Southern Baptists turn their backs on O.C.’s Saddleback Church over its female pastors

A woman at the center, wearing a robe and a stole, sings, backed by a choir
The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham sings with the choir at Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. The church was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention along with Orange County’s Saddleback Church for having female pastors.
(Jessie Wardarski / Associated Press)

The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday refused to readmit Saddleback Church, rejecting appeals by the Orange County megachurch after it was ousted for having female pastors.

During their annual meeting in New Orleans, Southern Baptist church representatives also voted to uphold the executive committee’s February decision to expel Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., over female pastors. They finalized the ouster of a third congregation, Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., for “lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation.”

About 89% of the representatives voted in support of expelling Saddleback, with 92% and 96% voting to finalize the ouster of Fern Creek Baptist and Freedom Church, respectively.


Saddleback Church, based in Lake Forest, is one of the largest congregations in the U.S. and had been the second-largest in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention has ousted Saddleback Church because of its female pastors. Benjamin Cole, the Baptist Blogger, explains how this represents the SBC’s drift to the right.

Feb. 26, 2023

After founding pastor Rick Warren retired from the evangelical church last year, he appointed Andy Wood as head pastor. Wood’s wife, Stacie Wood, began serving as a teaching pastor after three women were ordained in 2021: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards. At Fern Creek, Linda Popham has been a full-time pastor since 1993.

Warren asked the Southern Baptist delegates during the meeting to “agree to disagree” on the subject of having female pastors.

Standing in a hall with rows of seated people, a man at left speaks into a microphone while other men stand behind him
Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church, makes an appeal to the Southern Baptist Convention during its annual meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday.
(Peter Smith / Associated Press)

“What we share in common is a mutual commitment to the infallibility of God’s word and the great commission of Jesus Christ,” Warren said. “No one is asking any Southern Baptist church to change their theology. I’m not asking you to agree with my church, I’m asking you to act like a Southern Baptist, who have historically agreed to disagree on dozens of doctrines.”

Saddleback is “eager to turn the corner and focus our attention on the exciting ministry in our near future,” Warren said in a statement. “We wish the best for the SBC and pray for God’s grace upon its future.”


In a news conference after the vote, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber said women have “broad participation” in voting bodies across member churches and serve as messengers, or representatives at Southern Baptist Conventions.

“It’s just that when we read the Scriptures, we come to the conclusion that the office of pastor, which also means elder or overseer, that that office is limited to men,” he said.

The Southern Baptist Convention banned female pastors in its Faith and Message doctrine, its statement of core beliefs, in 2000.

On Wednesday, Southern Baptist Convention representatives also approved a constitutional amendment through a two-thirds vote to clarify the organization’s stance on women serving as pastors.

The motion, which was brought forth by Virginia pastor Mike Law last year, would add a point stipulating that churches can employ or appoint “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by the Scripture.” It requires another two-thirds vote at next year’s annual meeting to add it to the constitution.

“Southern Baptists know what a pastor is,” said Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, who was in favor of the motion. “The Baptist Faith and Message is clear. However, not all messengers agree. This motion would state in positive language what we believe.”

After the vote reaffirming the decision to oust Saddleback, Warren said in a YouTube video that he wasn’t surprised and that he made his appeal “knowing we weren’t going to win.” He compared the movement to that of William Wilberforce, a British politician who lobbied to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain and triumphed after 17 years.


“I wanted to push the conversation,” Warren said. “I wanted to speak up for millions of Southern Baptist women, who I believe their spiritual gifts and their leadership gifts and talents are being wasted. And we can’t complete the Great Commission if 50% of our population sits on the shelf.”

Warren highlighted that the vote wasn’t unanimous.

“The next generation of Southern Baptists, they’re not here,” he added. “I can guarantee that change will happen at some point.”

Other Southern Baptists have also spoken out against the vote.

Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, aired his grievances with the vote on Twitter.

“Today’s vote is about a social identity order, that the old south wants to maintain on the gender issue in SBC life,” he wrote. “It’s not about scripture order, and identity.”