Women Pastors Celebrate the Failure of the Law Amendment in The SBC

Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) says, “Its two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon. 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.” Despite the BFM’s accurate reflection of Scripture in simple clarity that is easily understood, many in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have sought to limit the language to senior pastors only and not others, particularly women, with the title of pastor.

Despite the clarity of the BFM, the number of females with the title of pastor in the SBC has continued to grow significantly. Since 1987, when there were eighteen women serving as pastors in the SBC, the number has increased to approximately 1,844 female pastors as of June 2023.[1] Two things are certain. One, there is a significant growth of women-designated pastors in the SBC. This growth underscores the need for a clear and consistent interpretation of the BFM. Two, the Credentials Committee seems either unclear on the meaning of the BFM or unwilling to enforce it. In either case, an addition to the Constitution would serve the SBC well in stemming the tide of moving the SBC away from biblical fidelity.

We did remove FBC Alexandria in Virginia at the 2024 convention with a vote of 91% and Saddleback in 2023 with a vote of 9,437 to 1,212. Both were removed because they believed that a woman could be a senior pastor, which is what the Credentials Committee (CC) acted on. “The Credentials Committee delayed a year before taking action on Saddleback, and they delayed two years before making a recommendation concerning FBC Alexandria.”[2] Based on the committee’s handling of these two churches, it appears the CC erroneously understands the BFM to only restrict the senior pastor’s office to men, but that is inaccurate. See my blog “The New Testament Reserves the Designation Pastor for Men” for more consideration of this topic and the actual meaning of the BFM restriction to male pastors.

The CC reported to the convention that it “inquired of First Baptist Alexandria of its beliefs, and the church expressed to the Credentials Committee an egalitarian view regarding the role of women in the church, which is contrary to the complementarian beliefs provided in the Baptist Faith and Message Article 6.” You may listen to the full report here.

I mention three notable nuances in the CC report. First, First Alexandria was not found to conflict with the BFM due to having women pastors because they have had women pastors for years. First Alexandria states, “Two of our staff pastors are women.”[3] The church also states, “Kim Eskridge, pastor for children and women, ‘is among our longest-tenured staff being in this position with this title for nearly 20 years.’”[4] 

Second, notice the focus is on what we call senior pastor, as this excerpt demonstrates. The CC said, “We asked the church directly to explain their beliefs regarding the office of pastor/elder/overseer. The church responded . . . ‘they believe both men and women can satisfy the requirements of the pastor/elder/overseer office.’ And more specifically, they believe a woman is ‘biblically qualified to fill the senior pastor position.’ We asked the church if they might consider calling a woman as their lead senior pastor. The church responded affirmatively, saying ‘yes’ they would because they do not ‘believe the Bible limits the fulfillment of this office exclusively to men.’”[5]

Third, the CC reported in response to First Alexandria’s answer to the committee’s question regarding their perspective on female senior pastors, saying, “Article 3 requires that a church have both a faith and a practice that closely identifies with the convention’s adopted statement of faith. And while the church’s practice may closely identify to some, their publicly stated faith does not, and it must be both” (emphasis added). This is important because the real issue to the CC does not seem to be First Alexandria’s practice of having women pastors for over twenty years but their stated belief regarding a woman being a senior practice.

Denny Burke wrote, “It’s very important for messengers to understand that Credentials Committee did not recommend removal of FBC Alexandria because of the church’s actual female pastors but because of the church’s answers on a questionnaire. Anyone telling you that we don’t need the Law Amendment because of the 91% vote to remove FBC Alexandria does not understand the precedent that was just set.”[6]

The vote on the Law Amendment was 61% in favor and 39% against. It failed because it did not get the 66.67% required to change the Constitution two years in a row. It received well over two-thirds the first year but fell short the second, even though it still maintained a substantial majority.

Although Mike Law (the amendment’s originator) explained the amendment’s purpose and limitations numerous times and in various ways, many remained unnecessarily confused. They voted precisely as those who wanted women pastors desired them to. This is not to say that all who voted against the amendment are for woman pastors; quite the contrary, as seen in the 91% vote to remove FBC Alexandria and the vote to remove Saddleback in 2023, 9,437 to 1,212.

The Law Amendment intended to clarify, for the Credentials Committee and all Southern Baptists, our BFM’s unequivocal commitment to the Scriptural commands that the office (position) of pastor—of any kind—is reserved for men only (1 Tim 3:1–8; 2:11–15). Regardless of how many times it is declared and irrespective of the clear ways the declaration is crafted, the amendment never had for its intention or consequence (if properly understood) to undermine the plethora of God-ordained roles and incalculable impact women can and do have serving in God’s kingdom.

Such limiting caricatures of the Law Amendment served only one purpose: to obfuscate the true meaning of the amendment and, more importantly, the clarity of Scripture by women and their male cohorts who seek for women to serve in ways that directly contradict Scripture. A resolution on women in ministry at the 2023 meeting of the SBC displayed our overwhelming support of women ministering in God’s kingdom.[7]

Unfortunately, some well-meaning Bible-believing conservative men and women were swayed by the caricatures, the misrepresentations of the Law Amendment, and the concomitant diversionary distractions, thereby wrongly changing the focus of the conversation from the noun pastor to the adjectives that designate different kinds of pastors, such as associate, college, or children. Please read my article describing the actual nature of the battle.

Even though these well-meaning conservatives were naive about the significance of defeating the Law Amendment, those who promote and practice having women pastors were not. After the defeat of the Amendment, Baptist Women in Ministry,[8] an “organization [that] originated among Southern Baptists in the 1980s”[9] wrote:

“Baptist Women in Ministry offers appreciation to all the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who voted against the Law amendment BECAUSE of their commitment to support and affirm women serving as pastors of all kinds in the SBC.

We are grateful to churches and messengers represented at the SBC who came to send the message that women have equal value to God. We know that others voted against the amendment for other reasons, but we hope the message of your support for female pastors will be amplified”[10] (emphasis added).

I understand that about 4000 churches have left the SBC, and many more conservatives are no longer going to the convention because they have given up trying to turn the SBC back closer to what it was coming out of the Conservative Resurgence. If this trajectory continues, there will be fewer and fewer courageous conservatives to vote for courageous and knowledgeable presidents, leaving the convention to continue on its path of theological and missiological decline.

I want to mention two other significant items from the convention:

Presidency: I voted for David Allen to be the Convention President. Although he made it to the first runoff, Clint Pressley was ultimately elected president. I understand that Clint is a conservative, but he may lack clarity on the problems in the SBC that need to be addressed and the courage to address them if they are made known to him. I pray he will receive guidance in understanding their seriousness and fearlessly seek to correct them for the sake of leading us with Biblical fidelity. The structure of the SBC is that everything flows from the president’s office; therefore, only a few substantive changes take place without a courageous conservative president.

In the Conservative Resurgence, many conservatives believed in the right thing but were unwilling to fight the good fight and take the corrective measures necessary to right the SBC ship. Today, we find the same thing. Then we referred to those willing to take necessary steps to right the SBC ship as movement conservatives and those who believed right but would not take a stand as theological conservatives only. Today, many claim to believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, complementarianism, and even the office of pastor reserved for men (as proclaimed by Scripture and the BFM). Still, they either are naive about the undermining of those beliefs by some of our leaders or are unwilling to take a stand and speak truth to those who weaken our Biblical fidelity to these great biblical truths. They may be described as theologically conservative pragmatists. We do not necessarily need more conservatives; we desperately need more courageous conservatives.

Regarding why some are conservative theologically but do not stand to correct our present problems, Burke wrote, “I think it’s a difficult question to answer because SBC conservativism has long been leavened by a good bit of pragmatism. Conservatism pulls us in one direction theologically while pragmatism pulls us in other directions practically.”[11]

Missions: Many good things did happen at the convention. Todd Fisher wrote, “Let us not forget some wonderful things that occurred at the annual meeting: the sending of 83 missionaries by the International Mission Board (four of whom are from Oklahoma), the significant increase in baptisms and attendance among churches in most of our state conventions, growth in our seminaries, and countless testimonies of the advance of the gospel and goodness of God in the lives of people and families. I am encouraged that Southern Baptists, despite our flaws and disagreements, will continue on our long-held path of biblical faithfulness and missional focus.”[12]

Each time the missionaries are introduced, it is pretty emotional. Added to the significance of the decision to leave the comforts of home to go to the mission fields around the globe is the introduction of missionaries who are going into countries that are closed to missionaries and the gospel. These are introduced to us, but their identity is concealed. We do not know their names but only come to know them by seeing a veiled silhouette and hearing of their heart of sacrifice for the lost. It is a heart-stirring introduction to those who may lose their lives to share the gospel.

[1] Numbers from Susan Shaw, a professor at Oregon State University and a volunteer team of Southern Baptists, cited by Mike Law Jr. In “A Personal Appeal to the SBC Messengers on the Law Amendment” Christ Over All, June 5, 2024, paras. 13 & 15, https://christoverall.com/article/concise/a-personal-appeal-to-the-sbc-messengers-on-the-law-amendment/ accessed 6/18/24.

[2] https://x.com/DennyBurk/status/1800641767907143777 accessed 6/27/24

[3] “The Convention,” FBC Alexandria, June 22, 2021, para. 11, https://fbcalexandria.org/blog/2021/06/22/the-convention accessed 6/20/24.

[4] Mark A. Kellner, “First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia, Faces Expulsion for Having a Woman Pastor,” The Washington Times, May 12, 2024, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2024/may/12/first-baptist-church-of-alexandria-va-faces-expuls/ accessed 6/20/24.

[5] https://t.co/nfm3grbeUp   accessed 6/27/24

[6] Denny Burk, X [post] June 11, 2024, https://x.com/DennyBurk/status/1800668469911793727 accessed 6/16/24.

[7] See the Resolution on Women Fulfilling the Great Commission passed in 2023 by the SBC, SBC Bulletin, June 13, 2023, 7-8, https://thebaptistpaper.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/SBC-Resolutions-adopted-June-13-2023.pdf

[8] The organization states, “Our organization was specifically created to support women in ministry and leadership within Baptist communities. This includes women who express a calling and identity as a minister, and those who serve in all forms of congregational and non-congregational ministry leadership.” It says earlier, “Our organization is committed to supporting and advocating for any individual who identifies as a woman. This includes women of every race, ethnicity, age, generation, ability, sexuality, gender identification or expression, and social-economic background.” “A Statement from BWIM on the Failure of the SBC’s Law Amendment,” Baptist Women in Ministry, June 12, 2024, https://bwim.info/who-we-are/#:~:text=Our%20organization%20was%20specifically%20created,and%20non%2Dcongregational%20ministry%20leadership. Accessed 6/16/24

[9] “Southern Baptists Expel Virginia Church for Believing Women Can Serve as Pastors,” June 11, 2024, Associated Press, https://wtop.com/alexandria/2024/06/more-than-10000-southern-baptists-gather-for-meeting-that-could-bar-churches-with-women-pastors/ accessed 6/20/24.

[10] Meredith Stone, A Statement from BWIM on the Failure of the SBC’s Law Amendment,” Baptist Women in Ministry, https://myemail-api.constantcontact.com/A-Statement-from-BWIM-on-the-failure-of-the-SBC-s-Law-Amendment.html?soid=1102474630869&aid=JqXdAjRNCwc&s=03 accessed 6/20/24.

[11] Denny Burk, X [post] June 14, 2024, https://x.com/DennyBurk/status/1802079570750791763 accessed 6/20/24.

[12] Todd Fisher, “Update from SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis & the Law Amendment,” Baptist Messenger, June 13, 2024, https://www.baptistmessenger.com/update-from-sbc-annual-meeting-in-indianapolis-the-law-amendment/ accessed 6/14/24.

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Ronnie W. Rogers