When Orange County’s colossal Saddleback Church chose to make history by ordaining its first three female pastors in 2021, the decision may have seemed innocuous, if not a little late to the party. Nonetheless, pushback was swift and verbose, driven by evangelists at their most intense. The Facebook post announcing the new pastors quickly garnered close to 2,000 comments, including a heavy helping of complaints such as, “Women pastors are unbiblical,” and, “Follow the Bible. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
The pastors declined to be silenced.
Now, the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee has reignited the controversy by following a recommendation on Tuesday to oust the megachurch—its second-largest congregation—from the SBC fold, labeling it “not in friendly cooperation with the convention.”
Saddleback employs head pastor Andy Wood’s wife, Stacie Wood, as a teaching pastor. It’s a position the SBC cited when explaining that its decision to cut ties with the SoCal church hinged directly on its having “a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
The SBC claims Wood’s place in the pulpit is sheer biblical disobedience, citing its own doctrine of faith. “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 statement reads. “The Holy Bible was written by men… He enables men to understand truth.”
According to the Associated Press, the SBC committee has previously ousted five other congregations, four of which also have women pastors.
“This decision has not been made lightly,” said Committee Chairman Jared Wellman in a statement. “However, we remain committed to uphold the theological convictions of the SBC.” Though Saddleback can appeal the decision at the SBC’s next annual meeting in June, the executive committee’s Mike Keahbone called it “likely” that Saddleback will join a roster of exiled congregations that includes Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida—which shares the same “not in friendly cooperation” label as Saddleback, albeit, a result of its sexual abuse scandals—and College Park Baptist Church of Greensboro, whose non-friendly distinction results from its LBGTQ+ friendly policies, as reported by The Guardian.
Saddleback now has the option to appeal, which appears likely. That appeal would happen on the floor of the annual meeting in New Orleans and decided by the messengers. This was the heart of the room; to let the messengers of the SBC decide.
Any named church may appeal.
— Mike Keahbone (@keahbone) February 21, 2023
Saddleback’s founder, ecclesiastical celebrity Rick Warren of The Purpose Driven Life, tweeted a response to the SBC decision, saying, “We’ll respond in OUR time & way.” Though Warren retired in 2022 after serving at Saddleback for over 42 years, he played a crucial role in growing the church’s massive following, boasting an average weekly attendance of over 30,000 and 14 Southern California locations. Warren stood by his decision to ordain the female preachers at the June 2022 Southern Baptists’ annual convention in Anaheim. “We have to decide if we will treat each other as allies or adversaries,” he said.
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— Rick Warren (@RickWarren) February 21, 2023
Saddleback pastor Andy Wood told the Associate Press last year, “My wife has the spiritual gift of teaching and she is really good. People often tell me she’s better than me when it comes to preaching, and I’m really glad to hear that.” More recently, his last post on Saddleback social media was spare but also somewhat relevant to the decision at hand: “There is power when a follower of Jesus is hospitable.”
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