The Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday ousted its second-largest congregation—Saddleback Church, the renowned California megachurch founded by pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren—for having a woman pastor. The vote by the convention's Executive Committee culminates growing tension between the nation's largest Protestant denomination— which officially opposes women as pastors—and a congregation whose story has been one of the biggest church-growth success stories of modern times, the AP reports. In 2021, Warren ordained three women as pastors, which began prompting discussions within the denomination to consider expelling the megachurch.
Warren retired last year after 42 years at Saddleback. He made an emotional speech in June 2022 at the Southern Baptists’ annual convention in Anaheim, standing by his ordination of women. He told delegates who debated the issue, "We have to decide if we will treat each other as allies or adversaries." But the Executive Committee took the vote Tuesday without public discussion after meeting in executive session. It voted to approve a recommendation from the denomination's Credentials Committee that Saddleback be deemed “not in friendly cooperation with the Convention"—the terminology used for ousting a church. While Southern Baptists' statement of faith officially opposes women as pastors, each congregation is self-governing, so the main enforcement mechanism is to oust it from membership.
The Executive Committee's motion said that Saddleback "has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor." With its main campus in Lake Forest, south of Los Angeles, Saddleback Church has grown to multiple locations in Southern California with an average weekly attendance of 30,000. Current lead pastor Andy Wood told the AP last year that the Bible "teaches that men and women were given spiritual gifts by God." His wife, Stacie Wood, served as teaching pastor for Saddleback. (Read more Saddleback Church stories.)