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The US’s largest Baptist denomination has voted to expel two churches for having female pastors.
A vote by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) members found Southern Californian megachurch Saddleback and Kentucky’s Fern Creek Baptist Church were “not in friendly cooperation” with SBC, the Baptist Press reported.
SBC’s mission statement says the office of pastor should be “limited to men.”
Fern Creek’s pastor told CBS News it was a “sad day for Southern Baptists”.
SBC is an association of more than 47,000 Baptist churches with a membership of more than 13 million, the group’s website says.
The church is a protestant denomination of Christianity, with congregations led by pastors.
In total, five churches have been expelled from SBC for being led by women.
Two were overwhelmingly voted out at SBC’s annual convention in New Orleans after they had tried to appeal their expulsions, the Baptist Press – which describes itself as SBC’s official news service – said. The other three did not appeal.
“This is a sad day for Southern Baptists because they are losing gifted and talented and called women of God, as we continue to proclaim the gospel. Why they want to get rid of folks like us, makes no sense,” Fern Creek Pastor Linda Barnes Popham said after the vote.
She said the message the expulsion sends to millions of female members of SBC churches is “you are not valued.”
“Messengers voted for conformity and uniformity rather than unity,” added Rick Warren, retired founding pastor of Saddleback – which was SBC’s second-largest congregation.
“The only way you will have unity is to love diversity. We made this effort knowing we were not going to win.”
Following the two churches’ expulsion, a constitutional amendment was also passed at SBC’s annual convention stating that SBC-affiliated churches should employ “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture” – though that is subject to approval at next year’s convention.
Mike Law, a pastor at Arlington Baptist Church in Texas, said the amendment “puts us all on the same page about what a pastor is, and who a pastor is: a biblically qualified man.”
But Bob Bender, a pastor at Bross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, opposed the motion. “Should not title and function be synonymous?” he asked in quotes cited by the Baptist Press.
“Let’s not give women responsibilities to shepherd other women, children or youth and not have their title line up with their responsibilities.”
In recent years the SBC has come under increasingly scrutiny from officials.
In 2022, it was found to have covered up decades of abuse within the church.
A report found that survivors who reported child and sexual abuse within the SBC were met with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within” the church.