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Vote to restrict pastoral offices to men narrowly fails at Southern Baptist Convention

By: Frank Corder - June 12, 2024

Messengers raise their ballots in support of a motion put up for vote during a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

  • The denomination accounts for over 2,000 local churches in the Magnolia State and nearly 525,000 members.

Delegates, or messengers, to the Southern Baptist Convention voted Wednesday on an amendment to the denomination’s constitution that would have banned women from serving as pastors in their churches.

While the convention does not appoint pastors to local churches, as is done by other denominations, it can determine which independent churches are allowed to be in its membership.

The measure has been referred to as the “Law Amendment,” named after its author Mike Law, the pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia. Law has said while “our culture may see this prohibition as harsh,” God wrote His word for the flourishing of both men and women.

“This amendment is not about women in ministry,” Law added in his remarks on the measure. “It’s specifically about women in the pastoral office.”

When the dust settled following a brief debate, the amendment received 61 percent of the vote in support of the ban among the delegates representing local churches at the Indianapolis gathering. Those rejecting the ban accounted for some 38 percent. Having failed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to pass, the measure died.

It was the second vote taken on the matter by the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the first of which came last year in New Orleans in support of the ban. The Wednesday vote reverses the preliminary decision by the denomination and does away with the provision that a church could only be Southern Baptist if it “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder.”

If the amendment had been approved, the denomination would then have been allowed to formally exclude those local churches where women serve in pastoral roles.

According to Pastor Law, roughly 1,800 women are currently serving in the denomination.

The issue at hand dates back to the start of the Christian Church and the Apostle Paul’s instructions found in his biblical letters in the New Testament. The precise definition and translation of minister, pastor, bishop and the like have long been debated in terms of roles for men and women in the Church. The roles as they exist today can be quite different than in the days of the early Church.

Pastor Michael Wilkinson of Arlington Baptist Church in Pascagoula, Mississippi told Magnolia Tribune the “unclear definition” of the words are indeed at issue.

“The question in light of pressure from contemporary culture is: Should we continue to uphold the biblical qualification that all elder, bishop, pastors be male as our statement of faith in the Baptist Faith and Message 200 edition requires?” Wilkinson notes, adding that he places his confidence in the local church.

The denomination’s Baptist Faith and Message states that the Church’s “two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon.”

“While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” the document outlines.

As Pastor Wilkinson notes, the debate over the ideological position of women in pastoral roles today is reminiscent of the early 1990s when a group of moderate pastors and churches broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention as a conservative resurgence was underway. That group, which challenged the denomination on the ordination of women, among other biblical points, became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Today, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ordains women into ministry and recently affirmed openly gay and lesbian members, allowing them to serve in leadership roles as well.

Supporters of the Law Amendment, such as Immanuel Baptist Church Pastor Ryan Fullerton from Kentucky, cited gender “confusion” in the world today, and pointed to the “ravages of the LGBTQIA agenda.” Yet, opponents said the measure was unnecessary as there already exist channels to discipline or exclude churches that do not align with the denomination’s doctrinal statements.

Reaction to the decision is sure to play out in 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, including here in Mississippi, as members head to prayer meetings on Wednesday and church services on Sunday. The denomination accounts for over 2,000 local churches and nearly 525,000 members in the Magnolia State, according to the Mississippi Baptist Convention. The state convention had not issued a statement on the day’s vote as of publication of this article.

A statement from the Baptist Women in Ministry expressed appreciation to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention who voted against the Law amendment “because of their commitment to support and affirm women serving as pastors of all kinds in the SBC.”

“We are grateful to churches and messengers represented at the SBC who came to send the message that women have equal value to God. We know that others voted against the amendment for other reasons, but we hope the message of your support for female pastors will be amplified,” the group stated. “But even though the amendment did not pass, we are also grieved that this vote has ever even taken place. Further, the 61% of messengers who voted for it (66% was required to pass) demonstrate that women in ministry are still devalued.”

Conservative radio commentator and Southern Baptist member Todd Starnes has been an outspoken critic of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ideological shift. In a post on X (formerly Twitter) following the vote Wednesday, Starnes wrote, “The groundwork has now been laid for the Southern Baptist Convention to journey down a slippery slope that led to the breakup of the Methodists and Presbyterians.”

In other news from the convention, the denomination elected a new President, Clint Pressley, Senior Pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and rejected a measure that would have abolished the denomination’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The ERLC has come under scrutiny in recent years as not being aligned with the conservative positions of the convention. Starnes also shared his thoughts on the ERLC on X, writing, “The ERLC is a rogue entity and must be abolished. I pray our Southern Baptist messengers today will do the right and moral thing. Dismantle and Defund the ERLC and its woke agenda.”

About the Author(s)
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: