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Southern Baptists reject proposed ban on women pastors

Baptists reject measure against women pastors

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A measure to ban women from holding the title of pastor in Southern Baptist churches failed Wednesday despite widespread support.

The vote at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, held at the Indiana Convention Center, ends for now a three-year fight that has caused some churches to leave the organization. The measure would have amended the SBC Constitution to state that only men could hold the title of pastor.

The move would have further codified existing church doctrine. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which outlines the SBC’s basic theological doctrines, states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

SBC insiders say adoption of the amendment would not have automatically forced churches with women pastors to leave the SBC, nor would it have signified any doctrinal change.

Meeting delegates, known as messengers in SBC parlance, pointed to the ongoing debate over LGBTQ+ clergy in other denominations as evidence of the need to add the language to the SBC Constitution. Ryan Fullerton, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, said the measure would not prevent women from serving in other capacities such as children’s ministry.

“The culture is attacking gender on all fronts,” he said. “What better way to express our countercultural commitment to the goodness of God’s Word than to affirm God’s creation order related to the office of pastor?”

Spence Shelton, pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the only person to speak against the measure before debate was cut off. He said the measure was redundant due to the language already in the Baptist Faith and Message. Shelton noted the SBC had just revoked the membership of First Alexandria Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday over the women pastors issue and kicked out two more last year.

“The question is, is the amendment necessary for our Convention to respond when churches in our Convention act in a way contrary to our doctrine?” he said. “We showed last year we have an effective mechanism.”

The amendment passed a preliminary vote at last year’s SBC annual meeting. It needed a final, two-thirds vote in order to be ratified. On Wednesday, 61% of the meeting messengers voted in favor of it, falling short of the threshold.

Some churches already have left the SBC over the amendment and what it represents. May Memorial Baptist Church in Powhatan, Va. quit a year ago rather than remove a woman from the position of associate pastor. Michael Edwards, the senior pastor, told News 8 that Scripture isn’t nearly as clear on the question of female pastors as SBC leaders are making it out to be. He said even though the amendment failed, he does not plan to rejoin the SBC.

“Who wants to be at the table with people who don’t want you there? I don’t,” he said.

Southern Baptist churches are independent. A church can be removed from what is termed “friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention by a vote of messengers at the SBC annual meeting. This has little direct effect on a church, but it does prevent the church from accessing SBC programs such as education assistance at Southern Baptist seminaries.

Edwards said he expects someone will bring the measure back at a subsequent annual meeting. SBC staff said the amendment process would have to start over if someone wanted to do so. The earliest anyone could propose one would be at the 2025 annual meeting in Dallas and the earliest SBC messengers could hold a final vote would be at the 2027 annual meeting.