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Church with female support pastor reveals Credentials Committee inquiry

First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Va.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (BP) – A Virginia church has disclosed an inquiry it reportedly received April 8 from the Southern Baptist Convention Credentials Committee regarding the church’s employment of a female pastor.

First Baptist Church of Alexandria, which employs a female pastor for children and women, offers a detailed history of the inquiry at fbcalexandria.org along with the church’s theological statement on gender roles in the church and related developments, including a teaching series.

“First Baptist Church of Alexandria closely identifies with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and in fact agrees explicitly with the vast majority of the beliefs articulated within it,” the church wrote in a document it identifies as its response to the Credentials Committee. “In this particular instance however, while we would concur that both men and women are gifted for service in the church and that there is indeed an office clearly identified by scripture entitled pastor/elder/overseer, we do not believe that the Bible limits the fulfillment of this office exclusively to men.”

First Baptist Alexandria Senior Pastor Robert Stephens heads an eight-member church leadership team that includes Pastor for Women and Children Kim Eskridge and two other women employed as a student ministries director and an interim music and worship coordinator. As recently as 2022, the church said on its website, it employed two women as pastors.

The Credentials Committee maintains confidentiality in inquiries, and would neither confirm nor deny to Baptist Press an active inquiry of the church.

The committee confirmed it currently does not intend to make a recommendation to the SBC Executive Committee at its June meeting that the church be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, but did not rule out a future recommendation.

“At this time, the Credentials Committee is not scheduled to present a report to the Executive Committee at its June 10, 2024, meeting in Indianapolis,” a representative of the Credentials Committee said in a written response to Baptist Press.

“The Credentials Committee is committed to maintaining the confidentiality of all information communicated or obtained during the inquiry process, regardless of whether a church chooses to make these communications public,” the representative said. “If a church is placed under inquiry, it means the Credentials Committee has questions that need to be addressed by the church.

“An inquiry is intended to open dialogue with a church, to help us form an opinion about whether a church should continue to be considered a cooperating church with the Convention. After an inquiry letter is sent, the committee has two possible pathways: one of which is making a recommendation to the Executive Committee.”

FBCA was first reported to the Credentials Committee in 2022 “for being ‘out of step’ with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” the church states on its website, but only received a formal inquiry in April. The membership of the Credentials Committee changes annually, with members serving staggered three-year terms joined by the Executive Committee chairman and the SBC registration secretary as ex-officio members.

The formal inquiry as reported by the church comes as SBC messengers will consider at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting a second vote to amend the SBC Constitution to limit the role of pastor/elder/overseer to men. The amendment would augment Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 that states in part, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The amendment, popularly called the Law Amendment because of its original author Mike Law, in part drives First Baptist Church of Alexandria’s statement on its website. Law pastors Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., a church just four miles from FBC Alexandria. 

Stephens includes a video response to the first affirmative vote of the Law Amendment at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

“One of the things that impacts the life of us as a church is that earlier today an amendment was proposed to the constitution of the SBC,” Stephens said in the video. “The amendment reads as follows: ‘Southern Baptist churches affirm, appoint and employ only men as any kind of pastor.’ … This amendment therefore calls into question the relationship between First Baptist Church of Alexandria and the SBC.”

Stephens said the church would take a year to review and consider its relationships with the SBC and other related entities at the local and state level.

“It’s time for us at FBCA to consider who we partner with in an effort to fulfill our command and our commission to sharing the Gospel,” Stephens said in the video. “I am confident and I believe on the basis of Scripture, that there is nothing in our staff structure, there is nothing in our church polity or the way in which we worship, and function and serve as a church that is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word.”

FBCA references on its website Saddleback Church and Fern Creek Baptist Church, two congregations no longer considered in friendly cooperation with the SBC because they employ women as pastors.

If FBCA is deemed not in friendly cooperation, the church indicated it would appeal such a ruling to messengers at a future SBC meeting.

The church posted on its website a five-part teaching series on women in pastoral ministry.

In the 2023 Annual Church Profile, FBCA reported 44 baptisms, 4,510 members and an average Sunday morning worship attendance of 663. The church gave $467,316 (11.98 percent) to the Cooperative Program from $3.9 million in undesignated receipts, $709,309 to Great Commission causes, $179,744 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and $39,044 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, according to the ACP.

FBCA cooperates with the NorthStar Church Network and the Baptist General Association of Virginia.