A woman’s place may be in the house, but if it’s the house of the lord we are talking about, she’d better not seat at the head of the table. This is what the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) decided this week, voting to expel five churches, including Saddleback Church in Southern California and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
The churches found themselves under scrutiny because they had dared to have female pastors, which the overwhelming majority of the delegates (known as messengers) at the SBC held in New Orleans considered unacceptable.
Not only were the only two Baptists churches with female pastors ousted, the convention then moved to enshrine in the SBC constitution a specific ban against female pastors. This would be an expansion on the doctrinal statement, which was amended in 2000 to say that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
There are currently more than 47,000 churches in the SBC, collectively representing more than 13 million members, according to the organization. The majority of the churches are in southern US states—Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
The convention has an operating budget of nearly $10 billion, but it is losing followers. In 2022, it saw its steepest decline in membership in a century, losing 416 churches and more than 450,000 members during the year. It’s not a new phenomenon: Membership, reports the Tennessean, has been declining since 2007.
In the SBC, which does not have the same hierarchical structure of other churches, ousting a church is the strictest form of punishment. The group has a history of ousting churches for holding what it considers progressive beliefs, such as respecting LGBTQ rights. It also ousted two churches accused of hiring people with a known history of sexual abuse. That came after a sex scandal, uncovered in 2021, involving years of abuses perpetrated within the convention’s churches.
In a way, the decision of ousting the female-led churches is in line with putting inclusiveness and sexual abuse on a same level. In some cases, the churches involved in sexual abuse were let off easier, as they were allowed to remain in cooperation with the SBC.
Yet the one way the SBC could avoid facing new sexual abuse scandals is precisely by allowing female pastors. Research has shown that female leadership has a dramatic impact in reducing incidences of sexual abuse.