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Three churches plan to appeal EC decision, ask for reinstatement to SBC

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Three of the six churches deemed not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention in February have announced their plans to appeal the decision made by the Executive Committee. The appeals are scheduled to be heard during the Tuesday, June 13, afternoon business session of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Fern Creek Baptist Church

The SBC Executive Committee deemed the Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., not in friendly cooperation with the SBC in February, based on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000’s statement that Scripture reserves the office of pastor for men.

Fern Creek interprets the Scriptures used in limiting the pastorate to men – chiefly 1 Timothy 2:9-14, and 3:1-15 – differently than the BF&M 2000, according to church leadership.

Linda Popham has pastored Fern Creek fulltime since April 4, 1993, after a near three-year term as interim pastor.

Danny Hass, chairman of deacons at Fern Creek, said, “We truly feel that, in those particular Scriptures, the way that we’ve looked at those in history is that Paul was talking about particular women at a particular church. The women felt like they had just gained this freedom, I guess, and they felt like in this particular church if they had questions or needed to speak out, they did, during the service.”

“And Paul was very adamant,” Hass said, “about keeping a decorum in church, where things were reverent. There was a particular order to the service. And Paul did not like very much the women speaking out in church and from what I understand, they were not learned like their husbands were. They did not go to the Jewish school.”

Fern Creek was already ordaining women deacons before Hass began attending the church, and before Popham joined the staff as minister of music and youth in 1983. The church bases its decision to hire women and men in ministry on spiritual and biblical standards, Haas said.

Freedom Church

Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., was deemed not to be in friendly cooperation because the church failed to cooperate to resolve concerns regarding an abuse allegation. Freedom Church has denied the charge to Baptist Press, saying the matter was investigated and resolved by the Anglican Church of North America.

The Florida Baptist Convention and Freedom’s former local association, the Treasure Coast Baptist Association, both severed ties with the church last year.

“The State Board of Missions voted to remove Freedom Church of Vero Beach from fellowship with the Florida Baptist State Convention on the grounds that they have called an individual to the senior pastor role who is biblically disqualified from ministry as a Southern Baptist pastor,” said a statement from Board president Brian Stowe. “Aside from other disqualifications, the individual has admitted to a pattern of sexual misconduct with women who were under his pastoral care and supervision.

“The individual is currently under investigation by another denomination for these and other credible allegations of sinful conduct, and Freedom Church’s local association, the Treasure Coast Baptist Association, is already moving forward with disfellowshipping the church.”

Demsick became lead pastor of Freedom Church in late 2021 or early 2022.

The appeal will be made by Donald Stewart, an elder at Freedom Church.

On Monday, June 5, Stewart confirmed to Baptist Press that Demsick resigned from his role as pastor of Freedom Church on May 22, and is currently not a part of the leadership of the church in any way. He said Freedom Church currently has a local pastor named Joshua Robinson, pastor of Vero Beach Baptist Church, serving as an interim pastor.

Saddleback Church

The committee deemed Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., 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.

Rick Warren launched Saddleback on Easter Sunday 1980. He retired last year and became the pastor emeritus. He is scheduled to make the appeal on behalf of the church.

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.”

Warren has led an email and social media campaign to make the church’s case for its appeal.

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