Published: Wednesday, May. 12th, 2021
In an unexpected move, an evangelical Southern Baptist megachurch in California just ordained three women as pastors -- defying the denomination’s strict guidelines against ordination for women and bringing a decades-old divide within the faith to the forefront.
Saddleback Church ordained Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards in a publicized ceremony on May 6, calling it a “historic night.” The decision openly contradicts an explicit SBC ban against female pastors:
“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)
As the second largest church in the SBC, with a weekly audience of 28,000 people and home to controversial senior pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback’s hotly-debated decision could have a widespread effect.
Critics of the ordinations have called for the expulsion of Saddleback from SBC, saying the move is a rejection of Scripture and marks yet another step toward the total destruction of the Convention.
A prominent member of the SBC, Albert Mohler, wrote in an article published May 10 that allowing women into the role of pastorship (and in fact any move toward broader inclusion within the church) has to stop:
“The result has been the feminization of liberal Protestantism. Put bluntly, there are just not that many males left. Actually, there are not many people left in those churches. Liberal theology is the kiss of death for any church or denomination. Little remains but social justice activism and deferred maintenance…
The divide over women serving in the pastorate served as a signal of the deeper divide over the authority and interpretation of the Bible. Simply put, the only way to affirm women serving in the pastoral role is to reject the authority and sufficiency of biblical texts such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. There is more to the picture, but not less.” (Women Pastors, Women Preachers, and the Looming Test of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
Others have taken a less aggressive stance, decrying the decision but stopping short of demanding the church’s removal.
This wouldn’t be the first time SBC has ‘disfellowshipped’ a church. Most recently, the Convention expelled two churches, Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, and St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for welcoming LGBTQ+ couples into their congregations.
But many more members have celebrated the ordinations, saying that it’s well past time for the Convention to amend its longstanding discrimination against women.
SBC's conservative policies have forced thousands of members to leave the church over the years, 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 more inclusive communities.
By ordaining Puffer, Petty, and Edwards, Saddleback Church sends a clear message that its massive congregation is ready for a change. With 11 locations and over 200 ministries, the megachurch’s influence on the SBC -- and its reflection of the faith’s evolving values as a whole -- can’t be ignored.
In the meantime, AMM will continue to welcome and ordain all people -- regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, class, or ability.
As an inclusive, affirming, non-denominational, interfaith, and interreligious church, we don’t discriminate against anyone.
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 more about what it means to be an AMM Minister on our FAQ page.
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