A proposed constitutional amendment to bar any Southern Baptist Convention church from giving a woman the title “pastor” gained steam — and opposition — this week with publication of a list of 170 SBC churches said to have women serving as “pastors.”
“Many have claimed that female pastors in the SBC is not a growing problem, but the data says otherwise,” begins a page on the website created to promote the constitutional amendment proposed by Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Va.
The published list is 218 pages long and includes detailed information — such as photographs, website captures and staff listings — for all the churches accused of being out of step with SBC doctrine on women in ministry.
“Pastor Mike has only done a small review of the churches.sbc.net website (which boasts more than 50,000 SBC churches), and he has found more than 170 women serving as pastors in the SBC,” the website states. “As can be observed, the vast majority of these churches come from Virginia and Texas. That is simply because Virginia and Texas were the states most readily capable of review by Mike and a few other pastor friends.
“This was not a scientific or a statistical study; even so, what is revealed is that the numbers are not decreasing, they are increasing. Nashville, we have a problem, and adopting the constitutional amendment is part of the solution.”
“Nashville, we have a problem, and adopting the constitutional amendment is part of the solution.”
Baptist News Global could not independently verify whether the named churches are, in fact, affiliated with the SBC. It has been reported in the past that some churches in the SBC’s database withdrew from the convention years ago but have not been purged from the rolls. In February, the SBC Executive Committee expelled two churches with female pastors only to discover those churches do not identify with the SBC.
Even if every female pastor found in the newly published list represented a single congregation — many are women who serve the same church together — 170 churches is three-tenths of 1% of the SBC’s 50,000 churches.
Law and other advocates for a strict ban on women serving as pastors preach total compliance, however. It is their stated goal to expel every church that has given a woman the title “pastor” regardless of job description.
This is part of the internal debate in the convention, about whether the ban should be only on women serving as “senior pastor” or “lead pastor” or on any job with the word “pastor” in the title. Many of the women shown on Law’s list carry responsibilities for children’s ministry, preschool ministry, youth ministry, community ministry or music ministry.
Although the SBC as a whole falls on the conservative side of gender theology, there is a far-right coalition that preaches a hard line. These are largely, but not exclusively, Calvinists who are strict complementarians and see distinct, God-given roles for men and women in home and church.
To this most conservative group, enforcing their preferred doctrinal purity will bring unity to the convention.
“As I wrote to the members of the Executive Committee, my goal is to secure our unity as Southern Baptists,” Law states on the website. “I wanted to make a clear, collegial and biblically convictional appeal for the Executive Committee to allow the constitutional amendment to come before the messengers in New Orleans. I wanted to make a loving request as a churchman that cares deeply about our convention.”
BNG’s review of the published list of 170 pastors in the SBC showed a disproportionate number of the women are Black.
BNG’s review of the published list of 170 pastors in the SBC showed a disproportionate number of the women are Black. California pastor Rick Warren, whose Saddleback Church recently was expelled from the SBC over this issue, warned in a recent interview that a total ban on women as pastors would drive hundreds of Black churches from the denomination.
“For hundreds of years, Black Baptist churches have been ordaining women as bishops, as pastors, as prophets, as apostles, as elders, as deaconesses. If this is true, the SBC is holding up a sign that says, ‘All Black churches look elsewhere.’”
In response, Denny Burk, an SBC seminary professor and leader of the strict complementarianism movement, accused Warren of playing the race card. “Our unity is in what we confess, not in the color of our skin,” Burk said.
Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, was among those responding.
“Publishing a list of this sort is the opposite of seeking unity. The purpose of this list and the proposed amendment is to threaten,” she said. “While there are women and churches on this list who may not have desired connection with the SBC for some time, I cannot help but think of the hundreds of thousands of women who remain in the SBC and what this communicates to them.
“Some may say the SBC is no longer worth fighting for, but all women’s safety and their ability to know that God fully values them as a part of the beloved community is a cause worth the fight no matter how many times we have lost for over 2,000 years,” she added.
Law is a lifelong Southern Baptist whose parents were missionaries in Central Asia with the SBC International Mission Board. This also is a personal issue to him, he said, because the church he now serves previously employed a female pastor and then a female interim pastor.
“Thankfully, the saints at Arlington Baptist have returned to faithfulness on this issue, and unity with Southern Baptists,” he said. “The problem is clear. The Bible is clear. Our confession is clear. Now it is time for our constitution to be clear, which will help secure our unity in the truth as a convention.”
The amendment Law has proposed would add this requirement to affiliation with the SBC: “Does not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”
His open letter to the SBC Executive Committee has accumulated 2,148 signatures. Those invited to sign must be “pastors/elders in SBC churches and professors in SBC seminaries,” meaning in Law’s view, only men.
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