(RNS) — Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention and home to influential pastor Rick Warren, ordained three women as staff pastors this past weekend, a move that critics say violates the denomination’s statement of faith.
“Yesterday was a historic night for Saddleback Church in many ways!” the Southern California megachurch’s Facebook page announced on Saturday (May 8). “We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards!”
The three newly ordained pastors are long-time Saddleback staffers. Petty has worked with children’s ministry and Edwards has been in youth ministry, while Puffer’s Linked-In profile lists her as a “minister” at Saddleback.
Calling them — or any woman — a pastor is, “at best, unwise and confusing,” wrote Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
A ban on women pastors was added to the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s doctrinal statement, in 2000, stating that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
In recent years, some Southern Baptists have argued that limit only applies to the office of senior pastor. Mohler, who served on the committee that revised the statement of faith, rejects that idea and said that no one in the group made that distinction. Ordaining a woman pastor, as Saddleback has done, violates Baptist and biblical teaching, Mohler said.
“Saddleback has taken actions that place itself in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he told Religion News Service in an interview.
In an online post, Mohler compared women preachers to a looming storm over the convention. He blamed women pastors for the “feminization of liberal Protestantism” and the decline of liberal churches.
“Liberal theology is the kiss of death for any church or denomination,” he wrote. “Little remains but social justice activism and deferred maintenance.”
Saddleback Church did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mohler, a candidate for president of the SBC at the denomination’s upcoming annual meeting, stopped short of saying Saddleback should be removed from the SBC. That’s a decision for messengers to the annual meeting, he said.