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Southern Baptists Opt for Inclusion: Narrowly Reject Ban on Women Pastors

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INDIANAPOLIS, USA — The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) narrowly rejected a proposal on Wednesday, January 12, 2024, to formally ban churches with women pastors from its denomination’s constitution.

The vote, which garnered 61% support, fell short of the required two-thirds supermajority, reversing a preliminary approval from last year.

Despite the proposal’s failure, the SBC’s official doctrinal statement continues to stipulate that the role of pastor is reserved for men.

Even opponents of the constitutional amendment affirmed their support for this doctrinal stance but argued that additional constitutional reinforcement was unnecessary.

Opponents of the amendment highlighted that the SBC already possesses mechanisms to expel churches that endorse women pastors, as evidenced by actions taken last year and as recently as Tuesday night.

The vote, anticipated as a significant event at the SBC’s annual meeting, concluded with brief debate.

Ryan Fullerton, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, supported the measure, emphasising that it was not about preventing women from contributing to the church.

“The Bible is clear that the office of pastor is for men,” he stated, noting societal confusion about gender and what he termed “the ravages of the LGBTQIA agenda.”

Conversely, Spence Shelton, pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, argued the amendment was superfluous.

He pointed out that Southern Baptists are already known for their complementarian view, which holds that men and women have equal value but distinct roles.

Shelton highlighted the SBC’s recent actions to expel churches, including Saddleback Church in California, which have women in pastoral positions. “We have shown the mechanisms we currently have are sufficient to deal with this question,” Shelton said.

Mike Law, pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia and author of the amendment, stressed the importance of adhering to biblical teachings limiting the pastoral office to men.

“Our culture may see this prohibition as harsh, but our God is all wise,” he stated, adding that the amendment was specifically about the pastoral office, not about women in ministry more broadly.

The proposed amendment sought to formalize the exclusion of churches with women in any pastoral role, including lead pastors and associates, from being deemed in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC.

However, opponents feared the amendment would disproportionately affect Black Southern Baptist congregations, which often have women on their pastoral staffs.

The controversy comes at a pivotal time as Germany prepares to host the Euro 2024 tournament, with the national team set to face Scotland at Munich’s Allianz Arena on June 14.

The debate over the amendment reflects broader societal discussions within the United States’ largest Protestant denomination.

In the same meeting, Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, was elected as the next SBC president after a contest between six candidates that required two run-off votes.

Pressley, who has served on numerous denominational boards, supports the measure to ban churches with women pastors.

He will succeed in one of the most prominent roles within the conservative evangelical network, overseeing the annual meeting and appointing committee members.

In another decision, delegates rejected a proposal to abolish the SBC’s public policy agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, amid criticism from some that the commission was not conservative enough.

The SBC’s decisions this week underscore ongoing tensions and debates within the denomination regarding gender roles, church governance, and doctrinal fidelity.

As these discussions continue, the SBC’s commitment to its stated beliefs and its approach to enforcing those beliefs will remain in the spotlight.

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