The Southern Baptist Convention has removed its largest congregation, Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Calif., for appointing a woman as a teaching pastor.
The SBC Executive Committee, which acts on behalf of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in-between the convention’s annual meetings, made the ouster official during its winter meeting Feb. 21 in Nashville.
The Executive Committee approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee urging Saddleback “be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the convention, on the basis that the church 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.”
‘Pastor is limited to men’
The SBC’s doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
During the session in which the Executive Committee acted on Saddleback, members removed four other churches for calling women as pastors and one church for a sexual abuse problem. While clergy sexual abuse has been the dominant issue within the SBC the past couple of years, disagreement over the role of women in the church provided the catalyst for conflict that divided the convention in the 1980s and ’90s.
Saddleback, which was launched in 1980, has been on the SBC hot seat since the spring of 2021.
Saddleback, which was launched in 1980, has been on the SBC hot seat since the spring of 2021. Under the leadership of founding Pastor Rick Warren, the church announced it ordained three women — all long-tenured staff members — as ministers.
Saddleback opponents wanted to remove the church from the SBC at the annual meeting in 2021, about a month after the women’s ordination service. Messengers asked the Credentials Committee to determine if the church remained “in friendly cooperation with the SBC” since the Baptist Faith and Message restricts the pastorate to men.
At the 2022 annual meeting, the Credentials Committee asked for more time to study the issue. Committee members said more information was needed to parse the differences between roles such as “lead pastor,” “senior pastor” and other pastoral positions.
During extended debate on the convention floor, the chair recognized Warren, who recently had announced plans to retire. He compared himself to a man who was about to be executed and should be allowed to offer final words.
Warren read what he called a “love letter” to the convention, noting he is a fourth-generation Southern Baptist who studied at an SBC seminary and received support to start his church from the SBC. He noted Saddleback has baptized tens of thousands of people, many who became church planters, and Saddleback started more than 90 churches in Orange County alone. Saddleback counts more than 24,000 members spread across 15 U.S. campuses and four international campuses.
“We have to decide if we’re gonna treat each other as allies or adversaries,” he told the messengers. “Are we gonna keep bickering over secondary issues, or are we gonna keep the main thing the main thing?”
“We have to decide if we’re gonna treat each other as allies or adversaries. Are we gonna keep bickering over secondary issues, or are we gonna keep the main thing the main thing?”
Subsequently, Warren retired, and Saddleback called Andy Wood to be the new pastor. The church named his wife, Stacie Wood, a teaching pastor.
The Executive Committee conducted its Feb. 21 discussion of the proposal to remove Saddleback in a closed session, so information about ideas and positions held by members was not made public. But Stacie Wood’s position and title must have sparked opposition, because the removal recommendation specifically cited the church “having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
Asked for a response, Warren provided a statement he posted through social media: “Friends worldwide: I’m so touched by your love! Kay and I love you back! We will respond to #SBC in our time and way through direct channels: Our newsletters to 600,000 church leaders, Daily Hope radio broadcast, 1 million PDC (Purpose-Driven Church) alumni pastors list, 11 million social media followers.”
He referenced Luke 23:43: “And (Jesus) said to him: ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Andy Wood could not be reached for comment.
In addition to Saddleback, the Executive Committee voted to remove four other churches because they have women pastors. They are:
- New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Ga., which has a female senior pastor.
- St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church in Baltimore, Md., which has a female senior pastor.
- Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., which has a female lead pastor.
- Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., which has a female lead pastor.
In addition, the Executive Committee removed Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., because it was “deemed not in friendly cooperation with the convention, based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation.”
Marv Knox founded Fellowship Southwest after editing the Baptist Standard almost 20 years. He’s retired, but this week, he’s filling in for Mark Wingfield, BNG’s executive director and publisher, who is on vacation.
Want to understand why the SBC expelled its largest church? Listen to W.A. Criswell | Opinion by Mark Wingfield