Saddleback Church appeals Southern Baptist Convention ouster over woman pastor

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, Sunday, June 12, 2022.(Photo: RNS/Bob Smietana)

Saddleback Church, the California megachurch long known for its former pastor, bestselling author Rick Warren, has appealed the decision by the Southern Baptist Convention to oust it for naming a woman to its pastoral team.

Stacie Wood, wife of Andy Wood, who replaced Warren as lead pastor last summer, has the title of "teaching pastor."

Of the eight congregations removed from official affiliation by the denomination's Executive Committee since last year's annual meeting, three are appealing the decision.

Another church, Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, was also among the five churches ousted for having women in pastoral roles, a stance that is against SBC teaching.

The third church making an appeal is Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida, which was ousted "based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation," the committee stated in February.

On Tuesday, the SBC credentials committee issued a statement saying the three churches had appealed, following a process that requires a submission in writing at least 30 days before the SBC annual meeting.

That gathering is scheduled for June 13-14 in New Orleans.

During it, the credentials committee said, a representative of each of the three churches will be allotted a time to speak, as well as a representative of either of the two committees. Messengers, or delegates, to the meeting will then determine if their decisions will be upheld.

"A 'yes' vote will affirm the decision of the Executive Committee and Credentials Committee," the statement reads. "A 'no' vote will overturn the decision of the committees and allow the church to immediately be registered and to seat messengers in accordance with Convention rules."

Executive Committee Chairman David Sons noted in a separate statement that this is a historic juncture for the Protestant denomination, the nation's largest.

"Since this is the first time in SBC history for this particular item of business to come before the Convention, it's important for everyone coming to New Orleans to be prepared and informed about the process," he said.

During the last annual meeting, Warren, who founded Saddleback in 1980 after graduating from a Southern Baptist seminary, took a surprise turn at a microphone and encouraged Southern Baptists to focus on cooperation rather than differences.

"I love Southern Baptists," the author of "The Purpose Driven Life" said at the time. "As Western culture becomes more dark, more evil, more secular, we have to decide: are we going to treat each other as allies or not?"

Saddleback's elders issued a statement in February reiterating that theme, but also noted a possible future response.

"We love and have always valued our relationship with the SBC and its faithful churches," they said. "We will engage and respond through the proper channels at the appropriate time in hopes to serve other like-minded Bible believing SBC churches."

Prior to the Woods' arrival and since, the megachurch has shown its support for women in ministry.

On Mother's Day weekend in 2021, it ordained three women who were longtime staffers. The weekend before Mother's Day this year, Katie Edwards was announced as the new campus pastor of the church's Lake Forest, California, location.

© Religion News Service