Last week, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church ordained three women as pastors — a first for the hugely influential megachurch. Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards were all ordained during a May 6 service, prompting both celebration and outrage across the Southern Baptist Convention.
🎉 Yesterday was a historic night for Saddleback Church in many ways!
We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz…
Saddleback’s move was done in defiance of the SBC’s official position, which forbids ordaining women. The SBC’s website points to the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, which says that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” A 1984 resolution adopted by the SBC stated that biblical teaching “excludes women from pastoral leadership to preserve a submission God requires because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”
That position has been a source of contention for decades and has helped lead to fractures in the past, creating the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Last year, popular author and teacher Beth Moore announced she had left the SBC, in part over the limitations it placed on women.
Saddleback is the largest church in the SBC, and the announcement prompted backlash from leaders within the convention, many of whom have been part of an attempt to steer the group away from what it perceives as a liberal drift. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Al Mohler wrote that Saddleback’s move was “contrary to Scripture.” Mohler is considered a top contender to become the new president of the SBC.
Mohler also quoted John A. Broadus, who wrote in 1880 that the Apostle Paul’s teachings “do definitely and strongly forbid that women shall speak in public assemblies.” Broadus was a co-founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who also served as a chaplain to the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was himself a slave-owner.
There have been no prominent calls for Saddleback to be kicked out of the SBC yet, but the size and influence of Saddleback almost guarantees that the debate will move to the forefront of a convention already in the throes of enormous tensions around racism and misogyny.
Many cheered the news, including Dr. Erin Faith Moniz, assistant chaplain at Berry College, who said she was “shocked and amazed.”
Still others noted that they were encouraged by the moved but noted that the American Church has a long way to go. Abuse survivor advocate Ashley Easter said she was “glad” to see the news, but drew attention to the fact that there are still no women elders in the church. Lauren Oquist, who said she helped write Saddleback’s online announcement, said that “One day women stepping into church leadership will be touted not as historic (which is, ironically, the word I chose when I helped write the social caption) but as just another Thursday night. Until then, I’m celebrating the steps Saddleback has taken. Onward and upward.”