Southern Baptists refuse to take back megachurch because it has women pastors

Delegates hold up their ballots Tuesday at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

NEW ORLEANS — The Southern Baptist Convention has refused to welcome Saddleback Church back into its fold, rejecting an appeal by the California megachurch over its February ouster for having women pastors.

Southern Baptist church representatives at their annual meeting here also rejected a similar appeal by a smaller church, Fern Creek Baptist of Louisville, Kentucky, which is led by a woman pastor.

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The results of the Tuesday votes were announced Wednesday morning on the concluding day of the two-day annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, whose statement of faith asserts that only qualified men can serve as pastors.

The convention hall packed with about 12,000 Southern Baptists was quiet after the announcement, appearing to have listened to the urging by SBC President Bart Barber to show restraint.

“I know sometimes there are churches where people wind up in biblical divorce,” he said. “But we don’t throw divorce parties at church. And whatever these results are, I’m asking you, behave like Christians.”

Saddleback had been the denomination’s second-largest congregation and until recently was widely touted as a success story amid larger Southern Baptist membership declines.

With the 9,437-to-1,212 vote, delegates — known as messengers — rejected an appeal by Rick Warren, the retired founding pastor of Saddleback and author of the best-selling phenomenon, “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Warren had urged Baptists to agree to disagree “in order to share a common mission.”

“Messengers voted for conformity and uniformity rather than unity. The only way you will have unity is to love diversity. We made this effort knowing we were not going to win,” Warren said.

Church representatives also voted 9,700-806 to deny an appeal by a smaller congregation, Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, which has had a woman pastor for three decades.

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