A committee within the Southern Baptist Convention is set to consider whether a prominent megachurch led by bestselling author Rick Warren can continue in fellowship with the denomination after it ordained three women pastors last month.
At the annual meeting of the SBC this week in Nashville, a motion asking if the denomination should break fellowship with Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, was referred to the denomination's Credentials Committee.
The Credentials Committee is tasked with evaluating whether SBC-associated churches meet the denomination's standards of faith and practice.
The megachurch posted on social media that it ordained three female pastors on a "historic" Thursday night, which drew criticism from Baptist leaders who believe female ordination goes against SBC teachings and praise from supporters of women in ministry.
The motion was introduced by Pastor Shad Tibbs of Fellowship Baptist Church in Trout, Louisiana.
The church is led by Warren, the author of the mega-bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. The 67-year-old Warren recently announced that he is searching for his successor amid plans to retire.
During a press conference following his SBC presidential election victory, incoming SBC President Ed Litton was asked whether churches that ordain women should be "kicked out" of the denomination.
As a self-professed complementarian, Litton said: “That’s something we’re going to have to work out.”
The motion from the Louisiana pastor comes amid heightened tension in the denomination about what Scripture says about gender, particularly whether or not women are permitted to hold certain offices and preach in church.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 plainly states that the pastoral office is "limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
The issue has become one of the most visible divisions in the convention, especially after popular Bible teacher Beth Moore announced that she could no longer identify as a Southern Baptist and left the denomination.
Proponents of this view, sometimes called complementarians, often reference 1 Timothy 2:9-15, where the Apostle Paul speaks of not allowing women to teach or exercise authority over men.
Egalitarians, by contrast, assert that this particular scripture seeks to correct a specific problem in the church in Ephesus and that it is not a permanent nor universal restriction. They argue that the phrase in Greek is more accurately translated as "I am not now allowing" a woman to teach.
The national convention has yet to remove a church from fellowship for this reason. But some local and state conventions have done so.
Once reviewed by the Credentials Committee, a recommendation will be made to the Executive Committee.
Should the Executive Committee decide that a church is no longer in cooperation with the denomination, the decision will be made public. Should a church opt to appeal the decision, messengers at the denomination's annual meeting may decide whether to uphold the decision.
In early May, Saddleback ordained Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards as pastors.
Days after the ordination of the three women, then-SBC President J.D. Greear said in a blog post that although he respected Saddleback's ministry and their heart for taking the Gospel around the world, he disagreed with the ordination. He called the move "disappointing."