Southern Baptists Vote on Women Pastors Rule, Reject Use of IVF

Lawrence Wilson
By Lawrence Wilson
June 12, 2024US News
Southern Baptists Vote on Women Pastors Rule, Reject Use of IVF
Messengers stand for worship during a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis on June 11, 2024. (Doug McSchooler/AP Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS—Representatives of the largest Protestant body in the United States narrowly rejected a proposal to ban churches with woman pastors.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2023 had provisionally passed an amendment to their constitution that would have required member congregations to appoint only men to pastoral leadership positions or face expulsion. The measure required a second vote to become effective. That vote failed on June 12. Although 61 percent of some 10,000 delegates, referred to as messengers, voted in favor of the change, a two-thirds majority was needed.

The outcome of the vote may have little practical effect on this denomination, which has long opposed placing women in pastoral leadership.

Its doctrinal statement continues to assert that the pastoral role is for men only, and the denomination already has the ability to expel congregations who differ from this teaching.

The convention later approved a measure that opposes the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), calling it “dehumanizing” and asking “the government to restrain” the practice.

The SBC statement of faith holds, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The document cites several Bible passages in support of this view, including the apostle Paul’s statement that he does not allow women to serve in positions of authority over men in the church.

While some denominations view that as an absolute prohibition on the ordination of women, others, including Evangelical denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, interpret it as guidance given to specific congregations relevant to their cultural setting.

Some SBC churches have appointed women as associate pastors under the direction of a male senior pastor.

The proposed constitutional amendment would have limited “friendly cooperation” with the SBC to a church that “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

Mike Law, the author of the proposed amendment and pastor of Virginia’s Arlington Baptist Church, argued that the measure was not meant to discourage women from serving in churches.

“This amendment is not about women in ministry,” Mr. Law said. “It’s specifically about women in the pastoral office.”

Noting that some 1,800 women hold pastoral roles in the SBC, Mr. Law cited Bible verses that appear to limit that role to men.

He said, “Our culture may see this prohibition as harsh, but our God is all wise and wrote this word for the flourishing of both men and women.”

Objections, Implications

Some opponents of the constitutional change were not necessarily in favor of allowing women to be pastors but objected to adding the ban to the denomination’s constitution.

Churches ordaining women have been expelled from the SBC in the past.

Last year the convention refused to reinstate Saddleback Church, an Orange County, California, megachurch listed by Lifeway Research as the seventh largest congregation in the country, because of its use of women pastors and its belief that they may hold high-level leadership positions.

On June 11, the convention voted to expel a Virginia congregation that employed a woman as an associate pastor and maintained that women could serve as senior pastors.

Other opponents argued that the amendment would disproportionately affect black congregations in the SBC because they are more likely to have women serving in pastoral roles.

SBC congregations operate independently, so the denomination cannot prevent a church from having a woman as pastor.

But it can disassociate with congregations that do not comply with SBC doctrine.

The practice of IVF, a laboratory procedure used to assist women who have difficulty conceiving a child, has been the focus of greater attention since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in February that frozen embryos qualify as children under state law.

The Alabama court ruling has implications for both IVF and abortion since it recognizes an embryo as a human life.

Conservative politicians including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), a Southern Baptist, support IVF. Sens. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have cosponsored legislation to protect the procedure.

The SBC, though still formidable, has seen a steady decline in membership for the past 17 years.

After reaching a high of 16.3 million members in 2005, membership fell below 13 million by 2023, according to Lifeway Research.

From The Epoch Times