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Delegates hold up their ballots at the Southern Baptist Convention at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Southern Baptists Refuse to let Saddleback Church Back in, Ousted Over Women Pastors

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has refused to welcome Saddleback Church back into its fold, rejecting an appeal by the California megachurch over its February ouster for having women pastors.

SBC messengers (or delegates) at their annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana also rejected a similar appeal by a smaller church, Fern Creek Baptist of Louisville, Kentucky, which is led by a woman pastor.

The results were announced Wednesday morning at the conclusion of the two-day annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. All Baptist churches are independent, so the convention can't tell them what to do, but it can decide which churches are "not in friendly cooperation," the official verbiage for an expulsion.

The SBC's statement of faith says, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

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Saddleback had been the denomination's second-largest congregation and until recently was widely touted as a success story amid larger Southern Baptist membership declines.

With the 9,437-1,212 vote, delegates rejected an appeal by Rick Warren, the retired founding pastor of Saddleback and author of the best-selling, The Purpose Driven Life

Church representatives also voted 9,700-806 to deny the appeal by Fern Creek Baptist Church, which has had a woman pastor for three decades but came under heightened scrutiny this year. 

As CBN News reported in February, the SBC Executive Committee voted to oust the two congregations, along with three others that chose not to appeal, for having women pastors.

The Executive Committee made the decision to disfellowship the congregations, labeling them as "not in friendly cooperation with the Convention."

The committee added that Saddleback "has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention's adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor." 

Fireworks erupted over the issue of women pastors at the SBC annual meeting before Tuesday's vote. The messengers or delegates heard an appeal from both churches. 

Warren and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler took opposing sides on the issue during that brief debate. 

"No one is asking any Southern Baptist to change their theology. I'm not asking you to agree with my church. I am asking you to act like a Southern Baptist, who have historically agreed to disagree on dozens of doctrines in order to share a common mission," Warren told the assembled messengers. 

"Since Southern Baptists have always allowed disagreement on doctrines, including the essential doctrines of salvation, why should this one issue cancel our fellowship?" he asked. 

"We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sin, racial sin, financial sin, leadership sins – sins that harm the testimony of our convention. But the 1,028 churches with women on pastoral staff have not sinned," Warren argued. 

Mohler told the assembled delegates he does not say what the Baptist faith and message means. 

"The Southern Baptist Convention says what the Baptist faith and message means and is quite confident to accomplish that task," he said. "In the year 2000, the words 'the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture,' was inserted, because 30 years ago this issue threatened to tear this denomination apart."

"The definition of friendly cooperation came down to the fact that it was an issue that would endanger the cooperative cohesion and faithfulness of the church – of the Southern Baptist Convention," Mohler noted. "And in particular, we look to this issue, because Southern Baptists decided this is not just a matter of church policy. It is not just a matter of hermeneutics. It's a matter of biblical commitment. A commitment to the scripture that unequivocally we believe limits the office of pastor to men. It is an issue of biblical authority." 

Also on Tuesday, the SBC re-elected Texas Pastor Bart Barber to a second one-year term as president.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of