I want to say I was shocked by the announcement that Southern Baptist Convention voted to boot out one of the biggest churches in the country. But as someone who is truly “Baptist-Born, Baptist-bred, and when I’ll die I’ll be Baptist dead”, I barely shrugged my shoulders.
Saddleback Baptist church has 19 campuses and weekend attendance can reach upwards of 30,000 people. In the early 2000s, the church’s founding pastor, Rick Warren, published a book that changed the way churches across the company operated. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still churches in my city who are using one of his small group studies today. The Purpose-Driven Life was read across the world and was published in 50 different languages. It was probably one of the SBC’s biggest success stories.
So how did we get to the point that the SBC’s board voted Saddleback and four other congregations were no longer considered “to be in friendly cooperation”? Well, it’s simple. The church named a woman as “pastor”. You need to know that the woman in question, Stacie Woods, is not senior pastor, but the wife of senior pastor, Andy Woods. Some of the other churches may have had women serving as lead pastors. Apparently, in the year 2000, Southern Baptist Leadership affirmed a rule that only men could serve as pastors. You read that right. Not the 1960s, not the 1980s, but in the year after we took Prince’s advice and partied like there was no tomorrow, the denomination decided that women pastoring churches was the line they weren’t willing to cross. As a Baptist who has had to sit through the sermons of known philanderers, drug addicts, and suspected thieves, (We even had one pastor in the metro who dressed as a woman when he gambled at the casinos. ) I find this line… questionable (Insert eye roll.)
Any organization that automatically disqualifies 50% of their constituents from leadership is doing itself a disservice. And I’m being nice. I know that I have been to Bible Studies and Prayer meetings where the women outnumber the men by a wide margin. I’ve been in services where the only man present was the pastor. It’s unfair to the pastor, and it is certainly unfair to the congregation he is serving.
Despite the fact that I haven’t been to church on a regular basis since the pandemic began, I am still very much a Baptist. On the first Sunday of every month, I wake my kids up with a medley of songs about the blood. I take communion, albeit, by myself. I even have been known to bake my own wafers. I teach my kids hymns, and I ask them random Bible questions, just because I can. But what I won’t do is subject my children to teaching that tells them that my son is more qualified for anything, simply because he was born a male.
How can a church that has been telling us that we’re in the last days for at least the last 100 years, not believe that the Lord is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh? How can you hear Rev. Renita Weems, or Bishop Vashti Mackenzie and doubt that they, too, are called by God to lead God’s people? (Bishop Mackenzie was appointed Bishop in the same year that the Baptists voted not to have women as pastors. I’m pretty sure that is not a coincidence.)
As for Saddleback and the other churches, they can appeal this decision, but I’m not sure they should. One of the hallmarks of Baptist churches is the autonomy of the local body. Unlike some other denominations, there isn’t a governing board who decides what pastor should be matched with what congregation. Each Baptist church is supposed to have its own processes and procedures for governing the church, including choosing its own leaders. The SBC is supposed to support these individual congregations, as they try to preach the gospel to the world. This move doesn’t sound all that supportive. I think the church in California will probably be just fine without assistance from the SBC. But some of the other churches may have greatly benefited from the SBC’s support.
I still believe in the Baptist ordinances and I hold the church covenant close to my heart. I aim to be faithful in my engagements and exemplary in my deportment.
I’m for bodily autonomy for individual churches… and for individual people (that’s another blog for another day), and unfortunately, that might make it hard for me to find a Baptist church where I can fit comfortably. For this (and many other reasons )I don’t see myself joining a church any time soon. I think I’ll just remain in friendly cooperation with a number of congregations for the time being.
One thought on “Friendly Cooperation”
Amen, amen and AMEN!