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Former SBC president warns a Southern Baptist ban on women pastors will yield 'A LOT of collateral damage'
Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Former SBC president warns a Southern Baptist ban on women pastors will yield 'A LOT of collateral damage'

J.D. Greear suggested that the 'Law Amendment' will alienate minorities.

The Southern Baptist Convention is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis this week. Messengers will vote on an enumerated sixth item to Article III, Paragraph 1 of the SBC Constitution effectively banning female pastors and "disfellowshipping" churches that have them.

While many Southern Baptists regard the amendment as biblically justified and a means to maximize unity among member churches, others have expressed concern about the possibility of alienating minority members.

Among those in the latter camp is former SBC President J.D. Greear, who warned Thursday that the proposed amendment "rewrites the rules of our cooperation and attempts to fix, with a sledge hammer, something that isn't really broken."


According to the Baptist Press, a June 2023 report alleged with "99% confidence level and a 2% margin of error" that there are 1,844 female pastors serving in 1,225 SBC churches.

Volunteer investigators examined an allegedly randomized sample of 3,847 churches and found that there were 99 Southern Baptist churches with female pastors and a total of 149 female pastors. They then extrapolated that figure to the total number of cooperating Southern Baptist churches, now over 46,900.

Hoping to arrest this trend — having previously observed signs of it at five nearby churches — Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church introduced a motion at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim seeking that Article III, Paragraph 1 of the SBC Constitution be amended to state that churches would "not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind."

Law stressed in a letter to the Executive Committee that "ushering women into the pastoral office in Southern Baptist churches unsettles our Convention's unity."

Extra to his appeal to SBC unity, Law cited several biblical passages to justify precluding women from becoming pastors.

"Devaluing our doctrine will not lead to faithfulness or fruitfulness. Rather, if we learn anything from history, embracing empty doctrines will soon empty our Convention too," wrote Law. "Consider the exodus among the liberal and mainline denominations. They abided with women as pastors for a time, then they embraced the practice — thereby abandoning sound doctrine — and so began their rapid decline."

While the Executive Committee indicated it affirmed Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which limits the office of pastor to men "as qualified by Scripture," it suggested the amendment was redundant, reported the Baptist Press.

"Our beliefs are most appropriately stated in our adopted statement of faith rather than in our constitution and therefore opposes a suggested amendment to SBC Constitution, Article III, which would unnecessarily restate the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article VI," said the EC.

Nevertheless, the EC put the motion to messengers at last year's meeting in New Orleans.

After Texas Pastor Juan Sanchez of the High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin clarified that "we can say only men are to be pastors" but that women nevertheless "have a vital place in the life of the church," Law's motion received the necessary two-thirds vote by messengers, making the next step the securing of another two-thirds vote at the 2024 annual meeting.

If the so-called "Law Amendment" passes this week, then the convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation and sympathetic with its purposes and work if, extra to its satisfaction of the pre-existing criteria, it has only male pastors and elders.


Responses to the proposed Law Amendment have been mixed.

SBC Pastor Brett Maragni, founding pastor of Harvest Jacksonville, opposes the the Law Amendment, stressing that if it passes, "the SBC will, in effect, take on a new form as a denomination. And not for the better. We will officially abandon our historical identity and become a creedal people."

Rob Collingsworth, the director of strategic relationships for Criswell College, who served on the SBC Resolutions Committee in 2023, recently blasted the Law Amendment, claiming it inconsistently prioritizes title; it is exclusionary; and it signals a transformation of the SBC into an "enforcement mechanism for our churches" as opposed to its traditional role as a "guardrail for the work of our entities."

Dr. Heath Lambert, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, was initially uncertain about the amendment but changed his mind after taking into account the apparent lack of institutional clarity about who is eligible for the office of pastor; the populist revolt in the SBC against what is perceived to be an egalitarian creep; and the "biblical answer" to the question of whether women can serve as pastors.

The website for the Law Amendment warns that "once a denomination has female pastors, it's usually just a matter of time until they ordain homosexual pastors."

"The American Baptist Churches USA allowed female pastors in 1985 and then homosexual pastors in 1999," said the Law Amendment site. "The Episcopal Church USA went from having female pastors in 1976 to homosexual pastors in 1996. For the ELCA, it was 1988 to 2009. For the PCUSA, it was 1956 to 2011. And after the United Methodists allowed female pastors in 1956, they are now hemorrhaging over homosexual ordination, and it’s the conservatives who are leaving."

"If we cannot be clear and unashamed about what the Bible says a pastor is now, then there is little hope that we will stand firm on other teachings of God’s Word that are out of step with the standards of the world," added the site.

Greear weighs in

Last year, Greear noted that "some churches have chosen to appoint women as lead pastors, which appears to be a clear denial of complementarianism. For churches like this, perhaps we should recognize that they are not closely identified with us."

He noted, however, that in certain cases, at issue is not a violation of complementarianism but rather "nomenclature," as in the case of a church calling a Sunday school teacher a "children's pastor."

In addition his attempt to introduce some nuance, Greear downplayed the issue, suggesting that the "reality is that even the largest estimates of churches with female pastors on staff make for a very small — and, in fact, shrinking — fraction of our Convention."

With the vote imminent, Greear reiterated his sense last week that the "Law Amendment is unwise, unnecessary, and will have significant negative ramifications."

"The church I pastor practices and celebrates complementarianism — in this context this means that as we believe pastor, elder, and overseer are the same office, every person called 'pastor' in our church is, and always will be, a man," wrote Greear. "My objection is that it rewrites the rules of our cooperation and attempts to fix, with a sledge hammer, something that isn’t really broken."

According to Greear, Southern Baptist messengers already have the means to oust wayward churches that have female senior pastors from the convention, as they did with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and a handful of other churches last year. The Christian Post reported that 88% of messengers voted to remove Saddleback Church and 92% voted to remove Fern Creek Baptish Church for similarly having a female pastor.

"It's become clear that this 'fix' will yield A LOT of collateral damage," wrote Greear. "There are churches who genuinely embrace complementarianism even as they differ in some of its applications. Several of our minority leaders (like the National African American Fellowship and California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Pete Ramirez) have told us as much. For Hispanics in particular, it really is an issue of nomenclature."

The Associated Press indicated that some Asian and Hispanic churches may be at risk of disfellowship, as they have women working in assistant pastor roles. Others refer to women as pastors although they are in fact operating in other faith-based capacities.

Besides suggesting that churches where women aren't effectively pastors but are nonetheless referred to as such could be ousted from the convention, Greear insinuated that this action will grease a slippery slope for further amendments.

"Who knows what that one will be? The multi-side model? Closed communion? Exroverted women teaching in a mixed Monday evening Bible study?" added Greear. "I’ve been crystal clear on complementarianism and will continue to be. I don’t have to jump through some hoop to prove it, and neither do you."

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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