First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia which has given millions to Southern Baptist Convention causes and has been involved with the convention since its 19th century founding is bracing for a possible exclusion from the association. That’s because it’s Women and Children Services Pastor is a woman.

At the SBC’s annual meeting on June 11-12 in Indianapolis, representatives will vote on whether to amend the denomination’s constitution to ban churches with any women pastors and not just in the top job. That measure received overwhelming approval in a preliminary vote last year.

By some estimates, the proposed ban could affect hundreds of congregations and have a disproportionate impact on predominantly Black churches.

The vote is partly the culmination of events set in motion a few years ago.

That’s when a Virginia pastor contacted SBC officials to contend that First Baptist and four nearby churches were “out of step” with denominational doctrine that says only men can be pastors. The SBC Credentials Committee launched a formal inquiry in April.

Southern Baptists disagree on which ministry jobs this doctrine refers to. Some say it’s just the senior pastor, while others that a pastor is anyone who preaches and exercises spiritual authority.

And in a Baptist tradition that prizes local church autonomy, critics say the convention shouldn’t enshrine a constitutional rule based on one interpretation of its non-binding doctrinal statement.

By some estimates, women work in pastoral roles in hundreds of SBC-linked churches, a fraction of the nearly 47,000 across the denomination.

But critics say the amendment would amount to a further narrowing in numbers and mindset for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has moved steadily rightward in recent decades.  They also wonder if the SBC has better things to do.

SBC membership has dipped below 13 million, nearly a half-century low. Baptismal rates are in long-term decline.

The amendment, if passed, wouldn’t prompt an immediate purge. But it could keep the denomination’s leaders busy for years, investigating and ousting churches.

Many predominantly Black churches have men as lead pastors but assign pastor titles to women in other areas, such as worship and children’s ministries.

The controversy complicates the already-choppy efforts by the mostly white denomination to diversify and overcome its legacy of slavery and segregation.

Amendment proponents say the convention needs to reinforce its doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, which says the office of pastor is “limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Since Baptist churches are independent, the convention can’t tell them what to do or whom to appoint as a pastor.

But the convention can decide which churches are in and which are out. And even without a formal amendment, its Executive Committee has begun telling churches with women pastors that they’re out.


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