SBC amendment to permanently ban women pastors falls short

Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia proposed the Law amendment at the SBC's Annual Meeting in June 2023.
Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia proposed the Law amendment at the SBC's Annual Meeting in June 2023. | Baptist Press/Sonya Singh

A proposed amendment to the Southern Baptist Convention's constitution, known as the Law Amendment, that would have permanently banned women from serving as pastors "as qualified by Scripture," fell 5 percentage points short of the required two-thirds support from messengers on Wednesday.

Some 5,099 — or 61% of messengers who cast ballots at America's largest Protestant denomination's Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana — voted in favor of the measure that needed 66.66% of the votes to be ratified. About 38%, or 3,185 messengers, opposed the motion.

The amendment received much less support than it did when it was proposed by Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia at the SBC's Annual Meeting in June 2023, which passed with approximately 80% of the vote from more than 12,000 messengers.

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Supporters of Law's effort to codify the ban on women pastors in the denomination hailed him as a "hero."

"Mike Law is a hero," William Wolfe, executive director of the Center for Baptist Leadership, said in a statement on X. "If the SBC is going to have any future, we must replace the corrupt and compromising Platform leadership with men like Mike Law at every position."

In comments made prior to the vote Wednesday, Law stated that "Last year, we learned there were over 1800 churches in the SBC" with women pastors.

Grant R. Castleberry, senior pastor of Capital Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, who voted to support the measure, openly prayed for it to be ratified, saying it could be "one of the most consequential decisions in modern SBC life."

Steve Gentry, pastor of Village Church RVA in Midlothian, Virginia, agreed.

"Since we went to secret ballots, I want to be clear, I voted for the Law amendment. Regardless of outcome, it is a vital and timely amendment that is needed in the life of the SBC," Gentry wrote on X before the votes were tallied.

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."

Messengers overwhelmingly voted in support of the amendment to permanently ban women from serving as pastors last year, 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 with female pastors. 

The SBC's newly elected president, Clint Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, expressed his support for the amendment.

Some Southern Baptists, like former president J.D. Greear, called it "unwise" and "unnecessary." He warned that if it were ratified, 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 before the vote.

"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."

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

"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 ahead of the vote.

"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."

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

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