The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) witnessed a major shift at the expense of theological conservatives.
Pastors and congregants assembled in Anaheim, California, last week to serve as messengers for their churches to elect new leadership and debate key issues. This year, hot topics for America’s largest Protestant denomination included a move from several churches to ordain female pastors, as well as a report from investigative firm Guidepost Solutions — which garnered controversy for lauding Pride Month on social media — outlining instances of sexual abuse within the denomination.
A conservative coalition of pastors and theologians endorsed Florida pastor Tom Ascol as president of the SBC, African Christian University Dean Voddie Baucham as president of the pastors’ conference, and Georgia pastor Javier Chavez as recording secretary. All three candidates lost, with Texas pastor Bart Barber taking the mantle as SBC president.
Many pastors view these trends as symptoms of a broader progressive drift in the SBC, which has a reputation for maintaining firm convictions on the fallen nature of man, salvation through Jesus Christ alone and the inerrancy of Scripture.
What Is a Pastor?
Article VI of the “Baptist Faith and Message,” a statement of faith adopted by the SBC in 2000, makes plain that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” As a result, messengers proposed a motion to disfellowship Saddleback Church — a California-based, multi-site megachurch led by pastor Rick Warren — over its decision to install three females into pastoral roles last year. Warren and his wife, Kay, also tapped Andy and Stacie Wood as “God’s couple” to lead the congregation after Warren’s upcoming retirement.
“The church has maintained meaningful, albeit not uniform, consensus on what a pastor is for approximately 2,000 years,” Jeff Wright, pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Cookeville, Tennessee, explained to The Daily Wire. “Now, at the same time the broader culture has found a way to become confused on what a woman is, the SBC has become confused on what a pastor is.”
In response to the disfellowship motion, the SBC’s credentials committee recommended studying the issue of female pastors further — an offer that was withdrawn after Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler denounced the move.
Tom Buck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas, pointed out to The Daily Wire that 1 Timothy 2:12 and other passages quoted by the “Baptist Faith and Message” are by no means unclear. “A pastor is someone who teaches and exercises authority in the church, and Scripture prohibits women from holding that office and performing the function of that office,” Buck said. “The fact that the members of the credentials committee are unable to discern this from Article VI only demonstrates how woefully unqualified they are to serve the SBC in this capacity.”
Mike Harding, pastor of Regeneration Church in Millersburg, Ohio, noted to The Daily Wire that “Christians are textualists and not deconstructionists.”
“There is irrefutably no wiggle room in our confession for calling women ‘pastors’ or giving them the office of pastor,” Harding said. “This unfortunately, in my humble opinion, demonstrates that we are in fact in a theologically liberal drift.”
Last year, the SBC commissioned Guidepost Solutions to chronicle and investigate instances of sexual abuse from pastors and other denominational affiliates. This week, the SBC greenlit recommended resolutions from its sexual abuse task force to create a separate “Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force” as well as a “Ministry Check” website to centralize vetted information about alleged abusers.
Yet many pastors argue that the website violates biblical standards of justice such as due process and two or three lines of independent witness — as communicated by passages such as Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 19:15, and Matthew 18:16.
“Putting someone on a database simply because they have been accused is presuming guilt rather than innocence,” Buck said. “The SBC has as much a responsibility to protect the potentially falsely accused as they do the potential victim… We must take every accusation seriously and take great care to discover the facts and act accordingly. But putting someone on a list simply because they were accused is not biblical justice — it’s actually injustice.”
Indeed, a new report from The Daily Wire’s Megan Basham detailed how the subject of sexual abuse in the SBC has morphed into “a political football that various factions have been leveraging to settle bitter scores and sway the direction of the denomination.” Basham found that Guidepost investigators failed to ask important witnesses for statements or evidence, nevertheless referring to one accusee as an “abuser” rather than an “alleged abuser.”
Harding concurred that “naming a person a sex abuser outside legal conviction runs ahead of Scripture and the legal process in our country for establishing guilt.”
“It slanders the individual and robs both parties of biblical justice,” he added. “We do well to train our church members and the churches in the SBC to recognize grooming behavior, do thorough background checks and reference checks. … Because each church is autonomous, the kind of vetting I mention has to be done by the local church.”
Wright likewise expressed concern that given cultural forces in the United States, a website listing accusations could lead to the “weaponization of abuse” while serving as a redundancy in light of the federal government’s National Sex Offender Registry.
“Think about names like Kavanaugh and Depp. Clearly these allegations can be used to destroy a man’s reputation,” Wright noted. “Justice would dictate a corresponding database of false allegations. However, I cannot believe those pushing this database forward would even countenance such a thing.”
No Way Forward
All three pastors interviewed by The Daily Wire said their churches are now more likely to leave the SBC.
“Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and congregationally governed, as expressed in our confession,” Wright said. “Congregations that are clear-eyed on the theological and ethical drift are going to increasingly find it hard to partner with the SBC insiders driving that drift.” He noted that members of his church will likely not “see a way to stay in partnership” through general cooperative program giving, by which the SBC gathers funds from local churches for world missions and other endeavors.
Meanwhile, Buck’s congregation established a task force “to discuss these matters and come back to the church in our August members’ meeting to make recommendations.”
Harding said that although his church “would like to see the SBC turn back from its trajectory of theological compromise and rejection of Scripture’s sufficiency for pragmatism,” it would prove difficult “to have a clean conscience before God and support such godless actions by those that claim to be followers of Christ.”
“I know there are many solid churches in the SBC,” said Harding, “but as of right now, it’s hard to conceive a reason to stay in the convention.”
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.