A Southern Baptist pastor in Northern Virginia is calling for the denomination’s Executive Committee to advance an amendment to its constitution that would explicitly exclude women from holding the title of pastor.
The Rev. Mike Law Jr. of Arlington Baptist Church is circulating a letter titled “A Call to Keep Our Unity,” calling for the exclusion of women pastors. As of Monday morning, 805 Southern Baptist Convention pastors and officials had signed the letter.
Mr. Law’s proposed amendment says that a member church who is in “cooperation,” or fellowship, with the denomination “[d]oes not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”
“I felt the need to offer this amendment because five Southern Baptist churches, roughly within a five-mile radius of my own congregation, are employing women as pastors of various kinds,” he wrote in the letter’s preamble.
Mr. Law says in the preamble that an amendment is needed to “bring clarity to the current confusion” in a denomination whose doctrinal statement already says only men are qualified to serve as pastors.
A 1984 resolution on the topic and the doctrinal statement known as the “Baptist Faith & Message,” published in 2000, incorporate language restricting the pastorate to “men qualified according to Scripture,” Mr. Law asserts in the letter.
“Ushering women into the pastoral office in Southern Baptist churches unsettles our Convention’s unity … abiding women in the pastoral office materially harms the work of the Convention because it cultivates disunity where we have long been united,” he wrote.
Mr. Law said in an email to The Washington Times: “I don’t want to comment publicly yet; my goal right now is to help faithful pastors communicate with the [Executive Committee] about this defining issue.”
In a separate email, he named six congregations near his with female pastors on staff: Memorial Baptist Church, the Church at Clarendon, Greenbriar Baptist Church, Columbia Baptist Church, Convergence at Fair-Park Baptist and the First Baptist Church of Alexandria.
Not all of the congregations say they are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Rev. Lisa Smith of Convergence at Fair-Park Baptist said via email: “We are not affiliated with a national organization.” However, Convergence is listed in an SBC database of local congregations.
The Rev. Drew Hill of Memorial Baptist Church said his congregation “has not been affiliated with Southern Baptists for many years” and he has informed Mr. Law of that.
“What grieves me most about the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention is their failure to connect their patriarchal and patronizing theological view of women with the gross mishandling of widespread sexual abuse among SBC churches and institutions,” Mr. Hill said.
However, the Rev. Wayne Jenkins, interim senior pastor of Alexandria’s First Baptist Church, whose website lists two women with the title of “pastor,” said his congregation “has been an outstanding supporter of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) since the Convention’s organization in 1845.”
A spokesman for the 13.7 million-member denomination said the next opportunity for the Executive Committee to consider Mr. Law’s petition will be its February 2023 meeting. He said the agenda for such meetings is released closer to the meeting date.
The Southern Baptist constitution requires an amendment to receive a two-thirds vote at each of two consecutive annual meetings of delegates, known as “messengers.”
The last amendment was approved in 2021. It said cooperating congregations do not “act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.”
Perhaps the most notable congregation to ordain female clergy is Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Founded by the Rev. Rick Warren, author of the best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life,” Saddleback has a weekly attendance of about 23,500.
The church found itself in controversy when it ordained three women as pastors in 2021. That drew a motion to expel Saddleback at the SBC business session in June in Anaheim, where Mr. Warren gave an impassioned appeal to the delegates.
“Are we gonna keep bickering over secondary issues? Or are we gonna keep the main thing the main thing?” he asked.
Delegates rejected the expulsion motion following Mr. Warren’s remarks.
He retired in September and was succeeded by Andy and Stacie Wood, formerly of Echo Church in San Jose, California. Mrs. Wood, a “teaching pastor” at the Northern California congregation, is described on Saddleback’s website as having “transition[ed] into leadership” there.