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California megachurch's ordination of women pastors stirs debate at SBC annual meeting


ANAHEIM, Calif. – A proposal to kick a California megachurch out of the Southern Baptist Convention for ordaining women pastors stirred debate among messengers at an annual meeting in Anaheim but ultimately fizzled.

Saddleback Church, one of the SBC’s best-known congregations, is led by Pastor Rick Warren who came to fame nationally as author of the books The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life.

The Baptist Faith and Message says, “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

SBC President Ed Litton invited Warren to speak to messengers Tuesday afternoon. In brief remarks, Warren asked, “Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues, or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”

Saddleback ordained three women pastors in 2021 and announced recently that the retiring Warren would be replaced as lead pastor later this year by Andy Wood. Wood’s wife, Stacie, would become teaching pastor.

The SBC Credentials Committee is reviewing the Saddleback issue, delaying a formal recommendation “until clarity is provided regarding the use of the title ‘pastor’ for staff positions with different responsibility and authority than that of the lead pastor.”

Linda Cooper, chairwoman of the Credentials Committee and member of Forest Park Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., acknowledged that “a majority of SBC churches hold the belief that the office of lead pastor, elder, bishop or overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Saddleback has grown from a church plant with a handful of families in 1980 to than 24,000 people per week across multiple campuses.

In his remarks at the annual meeting, Warren said, “It’s customary for a guy who is about to be hung to say his dying words," sending the crowd into guffaws.

Warren insisted he was not at the meeting to mount a defense but to point out that the “gift of pastoring is different from the office of pastoring.”

Warren told messengers he is thankful to the SBC for investing in him as a young minister and preparing him to start Saddleback, which now has ministries reaching across Southern California and beyond.

“Southern Baptists taught me how to honor and love the local church," he said. “I owe you all so much.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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