Saddleback Church Kicked Out of the SBC Over Women’s Ordination: Why To Care & What To Do
What can I do to change your mind? About many things I have a laissez-faire way of doing things. Think what you want. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone, I respect your viewpoint. But on this particular issue, this is different.
A couple of weeks ago a headline about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) caught my eye. They had decided to disaffiliate Saddleback Church along with a few other congregations because they had ordained women teaching pastors.
The truth is, I had no idea that the Southern California church whose pastor wrote the iconic evangelical book Purpose Driven Life, was Southern Baptist. But I definitely knew that Baptists don’t allow women preachers.
Here's why this should be on your radar. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States and Saddleback Church was its largest congregation. I would argue that the SBC has been one of the most powerful cultural influencers in our country for several decades. I hadn’t realized that until recently and I’m guessing you may not have either.
A strong emphasis on evangelism, funding for church plants and a loosely held affiliation produced sustained growth starting in the 60s and peaking in the early 2000s. As of 2020 there were more than 47 thousand SBC churches representing over 15 million congregants.
Each church governs independently, which means there’s a lot of latitude. In fact, I’m sure there is a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices within the organization. Disaffiliation is not easy and it’s one of the only disciplinary measures the SBC has available.
I was surprised to learn that Saddleback waited until 2019 to ordain female pastors. I imagine there were many women leaders who helped build such an impressive organization. The high profile, size and cultural context had to create pressure. Bold move—ordaining three women. Out of how many hundred staff members?
I was glad to see that at long last someone in the SBC was taking a stand for women. But as I dug a little deeper, I was less impressed with the stand and more concerned about the standoff.
I listened to Rick Warren’s speech at the 2022 SBC convention in Anaheim. I thought perhaps he would have said something about the issue that created the conflict, but he refused to defend himself. Instead he talked about being mentored by Billy Graham. He emphasized how grateful he was to the denomination and how much he has loved being Southern Baptist. Warren repeated numbers like 4th generation, 90 churches started and 30 thousand members. He was obviously upset that the group had decided to oust his church and laments that this will likely be his last convention. He concludes by saying, “Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing.”
The main thing he’s referring to is evangelism. While I can respect the desire to keep their mission in focus, I noticed he didn’t seize the opportunity to champion women’s rights.
As a side note, pastoral ministry really is a terrible career choice. Any women who are determined to pursue it despite the low pay, long hours and frequent lack of appreciation should be thanked for their sacrifice.
The real issue isn’t ordaining women leaders for pastoral ministry. It’s the hierarchical view of women and the continued support of the patriarchy.
Secondarily, there’s an underlying fear that if rules around gender are loosened, it’s only a matter of time before LGBTQ+ issues are challenged. From my perspective, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But I think it’s worth noting that these two topics are not mutually exclusive.
I discussed the doctrine of Complementarianism, which is a main tenet of the Southern Baptist faith, in a previous post. In summary, Complementarianism is the belief that men and women are created equal but with different roles. To which I would ask again, does equal really mean equal?
Here’s how the SBC says it in the Baptist Faith and Message document published in 2000:
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
In this model, God’s relationship with the people of God or Christ’s relationship to the church is a model for a husband’s relationship with his wife.
Let me break that down a little more simply:
God (Christ) = Husband
People (Church) = Wife
Would you be able to say that Christ is equal to the church? Is God equal to God’s people?
If the answer is obviously, “No” in both instances, how then can you describe the relationship between husbands and wives from this context as such? 
The equal referred to here means inherent value. The way that complementarianism is applied has little to do with inherent value and everything to do with rank and authority.
The SBC’s refusal to ordain women pastors is indicative of a deeper wound that I believe it’s time to heal.
We have been through some monumental shifts in culture, homelife and the world. In the last sixty years, women entered the work force, gained access to all levels of education, and began to compete with men for employment opportunities. And thus the battle of the sexes began.
I am so thankful for the women who went before me. They fought so I wouldn’t have to put up with sexual harassment at work. They made it possible for me to remain single and now to support my family financially.
I recognize that in the battle against the system of patriarchy, men often became the casualties of war. There have also been a number of women who felt left behind. They weren’t prepared for a career or they didn’t want to be shamed for a perceived lack of ambition.
In an effort to preserve the patriarchy, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) emerged. Closely affiliated with the SBC, CBMW coined the term complementarian. Their stated purpose is still to “help the church defend against the accommodation of secular feminism.”
Although less explicit than the messaging of the 1960s and 70, there’s no denying the hierarchical nature of this doctrine. It’s top down, modeled after the military—one guy at the top and everyone falls in line. God, pastor, husband, wife, children—in that order.
Equal but different roles. Is it equal when one person by virtue of their gender is given more power? From this view, being born a woman means you are destined to be someone’s subordinate. But still equal? Is it just me, or does this feel a little patronizing?
What if there were a better way? What if we didn’t have to be at war at all, but were actually equals. No competition. Men and women could learn how to communicate and work together as a team. We could decide tasks based on things like skill or interest.
I’ve held leadership positions in a few organizations. I learned that when things go poorly, people looked to me, to know how to react. I don’t get to break down and cry in the moment. I worked to calm myself so that I was able to reassure my team, “We can do this.”
As a leader you want to have good report, but also be careful about boundaries. The people who reported to me weren’t my peers. When I asked a subordinate to carry out a task, they were expected to follow through. When work performance didn’t meet expectations, accountability was my responsibility. This power differential created distance in relationship.
That wasn’t the kind of relationship I was looking for in a husband. I wanted a peer, someone I could talk shit about the boss to. I didn’t want to have to be the responsible one all the time. And I didn’t want that for him either.
With my husband, we support and encourage each other. We make decisions collaboratively and share power. We can take turns being the strong one or simply find comfort in each other during hard times.
As a side note, my husband and I have different opinions on this. Not in practice, but in theory. We are coming up on six years and still learning how to be married.
I know it may seem like giving power and voice to women takes something away from men. But it does not have to be that way. When we are part of a team, my strength is your strength. That’s true in the home and it’s true in church leadership.
As a culture, I want us to pursue healing from the patriarchy and the damage it has done to both genders. We don’t have to be at war. Men and women actually make great partners. Or as @thechadlife on TikTok said to the sound of Marvin Gaye, “People need to quit worrying about who wears the pants in a relationship and start to realize that marriages last longer and are better when no one wears pants.”
Have I changed your mind? I know a lot of you reading this were saying, “hell yeah!” from the moment I said “female pastors.” Some of you are still skeptical.
Many of you may attend congregations with the name “Baptist” or “Bible” in the title (or maybe it’s one of those trendy urban names like Journey or Belong, who knows!). You love your church and you want to see it get even better. If I’ve convinced you that women and men are best suited in truly equal partnerships, I’d like to give a couple of suggestions on how to bring change.
Advocate For Diversity.
I often look at church web pages to see if they have a lady pastor on staff. Often women are given titles like “director” instead of pastor. The next time you sit down with the female director of a certain ministry, ask her if she’s ever considered ordination. If you think she’s a good leader, let her know! Show that she should be recognized for her valuable contribution.
Most complementarian congregations have an all-male board of directors. I’ve had it explained to me that the men talk to their wives at home and get input. That’s not the same as having a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. It also ignores unmarried women altogether. Church attendance these days is majority female. Not involving women in key decisions is a huge miss.
Challenge the status quo. I realize this feels scary, especially if you weren’t raised to be an advocate. I know you can do it.
Leadership and decision makers should reflect the demographics of the congregation as much as possible. That applies to gender, ethnicity, income, age and so on. If your church is primarily middle aged white guys, then the church board is probably just fine as is.
Listen and learn. Amplify voices.
Like you, I prefer to listen to people who agree with me. I fancy myself “open minded.” But if I’m honest, I’m really only open to accepting a narrow spectrum of ideas. I say this so you can know that I am challenged by my own thoughts here.
We need to listen to people outside of our circle and learn from people with different life experiences. Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts by black Christians. They often have a different way of articulating their faith. Sometimes they criticize white people. I’m like yeah, white people, sheesh. One of those podcasts from last week was hosted by a Southern Baptist and I learned a lot about black history.
There’s a fear of learning in many evangelical circles. Doubts are sometimes characterized as from the devil. The grip on belief is tight. The defense is dogged, as if the whole system could fall like a house of cards.
The truth is that we can learn new things, question our faith, have doubts and still be Christians. Even better, we can make it safe for others who have questions too. Let’s normalize being curious and respectful of people even if they disagree with us. It’s a great way to learn. The best part is that when you find new insights you can bring them back to your faith community.
Decide if you will work for change from within our decide to invest in a different faith community.
I am confident that there are many in the SBC and similar evangelical spaces who champion women’s rights. Most of these folks are content to sit on the sidelines or limit their influence to a local congregation. There are countless others who practice equality while giving a nod to bad doctrine.
When you find yourself out of sync with the beliefs of your faith community, it’s difficult to know if you should stay and work for change or leave. I knew when I graduated seminary that I didn’t fit with my denomination but I chose to stay because of relationships.
I rarely thought of how my leadership might impact the larger organization. Maybe it was because I’m a woman, maybe because I worked two jobs and was exhausted. Maybe my ideas are still a little half-baked and I just need to read a few more books to be sure.
Whatever the reason, don’t be like me. If you’re going to be part of a group, be in it. Show up to church business meetings. Talk to your leaders about future vision. Determine you’re going to champion things like equality, diversity, justice and mercy.
If there comes a day when you just can’t make it work, go gracefully.
I read an excerpt from Beth Moore’s memoir All My Knotted-Up Life this week. She told the story of being welcomed into an Anglican congregation after leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.
An evangelical celebrity, Moore spent nearly thirty years as a best-selling author and speaker with the title of “teacher” when any man in her position would have been an ordained pastor.
After he won the election, Moore began to voice concerns with Donald Trump’s abusive behavior toward women and the evangelical exaltation he received in spite of it. Her criticism was not well received by her community. Event attendance and book sales began to drop.
In 2016 as reports of sexual abuse in the SBC began to surface, Beth Moore became increasingly concerned about tolerance among church leadership. In 2019 she responded to a report by the Houston Chronicle that detailed over 700 cases of sexual abuse in the SBC. She began to tell her own story of finding refuge in the church from sexual abuse at home and became an advocate for other survivors.
In a blog post from 2018 titled “A Letter to My Brothers,” Beth Moore talks about what it was like to be a female leader in the conservative Evangelical world. She says:
As a woman leader in the conservative Evangelical world, I learned early to show constant pronounced deference – not just proper respect which I was glad to show – to male leaders and, when placed in situations to serve alongside them, to do so apologetically. I issued disclaimers ad nauseam. I wore flats instead of heels when I knew I’d be serving alongside a man of shorter stature so I wouldn’t be taller than he. I’ve ridden elevators in hotels packed with fellow leaders who were serving at the same event and not been spoken to and, even more awkwardly, in the same vehicles where I was never acknowledged. I’ve been in team meetings where I was either ignored or made fun of, the latter of which I was expected to understand was all in good fun. I am a laugher. I can take jokes and make jokes. I know good fun when I’m having it and I also know when I’m being dismissed and ridiculed. I was the elephant in the room with a skirt on. I’ve been talked down to by male seminary students and held my tongue when I wanted to say, “Brother, I was getting up before dawn to pray and to pore over the Scriptures when you were still in your pull ups.”
She goes on to say that in 2016 she began to recognize misogyny among some Christian leaders. “I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life:” Moore wrote, “Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”
And they say women can’t preach!
I can tell from Moore’s words she didn’t want to leave, but there comes a time when you cannot stay. For those who consider church home it can feel gut wrenching.
I want you to know that you are not alone. There are men and women wrestling with the same questions. They might even be sitting right next to you. Leaving might be lonely, but there are groups committed to knowing God that will walk with you as you find your way.
Jesus was a bold voice for change. He made a lot of religious folks very angry. So if that’s you, just know you’re in good company. Keep being courageous.
I'd love to hear from you! Leave me a comment about how you're advocating for change in your faith community. If you haven't already, hit the subscribe button below.
 Listen to Rick Warren’s speech here: https://youtu.be/MBsT1zFmC3E  https://www.relevantfaithjourney.com/post/brighter-together-does-equal-mean-equal  You can read the full context of this quote here: https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xi  I don’t intend to address the scriptural basis for these beliefs here, but here is a previous post that is relevant to the topic: https://www.relevantfaithjourney.com/post/brighter-together-the-intersection-of-scripture-and-gender-roles This is also great TikTok about women preachers and the Bible: https://www.tiktok.com/@pastorparrott/video/7202680079216839978  https://cbmw.org/about/mission-vision/  I’m saying this to be funny. There are lots of churches with a diverse board of directors. But the middle aged white guy is almost never left out. Here’s the URL for the excerpt from Beth Moore’ Memoire talking about her experience of being welcomed in an Anglican church. Christianity Today Article  You can find an extended report on Beth Moore’s exit from the SBC here: Religion News Article  Beth Moore’s blog post from 2018: “A Letter to My Brothers.” You should read the whole thing. It’s good. https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html