More than 700 Southern Baptist pastors are calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to prohibit women from serving “as a pastor of any kind” at SBC-affiliated churches.
Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia, penned an open letter to the SBC’s Executive Committee calling on the board to amend the convention’s constitution to include verbiage requiring Southern Baptist churches to not “affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”
Titled “A Call To Keep Our Unity,” Law’s letter warns of what he described as a trend of SBC-affiliated churches hiring women in pastoral roles “of various kinds.”
“Personally, I felt the need to offer this amendment because five Southern Baptist churches, roughly within a five-mile radius of my own congregation, are employing women as pastors of various kinds, including women serving as “Sr. Pastor,” Law wrote. “Many others have found that a number of Southern Baptist churches appoint, affirm, or employ women as pastors in their areas, too.”
While often using modified titles like “co-pastor,” “worship pastor,” or “youth pastor,” these roles, added Law, all “trade on the office of ‘pastor.’”
The proposed motion would amend Article III, paragraph 1 of the SBC Constitution on “Composition.”
Law noted the Baptist Faith & Message statement adopted in 2000 already affirms 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.”
Prior to that, Law said the Convention — through its “Resolution On Ordination And The Role Of Women In Ministry” — already recognizes the Bible “excludes women from pastoral leadership” and “pastoral functions.”
“This matter has long been settled by Southern Baptists,” he wrote.
Citing a number of passages from Scripture that state only qualified men can hold the office of “elder” or “overseer,” terms Law described as “synonymous with pastor,” including 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9, the letter also warns of dire consequences for the Convention if the issue is left unsettled.
“Abiding women in the pastoral office materially harms the work of the Convention because it cultivates disunity where we have long been united,” wrote Law. It contaminates the soil of our Convention with distrust of and disobedience to the Scriptures, particularly 1 Timothy 2:12 and 3:1-7.
“Devaluing our doctrine will not lead to faithfulness or fruitfulness. Rather, if we learn anything from history, embracing empty doctrines will soon empty our Convention too. Consider the exodus among the liberal and mainline denominations. They abided with women as pastors for a time, then they embraced the practice — thereby abandoning sound doctrine — and so began their rapid decline.”
The next SBC Executive Committee meeting is scheduled for February 2023. It's unclear whether the issue will be taken up by the committee.
While there’s little data on the number of women serving in pastoral roles in Southern Baptist churches, fewer than one-tenth of 1% of SBC-affiliated churches in 2000 had a woman serving as senior pastor, according to a study from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Last year, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, drew scrutiny from many within the SBC when the church ordained three women — Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards.
Since then, the prominent California megachurch has received increased attention for its support of female pastors.
Recently installed lead Pastor Andy Wood, who replaced pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren as leader of Saddleback, listed his wife Stacie as a “teaching pastor” on the church’s website.
Earlier in October, Stacie preached a sermon at Saddleback, with her being identified as a “Teaching Pastor.”
Also earlier this month, trustees at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the seminary's administration to continue theologically training both men and women, "but with men alone reserved for the office and function, and thereby title of pastor."
"It is further resolved that this Board encourages The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administration and faculty to continue its theological training with this stated conviction —graduating both men and women for service to the church, but with men alone reserved for the office and function, and thereby title of pastor," the resolution states in part.
Shortly after the SBC's Annual Meeting in June, Southern Baptist theologians published a statement clarifying the meaning of the word "pastor" amid controversy stemming from Saddleback Church ordaining female pastors last year.
The document, titled, "A Statement Concerning the Baptist Faith & Message and the Word' Pastor,'" was released by a Southern Baptist seminary president, a former seminary president, and the former head of the denomination's public policy arm.
The signatories are Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Dr. Richard Land, who served as the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1988-2013 and is the president emeritus of Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. The Confession Revision Committee assigned the three men to write a study guide for the new 2000 Baptist Faith & Message Confession.
Aiming to bring clarity to a fractious debate within SBC life, the theologians said that when it comes to the word "pastor," Southern Baptists have always understood the term "pastor." In keeping with the spirit of Baptist Faith and Message 2000, "pastor" means "one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor's functions."
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.