Rick Warren makes impassioned case to Southern Baptist messengers on women pastors

Rick Warren, founder and former pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., appeals the removal of the church from the Southern Baptist Convention during an afternoon session of the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 13, 2023. | Flickr/Baptist Press/Sonya Singh

In a heated message to over 12,700 messengers gathered at the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, Saddleback Church founder Rick Warren made a case for why his church’s inclusion of women in pastoral roles should not prohibit it from remaining in the denomination.

“For 178 years, the SBC has been at least a dozen different types of Baptists. If you think every Baptist thinks like you, you’re mistaken,” he began in his appeal to messengers in response to the Executive Committee's finding that the church is “not in friendly cooperation” with the SBC due to “the church continuing to have a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of a pastor.”

Though all Southern Baptists share a commitment to the inerrancy of the Gospel and the Great Commission, Warren said Southern Baptists historically disagree on “dozens of doctrines,” including the “essential doctrines of salvation.”

“Why should this one issue cancel our fellowship?” he asked.

“We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sins, racial sin, financial sin, leadership sin, sins that harm the testimony of our convention,” he said. “But the 1,129 churches with women on pastoral staff have not sinned.”

Warren reiterated his earlier sentiment that Saddleback disagrees with only one word in SBC doctrine: men. 

“Isn’t that close enough?” he asked. 

“If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin, we all get kicked out,” he declared. “You’ll never get 100 percent of Baptists to agree on 100 percent of every doctrine.”

In response, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned that the unity of the convention “is now at stake.” He said the ban on female pastors was inserted into the “Faith and Message” statement “because 30 years ago, this issue threatened to tear this denomination apart.”

“It’s not just a matter of church polity; it’s not just a matter of hermeneutics,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment to the Scripture that unequivocally we believe limits the office of pastor to men.”

Mohler further contended, “It is a question of the Southern Baptist Convention and what it means for a church to be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the denomination.”

“Here we face the unusual situation in which Dr. Warren himself has made repeated statements and the church has taken repeated actions that make very clear it rejects the confessional understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention on this issue,” he added. “This isn’t a question of misunderstanding.”

Founded in 1980 by Rick and Kay Warren, Saddleback has grown over four decades to 14 locations in Southern California, with an average weekly attendance of 30,000.

In February, the SBC Credentials Committee recommended to the Executive Committee that the SBC disfellowship the church after Pastor Andy Wood, who succeeded retiring Warren at Saddleback, listed his wife, Stacie, as a "pastor" in his biography on the prominent California megachurch's website in October 2022. Subsequently, on May 7, Katie Edwards, one of the three women ordained at Saddleback in 2021, was announced as the Lake Forest campus pastor.

In recent months, Warren has openly discussed how his views on the role of women in the Church have changed over the years, often drawing criticism from more conservative leaders within the SBC. 

The denomination holds to the belief that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture, and as outlined in its Faith and Message Statement. 

Saddleback is one of three congregations challenging the recommendation of removal from the SBC for failing to be in "friendly cooperation" with the denomination.

Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Rev. Linda Barnes Popham is the pastor, is appealing on the same grounds as Saddleback, while Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida, appealed its expulsion over an issue involving sexual misconduct by a church leader.

The results of all three appeals voted on by the messengers in attendance at this year's Annual Meeting will be available Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the SBC Executive Committee confirmed.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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