment is unwise, unnecessary, and will have significant negative ramifications. For most of us who oppose it, the issue has nothing to do with complementarianism, but historic Baptist principles of cooperation,” Greear wrote.

“It’s become clear that this ‘fix’ will yield A LOT of collateral damage. There are churches who genuinely embrace complementarianism even as they differ in some of its applications. Several of our minority leaders (like the National African American Fellowship and California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Pete Ramirez) have told us as much,” he added.

The NAAF is a network of more than 4,000 predominantly African American churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Gregory Perkins, the network’s president and lead pastor of The View Church in Menifee, California, argued in a July 2023 letter to Barber that despite being in theological alignment with the denomination, many black Southern Baptist churches allow women to use the title “pastor” under the leadership of a male senior pastor.

"Many of our churches assign the title 'pastor' to women who oversee ministries of the church under the authority of a male Senior Pastor, i.e., Children's Pastor, Worship Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, etc.," Perkins wrote. "To disfellowship like-minded churches who share our faith in Jesus Christ, our belief in the authority of Scripture, our mandate to carry out the Great Commission, and our agreement to give cooperatively based upon a local-church governance decision, dishonors the spirit of cooperation and the guiding tenets of our denomination."

Perkins said prohibiting churches from allowing women to hold the title "pastor" would be challenging for many black Southern Baptist congregations even though the SBC’s Baptist Faith & Message 2000 states that "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Greear also quotes Ramirez raising similar concerns.

“What worries me is that we make decisions without thinking about the consequences for ethnic churches,” Ramirez explained. “There are many ethnic churches that, for translation reasons, use the title of pastor for a person. But it’s a matter of translation. It’s not that the person is ordained. It’s not that the person has a [ministry] license.”

Ramirez, who has pastored for 17 years in California, argued that the SBC could regret the move if the amendment is made permanent.

“We are, as a convention, putting ourselves in the business of churches and saying, ‘If you don’t change this, you can’t be part of us,’” Ramirez said. This “is a radical change as Southern Baptists that I think we could regret long-term as we fulfill the Great Commission.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles