In February, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that six churches had been deemed “no longer in friendly cooperation” with the denomination and would be disfellowshipped.
Three of those churches are appealing the decision. The leadership of one ousted church has gone as far as to say that their congregation is “more Southern Baptist than the average Southern Baptist church.”
The highest profile church to be disfellowshipped was Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which had been the SBC’s largest congregation. The decision to oust Saddleback came in light of the fact that when Andy Wood was installed as founding pastor Rick Warren’s successor, Wood’s wife Stacie assumed the role of teaching pastor and now regularly preaches at the church’s weekend services.
Of the six churches that were disfellowshipped, five were ousted for awarding the title of pastor to women, something at odds with the denomination’s unifying statement of belief, the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). Though the SBC has long claimed to be “non-creedal,” cooperation with the denomination is contingent upon a church having a “faith and practice that closely aligns with” the BFM.
Following the ouster announcement, New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Georgia, one of the woman-led churches that had been disfellowshipped, expressed shock that they had been deemed no longer in friendly cooperation with the SBC—mostly because they never claimed to be affiliated with the denomination to begin with.
RELATED: Saddleback’s Andy Wood Explains Female Teaching Pastors Are Biblical, Female Elders Are Not
Conversely, Saddleback Church has filed to appeal the decision, setting up a dramatic appearance from Rick Warren at the denomination’s annual meeting for the second year in a row.
The other churches that have appealed are Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida, which was disfellowshipped for failing to resolve concerns pertaining to an abuse allegation, and Fern Creek Baptist Church, the senior pastor of which is a woman.
Rev. Linda Popham, who leads the church of roughly 150 located in Fern Creek, Kentucky, has served the congregation since 1983. She was appointed the church’s lead pastor in 1993, following a three-year tenure as interim pastor.
RELATED: Rick Warren Tells ChurchLeaders 5 Reasons Why Saddleback Is Challenging SBC Removal
Popham is a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s flagship school, which is located roughly 10 miles north of her church. Notably, she was installed as Fern Creek’s pastor seven years before the denomination amended the BFM to specify that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Popham has disagreed with the updated language since it was adopted in 2000.