Determining whether to exclude churches with women serving in any way as pastors should be determined by messengers to next summer’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, according to the two men with the most influence over that process.
SBC President Bart Barber and SBC Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman issued a joint statement Nov. 2 in response to an organized effort by SBC conservatives to get a vote on their proposed constitutional amendment that would expel from the SBC any church that gives a woman a title including the word “pastor.”
The most extreme complementarians in the SBC — often but not exclusively Calvinists — believe the Bible reserves the role of pastor exclusively for men. And they don’t mean just the role of “senior pastor,” which is a position taken by others in the SBC. They believe no woman — whether working with children, youth, music, adults or even women’s ministry — should be given the title “pastor.”
While not a new concern, the matter flared last year after the SBC’s largest church ordained three women as pastors. And now the new pastor of that congregation, Saddleback Church in Southern California, has declared he will support and encourage women to preach. His wife recently was named a teaching pastor at the church.
At last summer’s SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., made a motion to amend the SBC’s constitution to add an exclusion for any church that affirms women as pastors. Despite protests from the floor, the Committee on Order of Business referred the motion to the Executive Committee, which will take it up in February, according to Baptist Press.
In the meantime, Law has launched an online petition for the amendment that has drawn more than 800 signatories.
“We are committed to letting these questions come before the messengers at our 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans.”
Barber and Wellman stated: “We affirm our polity. Although we did not reach a moment in Anaheim where the messengers were able to vote on these questions, as far as it lies within our authority to do so, we are committed to letting these questions come before the messengers at our 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans. We plan to protect the messengers’ rights to discuss and decide these questions. This is how we resolve conflict and answer questions; we trust this process to give us the clarity we need.”
Two previous actions of convention messengers are most often cited by those who want firm boundaries against women as pastors. The first is a “Resolution on Ordination and the Role of Women in Ministry” adopted in 1984 in the early days of the “conservative resurgence.”
That resolution cites 1 Corinthians 14 to say: “The Scriptures teach that women are not in public worship to assume a role of authority over men lest confusion reign in the local church.” Then it concludes that Southern Baptists “encourage the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.”
When the SBC’s primary doctrinal statement, known as the Baptist Faith and Message, was updated in 2000, this sentence was added: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The current debate — at least partly — is about the definition of the word “pastor.” Does that word as used in previous convention actions mean the mere use of the word “pastor” in a title? Does it mean a prohibition against women in any role of authority in the church? Is it only a limitation on those given the more modern title of “senior pastor”?
Some parse the situation carefully, believing women should not serve as the primary leader of a congregation, while others would add a prohibition on women as preachers or teachers, and still others would exclude women from any pastoral or leadership role in the church.
There are no reported cases today of a woman serving as the senior pastor of an SBC church. The SBC remains the only one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations opposed to female pastors.
Wellman, a pastor in Arlington, Texas, and Barber, a pastor in Farmersville, Texas, offered this assessment: “We affirm our statement of faith. We believe that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. These words represent our own individual doctrinal convictions. More importantly, these words represent the sentiments of the messenger body in their past decisions. As we discharge our own duties, we will do so in ways that implement these past decisions that the messengers have given to us.”