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Southern Baptists Oust Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church for Naming a Female Pastor

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(RNS) — Saddleback Church, the megachurch long led by Rick Warren, has been ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention for naming a woman to its pastoral team, against SBC teaching.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee decided on Tuesday (Feb. 21) to approve the recommendation from the denomination’s credentials committee that the Lake Forest, California, church “be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, on the basis that the 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.”

Stacie Wood, wife of Andy Wood, who replaced Warren as lead pastor last summer, has the title of “teaching pastor.”

Saddleback was one of five churches that were declared to no longer be in friendly cooperation because of a woman having a pastoral role. One church, Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida, was ousted “based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation,” the Executive Committee stated.

Executive Committee member Mike Keahbone tweeted that any of the churches that were ousted Tuesday have the option of appealing to the messengers, or delegates, in attendance at the SBC’s next annual meeting, scheduled for June in New Orleans.

“Saddleback now has the option to appeal, which appears likely,” tweeted Keahbone, an Oklahoma pastor.

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Warren, Saddleback’s founding pastor, made a surprise visit to the 2022 SBC annual meeting and urged Southern Baptists to overcome their differences and continue to cooperate.

“I love Southern Baptists,” the bestselling author said at the time. “As Western culture becomes more dark, more evil, more secular, we have to decide: Are we going to treat each other as allies or not?”

Warren declined to comment on Tuesday about the Executive Committee decision, his spokesperson A. Larry Ross said.

Saddleback’s support of women leaders was under scrutiny before the Woods’ arrival. On Mother’s Day weekend in 2021, the church ordained three women who were longtime staffers, drawing criticism from prominent Southern Baptist leaders and praise from supporters of women in ministry.

At the SBC annual meeting a month later, a delegate called on the SBC to “break fellowship with Saddleback Baptist Church, as they have ordained three ladies as pastors, and all other churches that would choose to follow this path.”

That request prompted an investigation by the credentials committee.

Andy Wood also was the subject of a separate inquiry ordered by Saddleback after allegations surfaced of him being an abusive leader at his previous church. In July, the megachurch’s elders announced after investigations by two firms that they determined “there is no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership, nor was there an individual that we felt was abused.”

The other churches that were cited by the credentials committee for having women in pastoral roles were: New Faith Mission Ministry, Griffin, Georgia; St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist, Baltimore; Calvary Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi; and Fern Creek Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky.

Main photo: Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, June 12, 2022 / RNS photo by Bob Smietana

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Adelle Banks

Adelle M. Banks is a senior production editor and national reporter for the Religion News Service, where she has worked since 1995. She previously served as the religion reporter at The Orlando Sentinel as well as a reporter in Providence, Binghamton, and Syracuse, and her work has appeared in USA Today, The Huffington Post, and Jet magazine. Banks won the 2014 Wilbur Award for digital communications and multimedia for her work on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and she has twice been honored by the Religion Newswriters Association.