Southern Baptists expel Saddleback, 4 other churches over women pastors

Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in 2003
(Image credit: Getty Images/Bob Riha Jr.)

The Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee expelled six churches from the largest U.S. Protestant Christian denomination, one over its handling of a sex abuse case and the other five for installing women as senior or lead pastors. The most prominent SBC member kicked out Tuesday was California's Saddleback Church, one of the largest Southern Baptist churches.

When Saddleback's founding pastor, Rick Warren, retired last August, he put a married couple, pastors Andy and Stacie Wood, in charge of the megachurch. With more than 23,000 members and 12 locations in Southern California, "Saddleback is a household name in American evangelical Christianity," The Nashville Tennessean reports. At the same time, being defellowshipped from the SBC won't overtly affect Saddleback members, The New York Times adds. "The church did not use the word Baptist in its name or foreground any connection to the denomination," and Warren "rarely attended denominational meetings."

"Southern Baptists hold to a complementarianism, a theological idea that teaches men and women have certain assigned roles," The Tennessean reports. Saddleback and the other four churches expelled Tuesday — Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi; Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky; New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Georgia; and St. Timothy's Christian Baptist Church in Baltimore — were judged to be in violation of the SBC's stated belief 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."

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Saddleback has been under scrutiny at the Southern Baptist Convention since it ordained three women as pastors in May 2021, and some Southern Baptists tried to get the church expelled at national meeting in 2021 and 2022. The SBC's executive committee agreed to the disfellowship proposal at the end of a two-day meeting in Nashville. Saddleback and the other four churches kicked out for having female pastors can appeal the decision at the SBC's annual gathering this summer in New Orleans.

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