Saddleback Church ordained women. So the Southern Baptist Convention gave it the boot

People walk under an entryway that says "Saddleback: We're glad you're here!"
Congregants arrive at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest in mid-October.
(Allison Dinner / Associated Press)

Two years ago, an Orange County megachurch took a stand that pitted it against conservative members of its denomination. It ordained three women as pastors.

Now, the Southern Baptist Convention has ousted Saddleback Church, its second-largest congregation.

The Lake Forest-based evangelical church, founded by popular pastor and author Rick Warren, is one of the largest churches in the United States. It was among five congregations found not to be “in friendly cooperation” with the convention because they “have a female functioning in the office of pastor,” according to a statement from Jared Wellman, chairman of the convention’s executive committee.


“These churches have been valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly,” Wellman said in the statement. “However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintain unity among its cooperating churches.”

In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention added the ban on female pastors to its Faith and Message doctrine.

Saddleback was facing the possibility of being removed from the convention last year, but Warren fended off the effort during the organization’s annual convention.

In an emotional speech at the June 2022 event, he spoke to attendants and urged members to stop “bickering over secondary issues.”

“We have to decide if we will treat each other as allies or adversaries,” he said.

Warren is the author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” and an influential figure in the evangelical Christian community; he hosted then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama in 2008. Although Warren retired last year, he has said he would continue to be involved with Saddleback Church.

In his stead, he appointed Lead Pastor Andy Wood to head his congregation, which includes 14 campuses in California, and four others in Germany, Philippines, Argentina and China.


Wood’s wife, Stacie Wood, also serves as pastor. The three women who were ordained in 2021 were Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards, according to a church Facebook post at the time.

Officials at Saddleback Church, and Andy Wood, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ouster.

Warren also did not respond to requests for comment, but in a Facebook post, he told followers that he and his wife were “touched by your love!” shortly after the decision was announced.

“We’ll respond to the #SBC in OUR time & way thru direct channels,” he wrote in the post, where he noted the church’s reach with newsletters, radio, supporting pastors and 11 million followers on social media.

The Southern Baptist Convention made the decision Tuesday during an Executive Committee meeting based on the recommendation made by the denomination’s Credentials Committee, which reviews the practices and teachings of affiliated churches to see whether they align with those of the convention.

Saddleback was ousted along with four other churches across the country — New Faith Mission Ministry in Georgia, St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist in Maryland, Calvary Baptist Church in Mississippi, and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky — for having a woman as pastor.


It also ousted a sixth church, Freedom Church in Vero, Fla., for “lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation.”

Saddleback’s ouster quickly drew reaction from Dwight McKissic, a Southern Baptist pastor with often contrarian views.

“I’m burdened by the attempt to disfellowship Saddleback ... [I]t’s not about Scripture, or adherence to BFM2K [Baptist Faith and Message 2000] that does not address women’s ordination, or wmn [women] serving as associate pastors,” McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said on Twitter. “It’s driven by power, male supremacy; and it stinks in the nostrils of God.”

The Southern Baptist Convention has in the past cut ties with churches that ordain female pastors, as well as those that have been openly friendly with the LGBTQ community.

According to its bylaws, Saddleback Church can appeal the decision during the annual meeting in June.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.