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SBC expels Saddleback, 4 other churches that have female pastors

Saddleback Church ordains its first three female pastors: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards, on Thursday, May 6, 2021. This even though their denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, restricts the pastorate to men.
Saddleback Church ordains its first three female pastors: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards, on Thursday, May 6, 2021. This even though their denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, restricts the pastorate to men. | Facebook/Saddleback Church

Correction Appended

The Southern Baptist Convention has decided to cut ties with Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, and four other churches over their decision to elevate women to the office of pastor.  

The SBC Executive Committee approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee on Tuesday to label the five churches as “not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention” over their decision to allow women to hold the office of pastor.

Along with Saddleback, other churches that were disfellowshipped for having female pastors include: New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Georgia, St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

The churches will be able to appeal their expulsion at SBC's Annual Meeting, which is scheduled to occur in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 13-14.

SBC's Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said in a statement to Baptist Press that the disaffiliations came because of “the churches continuing to have a female functioning in the office of pastor.”

“As stated in the Baptist Faith and Message Article VI, the SBC holds to the belief that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” stated Wellman. “These churches have been valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly. However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches.”

According to Baptist Press, "The Credentials Committee cited Stacie’s role as teaching pastor of the church as the reason for the removal of cooperating status due to the church’s lack of a faith and practice that closely aligns with the Baptist Faith and Message which states in Article VI that 'while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.'”

Launched in 1980 by pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren in California, Saddleback had grown to become the second-largest Southern Baptist church in the U.S., planting numerous churches in the U.S. and four campuses overseas. 

Before Warren retired last year, he hand-picked his successor to head the church, Pastor Andy Wood and his wife, Stacie Wood, who is identified as a teaching pastor at Saddleback. 

Andy Wood told Baptist Press last October that “we are committed to stay in fellowship and unified with other SBC churches even when we disagree.”

“Saddleback Church has a strong commitment to the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. We believe this approach is biblical and in alignment with the teachings of the New Testament as well,” Wood said at the time.

Saddleback garnered controversy in May 2021 when it ordained three women — Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards — to be pastors. The move put the megachurch at odds with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, the authoritative church rules for the SBC, which restricts the office of pastor to men.

At the June 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, a resolution was offered to break fellowship with Saddleback, with the proposal going to the SBC Credentials Committee.

In June 2022, at the SBC's Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, the Credentials Committee announced that it was delaying a decision on the proposal.

Committee Chair Linda Cooper told messengers at the time they had “concluded that we are not yet prepared to make a recommendation regarding Saddleback Church, recognizing there are differing opinions regarding the intent of the office of pastor as stated in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.”

"We feel it is very important for you to know that it is the unanimous opinion of the Credentials Committee that the majority of Southern Baptists hold to the belief that the function of lead pastor, elder, bishop or overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” Cooper added.

The original version of this article published on Feb. 22, 2023, reported that the SBC disfellowshiped Saddleback Church because the church had ordained three women to the office of pastor. According to an SBC spokesperson, the decision to disfellowship Saddleback was because Pastor Andy Wood's wife, Stacie Wood, a teaching pastor, was also functioning in the office of pastor. The specific issue of the ordination of women is still being reviewed. 

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