RNS photo by Emily Kask
A controversial movement within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to remove women from leadership positions has resulted in the expulsion of five female-led churches from the denomination. Among them is the Saddleback Church of California — one of the largest megachurches in the country, with about 30,000 people attending church services weekly. Saddleback Church was founded by Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and one of the country’s most influential evangelical leaders. After retiring, Warren appointed a husband and wife team as his replacements, despite the backlash from the ultra-conservative sect of the SBC.
Pastor Mike Law from Virginia is at the forefront of this pushback against perceived “liberal threats.” He circulated a list of 176 female pastors that he identified at SBC churches across the country and proposed an amendment to the SBC constitution to prohibit women in leadership roles. The amendment states that a church could be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.” More than 2,000 male pastors signed a letter in support of this proposal. The executive board of SBC has decided to allow its members to vote on the amendment at this week’s convention.
This expulsion of women from leadership positions comes at a time when the SBC is under harsh scrutiny for the reports of sexual abuse of women and children in the church. An investigation found that top church officials, all men, suppressed reports of sexual abuse for two decades, and have still not taken action. The leadership of SBC continues to create a toxic culture of intimidation and shame to silence survivors of sexual abuse.
The SBC has a long history of deeply rooted misogyny, and this newest attack on women comes as no surprise. The church has taken a strong stance against same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, reproductive healthcare, and critical race theory, while supporting traditional gender roles. In 2000, the church passed a doctrine stating that a woman “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” The SBC’s most prominent female pastor, Beth Moore, left the church in 2021 citing in an open letter the “attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing dis-esteem of women.”
Membership in Southern Baptist Convention churches has been declining for more than a decade, which can clearly be attributed to the years of sex abuse cover ups and the divisive fundamentalist takeover within church leadership. In response to the Saddleback Church’s expulsion from the SBC, Pastor Rick Warren issued an apology to women in the church: “I publicly apologize to every good woman in my life, church and ministry that I failed to speak up for in my years of ignorance. Shame on me.” It is unlikely that the SBC will follow his example and stand up for the rights of women in their denomination.