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Southern Baptists vote to expel two churches led by female pastors

The decision paves the way to ban women from most leadership roles in the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
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The Southern Baptist Convention announced Wednesday it has voted overwhelmingly to finalize the expulsion of two churches from the nation's largest Protestant denomination for having female pastors.

And the vote wasn't even close, according to the SBC's tally.

Spurred on by arch-conservatives in the SBC, the 12,000 or so "messengers" who had gathered at their annual meeting in New Orleans voted by a 9-to-1 ratio to seal the exit of California's Saddleback Church and a smaller congregation in Kentucky.

The vote, which was conducted Tuesday, set the stage for another vote Wednesday to amend the SBC's constitution to specify that Southern Baptist churches must “affirm, appoint or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

That, too, passed with a two-thirds majority, and it will go into effect after it is approved at the next annual SBC meeting.

Sarah Clatworthy, a member of Lifepoint Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, who has called on the SBC “to shut the door to feminism and liberalism," said she supported the ban on female pastors.

“We should leave no room for our daughters and granddaughters in the generations ahead to have confusion on where the SBC stands,” she said. “Let them know Scripture is our authority and not the culture.”

Earlier, SBC President Bart Barber defended the vote to expel the churches and noted that the Roman Catholic Church also does not allow women to serve as pastors or priests.

"We believe that every believer is a priest," Barber said. "We have women who served as messengers. It's just the Scriptures say the office of pastor is limited to men."

Saddleback Church, a megachurch based in Southern California with a flock of around 23,000, was founded by Rick Warren, the author of the bestselling phenomenon “The Purpose Driven Life.”

The church drew the ire of the SBC when it ordained three women as pastors in 2021.

But the vote to declare Saddleback "not to be in friendly cooperation" with the denomination was due to “the church continuing to have a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of a pastor," the SBC said in a statement.

That was a reference to Stacie Wood, the wife of Warren’s successor, Andy Wood, the SBC said.

The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham sings with the choir at Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., on May 21, 2023.
The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham sings with the choir at Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., on May 21.Jessie Wardarski / AP file

Dismissing a personal appeal by Warren, the male and female attendees at the convention voted 9,437 to 1,212 to uphold the expulsion of Saddleback Church, which happened in February.

Afterward, a disappointed Warren said, "There are people who want to take the SBC back to the 1950s when white men ruled supreme and when the woman’s place was in the home."

Warren added at a news conference: “Messengers voted for conformity and uniformity rather than unity. The only way you will have unity is to love diversity. We made this effort knowing we were not going to win."

The Southern Baptists also voted 9,700 to 806 to deny an appeal by Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, which the Rev. Linda Barnes Popham has led for three decades.

Asked why the SBC did not move to expel the church sooner, Barber said that the denomination has never been in favor of having women serve as pastors and that it was hoping Fern Creek would "clarify" Popham's role on its own.

Popham told The Associated Press that said she does not know whether her church will join a new denomination or remain independent, adding: “I also believe God has great things for Fern Creek Baptist.”

While all Baptist churches are independent, the AP reported that it is believed to be the first time the SBC has expelled any churches over having female pastors.

The SBC has also expelled Freedom Church, which is in Vero Beach, Florida, for failing "to cooperate to resolve concerns regarding an abuse allegation" involving a male senior pastor who allegedly preyed on female parishioners.