An Overview of the SBC’s Law Amendment

The SBC will be voting on the Law amendment at their national gathering in Indianapolis. The amendment is named after a Virginia pastor who proposed it at last year’s gathering in New Orleans. If given 2/3 approval at this year’s meeting, the amendment would become part of the SBC Constitution. The amendment would only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation if the church “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

Proponents of the amendment are claiming the biblical high ground. One of the primary passages utilized as support is I Timothy 2.12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” For them, the issue is not about interpretation, it is about the authority and clarity of the Bible concerning this issue. They equate opposition to the amendment as not believing the Bible.

It is important to note that proponents give little or no consideration to the historical context and cultural milieu of biblical times. Instructions dealing with men raising hands in prayer, women’s hairstyles and wearing jewelry, as well as women being saved if they have children (verses in the same chapter as v.12) are not given equal importance or application. 

The SBC has already determined its opposition to women pastors. The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message indicates that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” In recent years, the Convention has expelled churches for having women (lead/senior) pastors (or co-pastors) using this document.

The amendment goes beyond this stipulation; it now puts churches outside of ‘friendly cooperation’ with the denomination if it has a woman in an Associate Pastor or “Pastor” of ministry groups (youth, music, children, etc.)

Opponents of the amendment are supportive of the 2000 BFM pastoral restriction but believe the amendment goes too far in limiting what women can do in the church. They admit to biblical evidence for women serving on church staff but that this does not include the office of Lead/Senior Pastor.

Opponents also do not believe the women in ministry issue is a credible threat for the denomination. It may be worth debating but it is not worth dividing over. In short, it is a tertiary rather than a primary issue.

I believe there are a few practical ways the amendment will impact SBC churches. First, churches who have women as a “Pastor of or associate pastor of” title will obviously be targeted and expelled. This is a predictable outcome; women holding pastoral titles can be discovered on church websites and exposed (this is already taking place).

However, if these churches change the titles of these women staff members to something else (“Director”) then it might be enough to keep them in the SBC. This might work even though the woman in question could still carry out the same pastoral duties.

A second way deals with women who hold a pastoral “function” but not necessarily title of pastor. This would possibly impact churches who have women on staff who have been ordained (or not) and serve as “Ministers of” or other related titles. They would not have women holding a pastoral title but could have them performing pastoral duties (preaching, ministering and teaching to women and men, performing weddings and funerals, etc.).

My sense is that women who have a “Rev.” in front of their name, regardless of their title, would be more likely to be targeted and churches could risk expulsion. The SBC does not support the ordination of women in ministerial roles, and this would violate the amendment.

A third yet less discussed way relates to churches who have women serving on Finance and Personnel committees. These women would have “authority over” the men on staff, due to these committees’ providing salaries, job reviews, and other supervisory tasks.

There hasn’t been much attention (yet) to women serving in leadership roles on these committees although it is a theological and practical concern raised by the amendment. Pursuing churches in this category would create an even greater test of the bounds of local church autonomy.

The amendment would offer clarity on the women pastor issue for the SBC. But it could also open the Convention up to the unintended result of handling accusations against unqualified men as well.

Pastors in moral failure, who show lack of oversight and leadership of their households and churches, preach or practice contrary to other 2000 BFM matters, as well as demonstrate personal vices like greed, gluttony, and abuse toward others under their care, are now possible targets under this amendment. In other words, there are still those in the SBC who believe it takes more than being female to be unqualified as a pastor. 

It’s unclear how SBC (only) churches with women pastors (not Lead/Senior) respond to this further narrowing of local church autonomy. Some could remain affiliated with Southern Baptists at the state and local level, but this depends on whether or not state conventions and associations adopt the Law Amendment too.

The amendment could be the final thread to break that keeps some dually aligned churches connected with the denomination. Some churches may wait to be notified that they are in violation of the SBC standards; others may pre-emptively decide to leave on their own.

This is the kind of purge proponents desire, but their passion for doctrinal clarity and conformity will come at a cost. Churches who have for decades done nothing other than pray, give, and show good faith in voluntarily cooperating with other Southern Baptists will realize these efforts are no longer good enough.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Southern Baptists at the national, state, and associational levels are each autonomous and free to establish parameters for being in ‘friendly cooperation.’ Even so, the local Baptist church maintains its autonomy and freedom to interpret Scripture, call and ordain its own ministers (men and women), and carry out its own mission and ministries. Each church must decide how this amendment influences its identity, relationships, and partnerships in the ongoing desire to be faithful in following Jesus–DC

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