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Vote to restrict pastoral offices to men narrowly fails at Southern Baptist Convention



screen shot from AP coverage of southern baptist convention 2024

Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention voted Wednesday on an amendment to ban women from serving as pastors. The convention does not appoint pastors but can determine which churches are in its membership.

The measure, called the “Law Amendment,” was named after Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia. Law stated that while “our culture may see this prohibition as harsh,” God wrote His word for the flourishing of both men and women. He added, “This amendment is not about women in ministry. It’s specifically about women in the pastoral office.”

After a brief debate, 61 percent of delegates supported the ban. However, this fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, so the measure failed.

This was the second vote on the matter, with the first vote in New Orleans last year supporting the ban. The Wednesday vote reversed the preliminary decision and removed the provision that only men could serve as pastors or elders in Southern Baptist churches.

If approved, the amendment would have excluded local churches with women pastors from the denomination. According to Pastor Law, roughly 1,800 women currently serve as pastors in the denomination.

Paul’s instructions

The issue dates back to the early Christian Church and Apostle Paul’s instructions in the New Testament. The definitions of minister, pastor, and bishop have long been debated regarding roles for men and women.

Pastor Michael Wilkinson of Arlington Baptist Church in Pascagoula, Mississippi, said that the “unclear definition” of these words is at issue. “The question in light of pressure from contemporary culture is: Should we continue to uphold the biblical qualification that all elder, bishop, pastors be male as our statement of faith in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 edition requires?” Wilkinson noted, adding that he trusts the local church to make these decisions.

The Baptist Faith and Message states that the church’s “two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon.” It adds that while both men and women are gifted for service, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

The debate over women in pastoral roles is reminiscent of the early 1990s. At that time, a group of moderate pastors and churches broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention during a conservative resurgence. This group, which challenged the denomination on the ordination of women, became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Today, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ordains women and recently affirmed openly gay and lesbian members, allowing them to serve in leadership roles.

Supporters of the Law Amendment, such as Immanuel Baptist Church Pastor Ryan Fullerton from Kentucky, cited gender “confusion” and the “ravages of the LGBTQIA agenda.” Opponents said the measure was unnecessary as channels already exist to discipline or exclude churches that do not align with the denomination’s doctrinal statements.

Reaction to the decision will likely play out in 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, including those in Mississippi. The denomination accounts for over 2,000 local churches and nearly 525,000 members in the Magnolia State, according to the Mississippi Baptist Convention. The state convention had not issued a statement on the vote as of publication.

A statement from Baptist Women in Ministry expressed appreciation to the delegates who voted against the amendment. The group said, “We are grateful to churches and messengers who sent the message that women have equal value to God. We hope the support for female pastors will be amplified. However, we are grieved that this vote took place and that 61% of messengers voted for it, showing that women in ministry are still devalued.”

A Slippery Slope

Conservative radio commentator and Southern Baptist member Todd Starnes criticized the vote on X (formerly Twitter). He wrote, “The groundwork has now been laid for the Southern Baptist Convention to journey down a slippery slope that led to the breakup of the Methodists and Presbyterians.”

In other news from the convention, Clint Pressley, Senior Pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was elected as the new President. Additionally, the convention rejected a measure to abolish its public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The ERLC has faced scrutiny for not aligning with the conservative positions of the convention. Starnes also commented on X, writing, “The ERLC is a rogue entity and must be abolished. I pray our Southern Baptist messengers today will do the right and moral thing. Dismantle and defund the ERLC and its woke agenda.”

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