JD Greear warns SBC could lose minority churches with permanent ban on women pastors

As Southern Baptist Convention delegates prepare to vote on an amendment to their constitution, known as the Legal Amendment, that would permanently bar women from serving as priests “as qualified by Scripture,” the denomination's former president JD Greear called it “foolish” and “unnecessary.” and said it could lead to a hemorrhaging of minority churches.

“I remain adamantly opposed to this amendment, not because of its content but because of its attempt to undermine our historic principles of cooperation,” Greear, who served as the SBC's president from 2018 to 2021, wrote. on his website Thursday.

“It overturns a system that works. I am not opposed to the Legal Amendment because I am moderate or soft on theological issues. I worry that the missional, collaborative balance that has characterized our Convention since the Conservative Resurgence is about to be overturned.”

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The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines “pastor” as “one who fulfills the pastoral office and fulfills the functions of the priest.” Article VI of The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 further notes that the biblical offices are priests and deacons and “[w]Hile both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

At the SBC Annual Meeting in June 2023, a proposed amendment to the SBC constitution clarifying that women cannot serve as priests passed with about 80% of the vote of more than 12,000 messengers.

The amendment, which was proposed by Pastor Mike Law of Arlington Baptist Church in Virginia, will become permanent if it gains majority support at the SBC Annual Meeting which went into operation on Sunday in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The vote on the amendment last year came just hours after 88% of messengers voted to support Rick Warren's Saddleback Church's move to allow a woman to serve in the office of pastor. The removal of Fern Creek Baptist Church for having a female pastor was also affirmed by a vote of 92%.

During that meeting, about nine out of every 10 messengers voted to disaffiliate churches that have female pastors.

While Greear argued that he does not believe that changing the constitution of the SBC is necessary to keep women in the denomination of serving as priests, Heath Lambertsenior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, disagrees.

Lambert, who has written a number of books, including God's Great Love: Encountering God's Heart for a Hostile World, argued in a an introduction to the matter shared on his church's website that the “Legal Amendment is one of the most crucial issues facing messengers headed to Indianapolis for the 2024 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“The real thing about this matter is the Bible. The Bible is abundantly clear that the office of pastor is reserved for men as qualified by Scripture (1 Timothy 2:11-12; 3:1-7; Titus 1:6). Baptists know this. That clear knowledge makes this whole thing a lot easier than some of the overcooked debates surrounding this issue would have you believe,” Lambert explained.

“It's that simple. The Bill Amendment was placed before Southern Baptists. The question the amendment asks is whether we agree with Scripture that the office of pastor is reserved for men. Brothers and sisters, the clear answer – the only answer – is yes. Simple faithfulness requires our agreement with Scripture.”

While they acknowledge that some SBC leaders, including current President Bart Barberdoes not see the amendment as necessary, Lambert argued that it is the conflict that erupted over the employment of Saddleback Church of female priests that necessitated the explanation.

“Historically, this became an issue at the 2022 SBC meeting in Anaheim. At that meeting, rather than making a recommendation to remove Saddleback Church for hiring female pastors, the Credentials Committee recommended further study to determine what constitutes a pastor. This recommendation led to a great deal of tumultuous debate, to withdrawal of the committee's recommendation and the ultimate removal of Saddleback in 2023,” Lambert wrote.

“It was alarming that some leaders could express confusion about the clear biblical teaching limiting the office of pastor to men, as required by the BFM and SBC Constitution,” added Lambert.

Reiterating arguments he raised last summer, Greear framed his objection to the amendment as an “unnecessary violation of the autonomy of the local church,” especially for minority churches.

“I am more convinced than ever that the Bill Amendment is unwise, unnecessary, and will have significant negative consequences. For most of us who oppose it, the issue has nothing to do with complementarianism, but historic Baptist principles of cooperation,” Grear wrote.

“It's clear that this 'fix' will cause a LOT of collateral damage. There are churches that truly embrace complementarianism even as they differ in some of its applications. Several of our minority leaders (like the National African American Fellowship and California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director Pete Ramirez) told us so much,” he added.

The NAAF is a network of more than 4,000 predominantly African-American churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Gregory Perkins, the president of the network and high priest of The Vida Church in Menifee, California, argued in a letter of July 2023 to Barber that despite being in theological alignment with the denomination, many black Southern Baptist churches allow women to use the title “pastor” under the leadership of a male senior pastor.

“Many of our churches assign the title 'pastor' to women who oversee ministries of the church under the authority of a male Senior Pastor, ie Children's Pastor, Worship Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, etc.,” Perkins wrote. “To exclude like-minded churches that share our faith in Jesus Christ, our belief in the authority of Scripture, our mandate to fulfill the Great Commission, and our agreement to give cooperatively based on local church governance decisions dishonors the spirit of cooperation. and the guiding tenets of our denomination.”

Perkins said prohibiting churches from allowing women to hold the title “pastor” would be difficult for many black Southern Baptist congregations even if the SBC. Baptist Faith & Message 2000 states that “the office of priest is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Greear also cites Ramirez raising similar concerns.

“What worries me is that we make decisions without thinking about the consequences for ethnic churches,” Ramírez explained. “There are many ethnic churches that, for translation reasons, use the title of pastor for a person. But it's about translation. It is not that the person is ordained. It is not that the person has a [ministry] license.”

Ramírez, who has pastored for 17 years in California, argued that the SBC could regret the move if the amendment becomes permanent.

“We, as a congress, put ourselves in the business of churches and say, 'If you don't change this, you can't be part of us,'” Ramírez said. This “is a radical change as Southern Baptists that I think we might regret in the long run as we fulfill the Great Commission.”

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