Southern Baptist Convention, Engaged in Fight Over Female Pastors, Is in Freefall

The Southern Baptist Convention released its annual membership report last week, and the news isn’t good.

The U.S.’s largest Protestant denomination lost just short of half a million members within a single year, falling from 13.68 million members in 2021 to 13.2 million members in 2022. The losses total 457,371 members.

That means that the SBC has lost 1.32 million members in just the past three years. As denominations researcher Ryan Burge noted, that’s the equivalent of losing an entire mainline denomination. For example, the Presbyterian Church USA has 1.1 million members, the American Baptist Churches USA has 1.21 million members, and the United Church of Christ has 802,000 members. In other words, there has been a major societal shift in U.S. religious demographics within the space of a single year.

Arriving at Collapse

How did the SBC arrive at this point where it is shedding hundreds of thousands of members a year?

Much of the change is due to nationwide trends away from religion as people abandon faith in God and find community or entertainment online instead of in a church.

However, for many Southern Baptists, the change is not so much leaving Christianity; rather, it is joining a different church.

Eric McDaniel, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has noted that many Southern Baptist members are leaving for nondenominational churches. Nondenominational churches are growing in number in the U.S. and now have more adherents than the SBC. According to the U.S. Religion Census, the number of nondenominational churches increased by 9,000 from 2010 to 2020. 

Members of the SBC can easily switch to a nondenominational church because many of these churches are virtually identical in faith and practice to SBC churches.

SBC churches are already officially autonomous and, to be part of the SBC, churches merely need to “cooperate” with the convention and have a faith and practice that is “closely identified” with the SBC’s statement of faith. That means that a church not affiliated with the convention can have few practical differences from one that is part of the SBC. 

Disagreements Over Female Pastors

Over the past year, disagreements over whether or not women can serve as pastors have boiled over in the SBC. Much of the disagreement followed a controversial 2019 tweet from influential former SBC member Beth Moore in which she stated that she would be preaching on Mother’s Day. Moore later disavowed the SBC’s vision of the proper roles for men and women.

These disagreements over female pastors have caused both theological conservatives and liberals to leave the denomination. Conservatives are upset that the SBC is not taking a more definitive stance and immediately removing all churches that violate the convention’s stance against female pastors. Liberals are offended by conservatives’ ascendency in SBC leadership and their efforts to crack down on female pastors. (READ MORE: Methodist Church Splitting Over LGBTQ Issues)

In February, the SBC kicked five churches out of its denomination because they allowed women to serve as pastors. This included Saddleback Church, a California megachurch with an estimated weekly attendance of 30,000.

Stacie Wood, the wife of the lead pastor, Andy Wood, was serving as a pastor for Saddleback Church.

The SBC’s executive committee stated that Saddleback Church “has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”

The Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith, says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.” The SBC roots this understanding in its vision of complementarianism, the view that men and women are created for different and complementary roles.

Mike Law, the pastor of Arlington Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia, has proposed an amendment to the SBC’s constitution that would bar any church that “affirm[s], appoint[s], or employ[s]” a woman as a pastor. Law published a list of 176 women who serve as pastors for SBC churches to argue for the amendment’s necessity.

Last week, following the release of the disastrous demographic data, the president of the SBC, Bart Barber, released a video in which he stated that he supports having representatives, who are known as messengers, vote on the proposed amendment at the SBC’s upcoming annual meeting, which will take place this June in New Orleans.

An update: a few thoughts about Mike Law’s proposed amendment to Article III.

— Bart Barber (@bartbarber) May 10, 2023

The number of messengers an SBC church can send to the annual meeting is determined based on how much money a church gives to the SBC. A constitutional amendment must receive two-thirds of the vote at two annual meetings in a row in order to pass.

If the constitutional amendment does come to a vote, the result will have a major impact on members’ decisions to stay or leave the convention. In addition, the vote also has the potential to remove many churches from the convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is already bleeding members, and, with raging divisions between its members on such fundamental issues, it will be tough to fend off more staggering losses.


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The post Southern Baptist Convention, Engaged in Fight Over Female Pastors, Is in Freefall appeared first on The American Spectator USA News and Politics.

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