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Southern Baptist Convention expels two churches with women pastors, votes to amend constitution

Published Thursday, Jun. 15th, 2023

The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where this year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting was held (via Facebook)

The Southern Baptist Convention voted this week to uphold a decision to expel two popular churches with women pastors – California megachurch Saddleback, and Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky. 


Then, they voted to increase restrictions on women even further, with an amendment to the Convention’s constitution specifying that an SBC church “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” (via Baptist Standard)


Nearly 13,000 Southern Baptist ‘messengers’ voted on these two items, having traveled from congregations across the country to New Orleans for the SBC’s 2023 Annual Meeting. The constitutional amendment must pass a second vote next year in order to become church law, but the expulsion of Saddleback and Fern Creek Baptist is effective immediately. 


Proponent’s of the expulsion referenced the Convention’s strict statement of faith, which was revised in 2000 to prohibit women from becoming ordained. It states that “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” (SBC’s Baptist Faith & Message, VI. The Church, referencing Timothy 2:9-14).


Related: Pope establishes new penalties for ordaining women: automatic excommunication and defrocking


But others, including Rev. Linda Popham, the woman pastor at Fern Creek Baptist, cited an earlier statement of faith issued by the Convention in 1963. This previous theological statement placed no such gender restrictions on ordination or leadership roles. 


Rev. Popham has been the pastor of Fern Creek Baptist for more than 30 years. She’s allowed to keep her position following the SBC’s decision, but her church is no longer a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. 


Saddleback recently ordained a woman as campus pastor, and has ordained other women in the past. In 2021, the evangelical church made national headlines when they ordained three women in a single ceremony. The megachurch currently has 14 locations and over 200 ministries, and is the largest church in California. 


Read AMM’s previous coverage for more details: Southern Baptist megachurch ordains 3 women, defies SBC


Although the SBC’s measures passed this week’s vote, a large percentage of Southern Baptists disagree with the denomination’s discrimination against women. Thousands of members have left the church over the years in search of more accepting congregations, resulting in a steady decline in membership.


In fact, membership in all Christian denominations has dropped steeply within the U.S. over the past 20 years, as an increasing number of people seek out inclusive communities that better align with their personal values.  


Learn more about the SBC’s decision in Jason DeRose’s article for NPR. 



In the meantime, AMM continues to welcome and ordain all people – we wholeheartedly support the ordination of women. Of course we do! 
As an inclusive non-denominational interfaith church, we don’t discriminate against anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or ability. 

Become an ordained minister with us right now, for free, online.

As an ordained minister with American Marriage Ministries, you have all of the same rights as someone ordained through a brick-and-mortar church, including the right to solemnize marriage and officiate baptisms, funerals, and other meaningful rituals.

Find out what it means to be an AMM Minister on our FAQ page


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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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