NEW ORLEANS — There are three fewer churches in the Southern Baptist Convention following an overwhelming vote June 13 by messengers at the annual meeting in New Orleans.
Two congregations were disfellowshipped for having women pastors — Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. — while another church — Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla. — was deemed to not be in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC because of failure to cooperate to resolve concerns regarding an abuse allegation.
The action is believed to be the first time the SBC has disfellowshipped churches during an annual meeting.
Messengers upheld the EC decision on Fern Creek by a margin of 9,700 votes (91.85 percent) to 806 votes (7.63 percent). There were 55 disallowed votes.
Saddleback was deemed to not be in “friendly cooperation” by a vote of 9,432 votes (88.46 percent) to 1,212 (11.36 percent). There were 19 disallowed votes.
Freedom Church was turned away by a vote of 9,984 (96.46 percent) to 341 votes (3.3 percent). There were 23 disallowed votes.
Each of the three churches were given an opportunity to appeal the decision of the Executive Committee, based on recommendations from the SBC Credentials Committee.
Fern Creek pastor Linda Popham, who is in her 31st year in the role, was given three minutes to appeal the decision. She declared that Fern Creek is “conservative, missions-minded church” and affirmed that “Jesus is the only way” to the Father.
“We believe the Bible allows women to serve in ways that you don’t agree, but we should still be able to partner together,” she told messengers.
Citing the Bible as the church’s sole authority, Popham said she “is more conservative than most SBC pastors I know.”
SBC executive committee president David Sons asked Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to present the EC position.
Mohler said the EC understands that churches are autonomous, but Southern Baptists “have the right to define what it means to be a cooperating church.”
He added that having women in the pastorate “violates the doctrine and the order” of the SBC.
Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church, issued a resounding plea for messengers to overturn the decision of the Executive Committee.
He noted that for 178 years “the SBC has been a blend of at least a dozen different tribes of Baptists. … If you think every Baptist thinks like you, you’re mistaken. But we share a mutual commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word, and to the Great Commission of Jesus.
“No one is asking any Southern Baptist to change their theology. I am not asking you to agree with our church. I am asking you to act like Southern Baptists who have historically ‘agreed to disagree’ on dozens of doctrines in order to unify around a common mission.”
Warren observed “that if doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin, we all get kicked out! You’ll never get 100 percent of Baptists to agree 100 percent on 100 percent of every doctrine.”
“That’s why our constitution says churches must ‘closely identify’ not ‘completely identify’ with our confession. The Baptist Faith and Message is 4,032 words. Our church disagrees with only one word. That’s 99.99 percent in agreement. Isn’t that close enough?”
Mohler also responded to the Saddleback appeal. He agreed that Saddleback has the right to have women pastors. They just can’t do it and remain in the SBC, he said.
The unity and harmony of the SBC is at stake, Mohler said. “It is a question of what it means to be in friendly cooperation. The church has taken steps that rejects what the convention believes,” he said.
Freedom Church’s appeal was made by Donald Stewart, an elder at the church.
“Freedom Church has a long-standing history with the Convention as a cooperating church,” Stewart said. “Being in fellowship with the SBC is very important to us, therefore we have addressed the issue that deemed us as uncooperative.”
He said there there were no allegations against former pastor Richar Demsick when he was called. Stewart said the pastor resigned on May 22 and “is no longer involved in the leadership of the church.”
The response to Freedom Church’s appeal was given by EC member and Florida pastor Dean Inserra.
Inserra told messengers the EC and the SBC Credentials Committee stand behind the decision to consider Freedom Church out of cooperation.
“The individual was investigated by another denomination, which found credible allegations of sinful conduct and reported an admitted pattern of sexual misconduct with women under his pastoral care and supervision,” Inserra said.
“Both the Florida Coast Baptist Convention and the Treasure Coast Baptist Association provided Freedom Church with a confirmed and admitted sexual misconduct of the individual … yet Freedom Church took zero action.”
Messengers voted by ballots on all three churches at the end of the June 13 session. Results were announced in the opening session on June 14. B&R — The article includes reporting from Baptist Press.