Saddleback, Fern Creek churches not permitted to return to the SBC fold


NEW ORLEANS — Two churches expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year because they have women serving as pastors will not be allowed to return to the fold.

Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans voted 9,437 to 1,212 to uphold a decision by the Executive Committee to oust Saddleback Church in California and 9,700 to 806 to uphold the decision removing Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky.

The results were announced Wednesday morning.

Both churches had pressed to remain in the SBC, making their cases through public relations campaigns in recent weeks and in person Tuesday in front of more than 12,000 Southern Baptists from across the country.

The SBC Executive Committee enlisted Albert Mohler Jr., one of the denomination’s elder statesman and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to speak to the issue. He did so emphatically, telling messengers that the issue had threatened to divide the SBC 30 years ago.

“Southern Baptists decided this is not just a matter of church polity,” Mohler said. “It is not just a matter of hermeneutics. It’s a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment to the scripture that unequivocally, we believe, limits the office of pastor to men.”

Retired Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life, had flooded social media with his arguments on behalf of women pastors, at one point apologizing for waiting until after his retirement to push the issue.

“What we share in common is a mutual commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word and to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ,” Warren told messengers Tuesday. “No one is asking any Southern Baptist to change their theology. I’m not asking you to agree with my church. I am asking you to act like Southern Baptists who have historically agreed to disagree on dozens of doctrines in order to share a common mission. Why should this one issue cancel our fellowship?”

Warren had acknowledged before the meeting that he was unlikely to prevail in Saddleback’s appeal.

“I certain don’t expect to change the mind of any angry fundamentalist,” he said before the annual meeting.

Fern Creek Pastor Linda Barnes Popham has been pastor of her church for the past three decades. She describes Fern Creek as “a very conservative, evangelical, mission-minded, Great Commission church.”

“We know that Jesus is the only way to the Father,” she said. “We know His Word is perfect. We know that one day He’s coming again. But we also know that the Spirit gives illumination to our hearts and minds, and therefore we don’t all interpret every scripture the same way.”

Popham’s appeal has been overshadowed by that of Warren who planted Saddleback and led it to become the SBC’s largest congregation with some 30,000 people in average weekly attendance.

Popham said a difference of opinion regarding the role of women shouldn’t exclude her congregation from the SBC.

“We believe that the Bible allows women to serve in ways in which all you do not agree,” she said. “But we should still be able to partner together.”