What’s at stake as Southern Baptists shift to female pastors?

The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that is largely a bellwether for evangelical America, expelled five churches from the conference this year for ordaining women as pastors.

The move to enforce a strict ban on women in church leadership comes as some evangelicals fear a liberal drift in their congregations and a departure from Scripture.

The two churches that were evacuated were Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. and Saddleback Church in Southern California appealed to the denomination’s annual conference in New Orleans, but their appeals were overwhelmingly rejected in a vote, the results of which were announced Wednesday.

At the same time, ultraconservatives amended the SBC constitution to further restrict women’s role in leadership, stating that a church could be Southern Baptist that “does not confirm, ordain, or ordain a woman as any pastor.” Mercy.”

Representatives are expected to vote on the proposal on Wednesday. Here’s a guide to understanding what’s at stake.

With more than 47,000 churches and more than 13 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. But its membership has dwindled. The 2022 report found those members A decrease of about 3 percent per year For the past three years.

Southern Baptists have historically preferred that individual churches elect leaders of their choice, and view itself as a congregation, rather than the hierarchical organization found in some other Christian traditions, such as Catholicism.

Although the denomination as a whole is overwhelmingly white, black women are overrepresented as pastors in churches with female lead pastors.

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Like the rest of society, religion has internal struggles over gender, sexuality, abuse, politics and race, including criticism from a dynamic right wing that the group is drifting leftward.

In 2021, SBC, Town View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, GA. and the expulsion of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Louisville for church policies perceived to be accepting of homosexuality.

Pastor Jim Conrad said in February 2021 that Town View’s conversations about becoming an “affirming” congregation and its decision to accept two same-sex couples as members in 2019 cost at least 30 percent of the church’s membership.

Ultraconservatives are moving to enforce the position that women should not lead churches. Before this year’s conference in New Orleans, more than 2,000 male pastors and professors signed a letter supporting an amendment to the denomination’s constitution that would implement that position.

Most Southern Baptists have long believed, based on their reading of the Bible, that the position of head pastor should be reserved for men.

Opponents of the expulsions said their church’s interpretation of the Bible affirmed women’s worthiness to lead.

It is not known exactly how many women Southern Baptist pastors are now; Estimates range from dozens to nearly 2,000 when pastoral positions other than senior pastor are included. The role of minister or pastor can have many meanings in different Christian organizations; For example, children’s ministers are often women, even in theologically conservative churches.

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A year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the conservative crackdown on SBC comes at a time when the country is reexamining women’s rights widely. For Southern Baptists, victims’ advocates have pressed the denomination to take action after devastating reports of sexual abuse of women and children, and have met with resistance from some men.

In evicting Saddleback Church, ultraconservatives targeted one of the denomination’s largest churches and one of the country’s most prominent evangelical churches. Founded in 1980 by popular pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback grew rapidly in the 1980s and ’90s and became known as a “seeker-sensitive” church that responded to the questions and desires of people unfamiliar or wary of traditional church experiences.

Author of the book “The Purpose Driven Life” Mr. Warren desperately tried to prevent Saddleback from ejecting. In an open letter addressed to “all Southern Baptists,” he wrote that the referendum on Saddleback’s restoration appeal was “a referendum affirming the God-given freedom of every Baptist to interpret the Scriptures as a Baptist—by saying no to the naysayers.” That freedom.” Ultimately, however, the effort failed.

An amendment to the SBC constitution to unequivocally bar women from high-level pastoral positions would require favorable votes at two consecutive annual conferences this year and next. Representatives are expected to hold a vote from Wednesday.

In a sign that the drive to purge churches of female leaders has taken the form of a political campaign, conference attendees received printed voter guides during breakfast Tuesday.

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Three other churches that were kicked out in February for having female pastors did not want to appeal. Churches can continue to function, but no longer identify themselves as affiliated with the SBC or participate in its programs.

Ruth Graham And Elizabeth Diaz Contributed report.

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