Law Amendment banning female pastors fails critical two-thirds vote at SBC meeting

Law Amendment banning female pastors fails critical two-thirds vote at SBC meeting

Law Amendment banning female pastors fails critical two-thirds vote at SBC meeting

The conservative Southern Baptist Convention, which bans females from serving as church pastors, voted Wednesday on an amendment to strengthen that ban but SBC messengers failed to get a critical two-thirds majority.

The so-called Law Amendment, which passed 61%-38%, required a 66% vote because it amends the SBC constitution. The same amendment was approved by messengers last year but requires two votes, in two consecutive years, to change the constitution.

The amendment, named after Virginia pastor Mike Law who proposed it, states that a Southern Baptist church is in friendly cooperation with the Convention if the church affirms, appoints, or employs only men in any capacity as pastor or elder.

That statement is currently found in the Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination’s statement of faith, but messengers were faced with amending the SBC constitution to include it, too.

Supporters and opponents of the amendment couldn't argue it was a non-issue for Southern Baptist churches. Messengers were told it would affect hundreds of Southern Baptist churches with women in senior roles. 

When messengers cast their votes, 5,099 voted for the Law Amendment and 3,185 voted against it. 

Before the floor vote, Arkansas pastor and messenger Wes Brown told AFN he planned to vote for the amendment to help settle the issue of female pastors serving in Southern Baptist churches.

“It keeps coming up,” he said. “So we need to respond with finality and permanence. Amending our constitution would be doing exactly that.”

During floor debate, a proponent of the amendment, Pastor Ryan Fullerton, said misinformation was spreading about passing the amendment.

"The Law Amendment is not about opposing women's serving as children's ministers. It's not about keeping women off church staffs," he said. "It's not about preventing women from exercising their gifts within the body, nor is it about keeping them back from filling the Great Commission."

Pastor Spence Shelton, who opposed the amendment, argued on the floor the denomination has not gone soft on the authority of Scripture. The amendment was unnecessary, he argued, since the SBC has proven it has the "mechanisms" in place to disfellowship churches. 

Amendment provides 'greater clarity' 

In a post on X, theology professor and amendment supporter Denny Burk wrote that approval of the Law Amendment doesn't affect a church with, for example, a female who oversees the children's ministry.

Even if the children's ministry leader has the title "pastor," he wrote, the amendment would not mean the church is automatically booted. 

"All the Law Amendment does is provide greater clarity to those who preside over that process, especially the Credentials Committee," Burk wrote. "The Credentials Committee asked for that clarity in Anaheim and delayed action on Saddleback for a year because of that lack of clarity."

In the comments under his post, others disagreed with Burk's view including a woman who said she is a children's minister. 

Last year, when SBC messengers gathered, they voted overwhelmingly to uphold an Executive Committee vote that disfellowshipped Saddleback Church, the California church made famous by Rick Warren.

Saddleback was at the time the largest SBC congregation but was openly ordaining female pastors on its staff. A whopping 88% of messengers cast a vote to back Saddleback's punishment. 

A second, lesser-known SBC church, Fern Creek, was also punished last year for employing female pastors.

Editor's Note: The current Baptist Faith and Baptist Message of the Southern Baptist Convention states only men can serve as church pastors. This story has been updated to make it clear SBC messengers did not vote June 12 to approve female pastors. The vote, which narrowly failed, was intended to strengthen that stance.