By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, conducted spring cleaning a bit early this year by voting out five member churches with women in pastoral positions. A sixth SBC church was ousted for alleged clergy sexual abuse.
Although each congregation is self-governing, the SBC’s guidelines relating to female pastors state, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The recent decision disfellowshipped the women-led ministries of St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church in Baltimore, Md., Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Ga.; Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss.; and Fern Creek Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
The executive committee expelled Baltimore’s St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church and Georgia’s New Faith Mission Ministry due to their “lack of intent to cooperate in resolving a question” arising from the churches having women senior pastors.
The Rev. Minnie R. Washington of St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church, stated in an emailed response that the church has had no relationship with the SBC and is not under their authority.
“We are not tributary to them, nor have we ever supported them. And our church has never needed anything at all from them,” Washington said. She said she regards her ouster “an honor and a privilege.
“Perhaps those individuals will remember that their first preacher-teacher was their mother,” Washington said, “And in Timothy’s life, it was his mother and his grandmother. St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist Church of Baltimore, M.d. follows Jesus Christ and not the SBC.”
The committee cited non-cooperation as their reason for removing Saddleback Church, a West Coast megachurch founded by internationally known, now-retired pastor and best-selling author Rich Warren.
The SBC said that Saddleback Church, one of the largest members of SBC, was not in “friendly cooperation” having “a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor,” referring to Stacie Wood, wife of newly appointed lead pastor Andy Wood.
The SBC noted that Fern Creek Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church’s placement of women senior pastors demonstrated that their “faith and practice” was not aligned with the SBC.
Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman commented that although the ousted churches have been in compliance for many years, they “remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches.”
The actual body responsible for reviewing church practices is the Credential Committee, a standing committee, which ensures adherence to SBC policies. If a church is not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, the committee’s recommendations are sent to the Executive Committee, and according to SBC bylaws, the 86 members then vote on a plan of action, making their decision official and final.
The ousted churches will have the right to appeal the decision at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting scheduled for New Orleans in June.
The breaking news has caused a growing schism between conservative and moderate members of the SBC. This seemingly antiquated position has also drawn criticism from within and outside of the Christian faith.
The Rev. Donte Hickman of Baltimore weighed in on the developing story.
“Our church, though named Southern Baptist Church, has never been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the reasons we are not is because of the blatant sexism in leadership. Biblically grounded ministry and leadership have always been egalitarian,” said Hickman. “Women have been prophets, preachers, judges, and royal leadership for centuries. And this archaic idea of male-dominated ministry leadership is irrelevant to Christian ministry, especially in a postmodern society. Supremacy and superiority have no place in a Christ-centered church!”