Rick Warren and Saddleback Church plan to vigorously object to their expulsion from the Southern Baptist Convention at the SBC annual meeting next month in New Orleans.
Warren, who was founding pastor of the Southern California megachurch and recently retired, told BNG in a May 16 email it’s time for him to speak up after remaining quiet for a long time.
He and the church intend to release several videos making their case for inclusion in the SBC over the next weeks, but first, Warren said he must answer the question of why the church will challenge the February ruling by the SBC Executive Committee that Saddleback is no longer in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC because it has ordained women as pastors and allows women to preach in worship.
Meanwhile, Saddleback appears to have upped the ante on the debate last Sunday by naming a woman as campus pastor of its Lake Forest congregation. In Saddleback’s multi-campus structure, the campus pastor is not the primary preaching pastor but coordinates care for a particular campus congregation.
Katie Edwards, one of the three women ordained at Saddleback in 2021, was announced as the Lake Forest campus pastor May 7 by Lead Pastor Andy Wood. She follows Jason Williams, who will transition to become executive pastor of ministries.
“We’re not challenging the Executive Committee ruling for Saddleback’s benefit,” Warren said. “No one wants to stay where they aren’t wanted. Instead, we are challenging the … ruling for five reasons that would benefit others we care about.”
Those five reasons are:
- “We’re challenging the ruling on behalf of millions of SBC women whose God-given spiritual gifts and leadership skills are being wasted instead of empowered for the Great Commission. We cannot finish the task Jesus gave us with 50% of the church forced to sit on the bench. Great Commission Baptists believe Jesus authorized every woman to go, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach — just as he authorized every man.”
- “We’re challenging the ruling on behalf of over 300 concerned pastors who have written to me and have female pastors serving on their staffs. They are fearful and worried their congregations will also be disfellowshipped when the new inquisition discovers them. (I’ve seen one list with over 1,200 names of Baptist women in just Texas churches.)”
- “We’re challenging the ruling on behalf of our IMB missionaries. Today our missionary force has almost 1,500 fewer missionaries than we had 23 years ago when the revised Baptist Faith and Message was approved in 2000. With a renewed emphasis on the restriction of women, we’ll lose more godly female church planters and couples serving as pastoral teams in the mission field.”
- “We believe a decision this critical to the SBC’s identity and future should be decided by the messengers, not a committee. The messengers must decide if they want the Executive Committee to act like a Catholic magisterium.”
- “Our goal is to spark the thinking of messengers regarding the direction of the SBC. There are many complex issues causing the continued decline of our denomination. These are heartbreaking. So, regardless of the chances for success, if you really love something, you fight for it. But sometimes it takes years for people to consider an event before change happens. Wilberforce lost every vote for 17 years before the slave trade was eventually abolished. It took 10 years after the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 for the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s to coalesce. Note my prediction: The next generation of Southern Baptists will remove the restriction on women one day, because truth eventually triumphs over tradition.”
The issue of women serving as pastors is a hot topic in the SBC currently. The conversation is fueled by a group of ultraconservatives for whom pure doctrine is more important than anything else. And the purity of doctrine is defined by them.
The conversation is fueled by a group of ultraconservatives for whom pure doctrine is more important than anything else.
While there are few — if any — churches left in the SBC with women serving as senior pastors, the focus now has turned to women serving in other staff roles that include the word “pastor.” Most ordained women or women seeking ordination left the SBC two decades ago and found homes with the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other denominations.
However, more recently churches like Saddleback and pastors like Warren have become open to the ordination of women and preaching by women. In 2021, Saddleback ordained three long-time female staff members who serve in roles other than senior pastor. That raised eyebrows among the ultraconservatives, but the final straw was when Warren’s successor said his wife, Stacie Wood, would become one of Saddleback’s teaching pastors — a role she held at their previous Southern Baptist church as well.
All this caused a complaint to be filed with the SBC’s Credentials Committee, which determines what churches are in “friendly cooperation” and what churches are not. Based on that committee’s recommendation, the SBC Executive Committee in February voted to expel Saddleback Church.
The expulsion may be challenged — and according to Warren will be challenged — at the SBC annual meeting. Meanwhile, a Virginia pastor has asked the SBC Executive Committee to amend the SBC’s constitution to exclude without question any church that gives a woman the title “pastor” or allows a woman to preach.
This case carries enormous significance because Saddleback is the largest church in the SBC, records the most baptisms of any church in the SBC and has started more churches than any other congregation in the SBC. Expelling Saddleback would immediately worsen every metric the SBC records as signs of health — metrics already on the decline.
Warren said he estimates that over time, Saddleback has given more than $9 million to Southern Baptist causes, in addition to its church starting and evangelism work.
Even if the SBC sustains the church’s expulsion, Saddleback will remain part of the California Southern Baptist State Convention and the Orange County Southern Baptist Association, Warren said.