Last week in its annual meeting held in New Orleans, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention voted to uphold the denomination’s Credentials and Executive Committees in expelling Saddleback Church in California and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville Ky. The vote was not even close, with about a 9-1 ratio in favor.
What were the sins of these two congregations? Financial improprieties? Alleged racism? Failure to report child abuse? Cover-ups of sexual harassment against women? No, no, no, and no. The SBC messengers were concerned that these two churches had crossed the line in biblical orthodoxy by ordaining women as pastors.
Women in pastoral ministry seems to have been a controversial issue in the SBC ever since I became a Christian and joined a mega SBC church in Oklahoma. No female pastors and no female deacons. But it is not as simple as some in that corner describe the situation.
Their position overlooks the fact that women were the first to see our Resurrected Lord, that women were included in the outpouring of the Spirit during Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, and the role of Phoebe in presenting Paul’s letter to the Roman house churches. I am no church historian on this issue, but I suspect that women began to be sidelined when the church went mainline during its then Constantinian captivity.
I truly understand and appreciate the “no women pastors, no women deacons” position espoused by the majority of the SBC, their view that biblical authority and doctrinal integrity are indeed vital during our current Babylonian captivity. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold this position. I do, however, believe they are sincerely wrong on this issue.
“I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold this position. I do, however, believe they are sincerely wrong on this issue.”
I am not defending everything about Saddleback Church. (By the way, the church takes its name from the distinctly featured Saddleback Mountain located in Orange County. It is the most prominent geographic feature in the area other than the scenic coastline.) It is a well-known story how Rick Warren, the founding pastor now retired, returned to his native California after seminary in Texas to begin a church that would reach and disciple the unchurched and its first members were Warren and his family, and the landlord who leased them their first living space.
And yet, Saddleback is an acquired taste. The sermons, the music and indeed its entire culture does not speak to me, and I do not think Saddleback is supposed to appeal to me. After all, Saddleback is located in Southern California swimming in the “Cali” culture, and although I spent much of my childhood in California, I am at my core a small-town kid from Northeast Oklahoma. But I will defend Saddleback’s decision to ordain three female pastors from the church’s conservative critics just as I have defended Saddleback from its liberal critics over its supposed lack of ministries and missions to the poor and the marginalized folks on this planet.
Currently, my wife and I along with my daughter and her family belong to a large SBC church in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, a church with the “no women pastors, no women deacons” position. Before we joined, I asked both my wife and daughter what they thought. They both said it was not a “deal breaker” for them and so I decided the issue was not going to stop me from joining. Our church has been a delight for us — strong biblical preaching, insightful Bible study, compassionate pastoral care and vibrant ministries and missions, along with little mention of the SBC. We are happy to be members in this congregation.
Nevertheless, I must speak up. Because of the SBC action against Saddleback and Fern Creek churches last week and with future actions anticipated for other SBC churches with female pastors, I henceforth will not consider myself a Southern Baptist, only a Baptist with an anabaptist disposition.
I am not leaving the SBC; the SBC left me.
Joe Marlow is a native of Oklahoma and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with advanced degrees from Boston University and Midwestern Seminary. He has served as a field artillery sergeant in the U.S. Army; on church staffs in Maryland, Virginia and Missouri; and as a public school educator, retiring as an elementary school principal. Since retirement he has been an active blogger, served on a state commission and was a visiting post-doctoral fellow at Central Seminary. He and his wife reside in Olathe, Kan., with their West Highland White Terrier.
The best way to protest the SBC is to carry on and preach louder | Opinion by James Willis III
Baptists, football and women who changed the game | Opinion by Eileen Campbell-Reed
My ordination is precious to me | Opinion by Susan M. Shaw
The cost of being comfortable is too high | Opinion by Felicia Caid Smith
Jesus said it: The ministry of women is good news | Opinion by Andrea Corso Johnson
A 1984 prediction comes true for the SBC | Opinion by Mandy McMichael