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Southern Baptists pass first approval of constitutional amendment over women pastors

Photo by Luc Stringer

NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP) — A motion to amend Southern Baptists’ stance on women and men filling the role of pastor was passed by messengers on June 14.

The motion, first brought last year by Virginia pastor Mike Law, received the required two-thirds vote by messengers. Another two-thirds vote of approval is necessary at next year’s annual meeting to proceed with the amendment to Article III of the SBC Constitution.

Virginia pastor Mike Law speaks June 14, 2023, to a motion he put forward at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting regarding women filling the role of pastor. Photo by Sonya Singh

The motion that was passed was amended from its original version, which was referred to the SBC Executive Committee last year at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, offered the amendment to Law’s motion. Both pastors had discussed and agreed on its merits the previous weekend, Sanchez told fellow messengers.

Article III lists five points that place churches within the definition of cooperation with the SBC. The amended motion calls for a sixth, adding churches that affirm, appoint, or employ “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

Sanchez initially presented his amendment as a “substitute motion.” SBC President Bart Barber, with no objection from the crowd, clarified later that it was being treated as an amendment.

The Executive Committee agreed at its meeting on June 12 to bring Law’s motion to the messengers at this year’s meeting. However, the EC’s recommendation included EC opposition to the motion itself, stating that matters of belief ought to be addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message rather than the constitution.

“I agree with the Executive Committee,” said Sanchez. “Southern Baptists know what a pastor is. The Baptist Faith and Message is clear. However, not all messengers agree. This motion would state in positive language what we believe. It aims to clarify the intent of the Baptist Faith and Message from its initial form in 1925.

Texas pastor Juan Sanchez provided an amendment to Law’s original motion. Both Sanchez’s amendment and then Law’s amended motion were adopted by messengers. The motion received the two-thirds vote required to be considered again next year. Another two-thirds vote will lead to a change in the SBC’s constitution. Photo by Sonya Singh

“By clarifying the intention of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article VI, this motion alleviates the need to revise our statement of faith.”

Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 addresses The Church, stating that “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Bob Bender, pastor emeritus of Cross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., spoke in opposition to the motion.

“Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, I beg of you,” he said. “Do not do this. All the liberals have left us. It looks like we conservatives are left to fight amongst ourselves.”

Women in associate pastoral roles need to be recognized for their contributions, Bender said.

Denny Burk, a messenger from Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., said the amendment “does nothing to diminish [women’s] calling and their work among us.”

“We all believe they must be a part of the Great Commission,” said Burk, who also serves as the director of the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College.

The heart of the amendment, he continued, “is about how to apply our doctrinal statement to our cooperation when it comes to female pastors.”

The vote took place at noon just prior to scheduled luncheons by seminaries and other groups. Before the final vote, a motion to extend time was defeated. A motion for a ballot vote on extending time was also defeated.