Southern Baptists Reject Stronger Ban on Female Pastors

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Southern Baptist Convention messengers on Wednesday defeated an amendment that would have strengthened the current prohibition on female pastors when a proposal fell short of the required two-thirds majority. The so-called Law Amendment, named for its sponsor, received 61.45 percent of the vote, short of the necessary 66.67 percent. More than 8,000 ballots were cast. The amendment would have amended the SBC Constitution and declared that a church is in friendly cooperation only if it “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” It passed last year and needed another affirmative vote to be added to the Constitution. 

The amendment’s defeat, though, does not mean the SBC affirms female pastors. The denomination’s statement of faith—the Baptist Faith & Message—includes similar language and states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” That language was added in 2000. 

In fact, on Tuesday, messengers removed First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Va., from the convention over its stance affirming women for the role of pastor. The congregation’s current senior pastor is a man. The vote to declare the church not in friendly cooperation passed with more than 90 percent approval. In 2023, SBC messengers removed two other churches for affirming female pastors. 

Supporters of the Law Amendment argued that a constitutional amendment would have more binding authority on churches than the Baptist Faith & Message. About 1,000 churches within the SBC, supporters of the Law Amendment said, employ female pastors. Opponents argued the amendment would lead to the targeting of complementarian churches with female staff who have the title of pastor but who do not preach, such as a “pastor for children” or a “worship pastor.”

Mike Law, the sponsor and a messenger from Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia, urged messengers to back the amendment. 

“It is faithful to God’s inerrant Word,” Law told messengers, citing First Timothy 2:12-14. “… Our culture may see this prohibition as harsh, but our God is all-wise. And He wrote His word for the flourishing of both men and women.”

Law added, “Let’s be exceptionally clear. We gladly celebrate the myriads of women who serve the church in many essential ways. We are so grateful for these godly sisters. This amendment is not about women in ministry. It’s specifically about women in the pastoral office.”

Spence Shelton, a messenger from Mercy Church in Charlotte, N.C., asked Southern Baptists to oppose the amendment.

“The question before us today is not whether or not we’re complementarian. That’s clear,” Shelton said. “The question is not, ‘Do we believe the Bible?’ That’s also clear- we are complementarian; we believe the Scripture. The question is: Is this amendment necessary for our convention to respond? …The mechanisms we currently have are sufficient to deal with this question.”

Related: Former SBC President Warns Amendment on Female Pastors Could Cause ‘Collateral Damage’

Photo Credit: ©SWN/Religion News Services

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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