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FBC Alexandria ‘no longer in friendly cooperation’ with SBC over views on female pastors

Robert Stephens, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Alexandria, Va., appeals to messengers to allow his church to remain in friendly cooperation with the SBC. Messengers later voted to deem the church not in friendly cooperation due to its egalitarian views and practices. Photo by Sonya Singh


INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – The SBC voted June 11 to discontinue its cooperative relationship with a Virginia church that has a female associate pastor. The church has ordained at least three women as pastors over more than four decades and told the SBC Credentials Committee it would consider a female as senior pastor.

Messengers voted to declare First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., not in friendly cooperation with the Convention by a ballot vote of 6,759 to 563 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The vote came in response to a recommendation by the SBC Credentials Committee, which followed a motion by Wisconsin messenger Aaron Decker to unseat the church’s messengers “on the grounds of their public endorsement of egalitarianism,” a theological viewpoint that argues both men and women are biblically eligible to serve as pastors.

Jonathan Sams, chairman of the SBC Credentials Committee, presented the motion from the committee to deem First Baptist Church Alexandria, Va., not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Photo by Elijah Hickman

Credentials Committee chairman Jonathan Sams confirmed that the committee previously had asked First Baptist about their beliefs on women in ministry and received a reply contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message. He asked the SBC to “discontinue its cooperative relationship” with First Baptist and deem it “no longer in friendly cooperation with the Convention.”

The Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI, states, “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.”

“We asked the church directly to explain their beliefs regarding the office of pastor/elder/overseer,” Sams said. “The church responded, saying they believe, ‘Both men and women can satisfy the requirements of the pastor/elder/overseer office,’ and more specifically that they believe a woman is ‘biblically qualified to fill the senior pastor position.’

“We asked if the church might consider calling a woman as their lead senior pastor,” Sams said. “The church responded affirmatively, saying yes, they would because they do not ‘believe that the Bible limits the fulfillment of this office exclusively to men.’”

First Baptist pastor Robert Stephens spoke for the church, arguing the congregation should not be excluded from the SBC. Fruitful cooperation is possible among churches with different views on women in ministry, he said. First Baptist ordained its first female pastor in 1980.

“For 44 years we have continued our partnership with this Convention, engaging in Kingdom work while having females as pastor. Our presence clearly demonstrates our shared commitment to prioritizing cooperation for the work of the Kingdom and the glory of God, which has been successful,” Stephens said.

First Baptist is “advancing the Gospel,” he said, “and we hope that we will continue to work alongside you.”

Earlier this month, First Baptist disclosed it had received an inquiry from the Credentials Committee regarding its employment of a female pastor for children and women. On its website, the church said it was aware as early as 2022 that the Credentials Committee was making inquiries about its views of female pastors. The Credentials Committee first contacted the church directly about the matter this spring, according to First Baptist.

The Credentials Committee maintains confidentiality in inquiries, and did not confirm or deny an active inquiry of the church before it addressed messengers in Indianapolis.

First Baptist stated on its website that it sent messengers to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting and was “engaged” in the debate when the Convention discontinued its cooperative relationship with two other churches churches that had female pastors. First Baptist was “grieved by this result.”

“We remain resolute in recognizing God’s calling to ministry for both men and women,” the church stated. “For nearly 100 years, women have had a prominent role in ministry and positions of authority at FBCA.”

The Credentials Committee found “no joy in making this recommendation,” Sams said, “but [had] formed the opinion that the church’s egalitarian beliefs regarding the office of pastor do not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.”

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