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A turning point for Southern Baptists? Convention ousts churches with women pastors

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two churches have officially lost the fight to remain within the Southern Baptist Convention all because they let women serve as pastors. The convention also passed an amendment that, by next year, could constitutionally ban women pastors. Some observers say this moment marks a turning point for the future of Southern Baptists. That includes Monique Moultrie. She's an associate professor of religious studies and women and gender and sexuality studies at Georgia State University. And she joins us now. Welcome.

MONIQUE MOULTRIE: Thank you.

CHANG: So just to recap, Fern Creek Baptist - that's a church in Kentucky - as well as Saddleback, the megachurch founded by retired pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren in California - they both lost their appeals to stay in the SBC yesterday because they have women pastors. Can you just really quickly sum up why the convention's statement of faith, which was adopted over two decades ago, says that women cannot be pastors?

MOULTRIE: The statement of faith is referencing Paul in the New Testament, and it references scriptures where women are called to be more silent or called not to be in senior leadership in the early Christian church. And so the faith statement that was approved reiterates this particular reading of the biblical understanding that women are not to serve in those senior positions but that women do have gifts and can be used in other spaces and other types of service.

CHANG: OK, well, what's the practical effect of these expulsions? I mean, what do those two churches lose out on now that they are independent and no longer officially part of the SBC?

MOULTRIE: It's at both ends. So members pay dues into the SBC, so you pay your - you pay into the convention. But you also have access to resources from the convention and access for mission work and for other types of charity work, the legal umbrella that comes from being a member of this larger institution. But it does mean that they won't get access to the resources that they did have access to. They won't be voting members. They won't be able to make changes into the denomination for which many of them have spent their entire lives.

CHANG: I guess I'm just trying to wrap my brain around - how significant are those consequences to these two churches?

MOULTRIE: I don't think it'll be a significant consequence for Saddleback. They sort of were Southern Baptists in name only in the sense that they are really their own campus. They have such a huge congregation that they make their own policy. But I think for the church in Kentucky that, from what I've seen, seems to - appears to be smaller and probably more reliant on associations and affiliations, I think this may be a problem for some of these smaller congregations when they are disfellowshipped.

CHANG: Well, what about the SBC? What are the consequences to the convention for losing those two churches?

MOULTRIE: Largely, I think for a church as large as Saddleback, they're going to lose numbers. They'll lose a significant congregation. But for other congregations that will be disfellowshipped, they'll lose talent and sheer force. They'll lose willing bodies to work for the convention. And that will be a disservice. And for the next generation, they will lose some of their children's interests in participating in the Southern Baptist Convention.

CHANG: Well, it will be another year before we even know whether the SBC will officially amend its constitution to ban women pastors. What do you expect to see from congregations in the coming year on that front? Like, will a lot of them, for example, still be campaigning against this constitutional amendment?

MOULTRIE: I think you will see that. I think you will see congregations that want to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention, and they want the convention to steer in a different direction. Currently, it's being steered in a more conservative-leaning direction. And I think those who want to push back at that will be vocal. My hope is, in the year, that folks will find their people, they will find their allies, that those who've been disfellowshipped or those who will be under radar of being disfellowshipped because they are currently out of compliance will find support networks. And what that year can do is provide them another set of support when the convention ceases to be that.

CHANG: That is Monique Moultrie, associate professor of religious studies and women and gender and sexuality studies at Georgia State University. Thank you so much for your time.

MOULTRIE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLIVIA RODRIGO SONG, "GOOD 4 U") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.