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‘Affirm Evangelism by Saying NO to Factionalism’—Rick Warren Pens Open Letter to SBC

Rick Warren
Screengrab via Vimeo @Saddleback Productions

In the lead-up to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Pastor Rick Warren has made it known that he will challenge the SBC Executive Committee’s decision to disfellowship Saddleback Church. Most recently, Warren expressed his views in an open letter “to Southern Baptists.”

In the letter, Warren called on Southern Baptist representatives who will be present at the annual meeting, called “messengers,” to vote to keep Saddleback within the fold of the denomination.

“Our appeal to reverse the Executive Committee ruling is NOT asking any Baptist to change their theology. Not at all,” Warren clarified. The overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists are complementarian. But we reject the idea that Southern Baptists who disagree are an existential threat to our Convention, and not true Baptists.”

Rick Warren’s Open Letter to the SBC

“Thank you for reading this letter,” wrote Rick Warren. “As a Southern Baptist pastor with multi-generations of pastors in my family, my life has been shaped and nurtured by the SBC.”

Warren noted two reasons for writing such a letter: to share his deep “concern about our denomination’s 17 years of decline and the loss of a half million members just last year” and to “explain why Saddleback Church is appealing an Executive Committee ruling.”

With regard to the denomination’s decline, Warren pointed to the denomination’s sexual abuse crisis. Even with the SBC’s recent attempts to right the wrongs it has committed over the years, the denomination lost a half million members in 2022.

“That is a devastating, historic loss,” Warren said, “and nobody’s talking about it. It’s the largest single decline in the past 100 years of Southern Baptist history…and should be the number-one topic of discussion at the New Orleans convention,” he continued, referencing the denomination’s upcoming Annual Meeting (June 11-12).

Warren listed the SBC’s treatment of women among the top two reasons for such a decline within the denomination:

Coverups at the highest level in the Executive Committee of sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment in our agencies, in our seminaries, and in our churches, and even the exposure of demeaning conversations [that] reveal a deeply rooted disrespect and disregard and even contempt toward women with leadership and spiritual gifts.

The Executive Committee Decision on Saddleback Church

The SBC has a long and rich history, Warren argued, which began with the intent of bringing unique people together for a common purpose in the Great Commission.

“We are general Baptists (the original founding Baptists of 1609), revival Baptists, fundamentalist Baptists, Calvinist Baptists, and many other varieties of Baptists,” Warren reflected. “From the start, our unity has always been based on a common missionnot a common confession.”

He further reasoned that “every version of The Baptist Faith & Message has called itself a ‘consensus of opinion, and it repeatedly warns us that it is not a creed to be used to enforce doctrinal uniformity or exclude members of our denominational family.”