Southern Baptists Still in Turmoil over Women’s Leadership
An old debate revives (yet again) over whether women can teach or preach to men
A few prominent Southern Baptists, including Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently issued a statement reiterating a definition for the role of “pastor.” In other fields, this would not be news. Say, a couple of cooks issued a statement defining “chef.” Who cares?
However, among conservative Christians, the natural (here meaning Biblical) boundaries around the title have dug a fresh trench in ecclesiastical apologetics. It should come as no surprise, in this tempest time in the American church, that it’s really a fight about gender and women’s authority.
The next flashpoint in the ongoing battle over supposed Christian history and whether women are subordinate to men by nature of the Fall was sparked by Saddleback Church, the largest church network in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which ordained three women in 2021. Those three women, Katie Edwards, Cynthia Petty, and Liz Puffer, were longtime staff members from within Saddleback’s 19 campuses.
Saddleback and its founder Rick Warren represent a tremendous force within American evangelical culture. Warren made a name for himself with the bestseller The Purpose-Driven Church and in popularizing ways churches can attract non-church-goers. He’s had wild accomplishments in some of the main ways Southern Baptists measure success: newly baptized believers, church growth, and funds donated back to SBC’s Cooperative Program.
This summer at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Anaheim, Warren enumerated his value to the entity by welcoming SBC to Orange County, where out of 149 churches represented at the meeting, 90 were founded by Saddleback. Warren was responding to a contentious morning debate over women pastors provoked by Saddleback’s ordaining those women pastors the year before. Rather than defend the point, he outlined both what he had contributed to SBC and implied what the denomination would lose if SBC kicked out his church.
Saddleback, SBC’s largest church, had baptized 56,631 new believers; sent 26,869 members overseas to 197 nations; 78,157 members had…