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Saddleback appeal on behalf of like-minded Southern Baptists, Warren says

Photo from Saddleback.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press is publishing a series of articles in advance of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting on the three churches that have indicated they will appeal the February 2023 decision by the SBC Executive Committee deeming them not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC. The articles are intended to give messengers an opportunity to hear from church leaders at Saddleback Church, Fern Creek Baptist and Freedom Church. Statements made by representatives of the church should not be deemed to be endorsements by Baptist Press.

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP) — Saddleback Church founder and former pastor Rick Warren has provided five reasons the megachurch will appeal the decision of the SBC Executive Committee to find the church “not in friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention. The EC made the decision, based on a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee at its meeting in February.

The committee deemed the church not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, due to “the church continuing to have a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of a pastor.”

The committee specified the teaching pastor role of Stacie Wood, the wife of Warren’s successor, Andy Wood. Since then, Saddleback announced May 7 that Katie Edwards would become the new campus pastor for its Lake Forest campus. Edwards was among three women ordained with the title of pastor at Saddleback in May 2021.

The church’s reasons for appeal are to “benefit others that we care about,” Warren said. “We’re not challenging …. for Saddleback’s benefit. No one wants to stay where they aren’t wanted.”

The reasons for challenging are:

  • On behalf of millions of SBC women. Spiritual gifts are “being wasted instead of empowered for the Great Commission.” Warren added that “Great Commission Baptists believe that Jesus authorized every woman to go, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach – just as he authorized every man.”
  • On behalf of over 300 concerned pastors. That’s the approximate number Warren said have written him who have women pastors on staff. Those churches are “fearful and worried” over “the new inquisition” that will target them for disfellowship, he noted.
  • It should be decided by the messengers. Those registered to vote at the SBC annual meeting ought to make such a decision, Warren said, or decide “if they want the Executive Committee to act like a Catholic Magisterium.”
  • Encourage Southern Baptists to think about the direction of the Convention. “Many complex issues” are leading to “the continued decline of our denomination,” said Warren, who predicted that “the next generation of Southern Baptists will remove the restriction on women one day, because truth eventually triumphs over tradition.”
  • On behalf of International Mission Board missionaries. Warren cited a decrease of 1,500 missionaries since 2000, also the year of “the revised [Baptist Faith and Message].” A “renewed emphasis on the restriction of women,” he said, would lead to losing “more godly female church planters and couples serving as pastoral teams.”

IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan countered Warren’s assertion that the drop in missionaries was tied to the passage of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Growth continued to nearly 5,500 in 2008, she said, but began to decline the following year “as an intentional effort to adjust to declining revenue.” The decline in field personnel paralleled that of the economy for the next decade but “growing revenue now has the IMB positioned to grow missionary headcount.”

“IMB’s policies and practices align with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” McGowan said. “IMB does not and has not appointed women to serve in pastoral roles. Women who serve as missionaries through the IMB do, however, fill a wide variety of vital roles on the mission field.

“Though not in pastoral roles, IMB recognizes the value that women in leadership offer the organization. Women serve in various non-pastoral roles throughout the IMB at the director level and above on both field and staff leadership teams, including in senior leadership vice president roles. Married couples serve as a unit in many of their roles and share in non-pastoral responsibilities.”

Warren, adding that Saddleback has given more than $9 million to Southern Baptist causes, said the church will continue in shared ministry with the California Southern Baptist State Convention and Orange County Southern Baptist Association.

Saddleback is among three congregations expected to appeal at the annual meeting in New Orleans. The others are Freedom Church of Vero Beach, Fla., appealing a recommendation based on a lack of intent to resolve concerns over a sexual abuse allegation, and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., based on having a female lead pastor functioning in the office of pastor.

The appeals portion of the annual meeting will take place during a time for miscellaneous business in the afternoon session on June 13. Should messengers vote down the Credential Committee’s recommendation, those churches immediately become available to register and seat messengers.