The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday upheld its expulsion of two churches for having female pastors in a move that reaffirms the conservative leanings of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
At the denomination's annual meeting in New Orleans, an overwhelming majority of its 12,700 delegates voted to uphold the ouster of the Saddleback Church in Southern California, one of the convention's largest congregations, and the smaller Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
The two churches were among five expelled by the denomination's executive committee in February for having female pastors. The other three did not appeal.
The expelled churches were found not to be in "friendly cooperation" with the convention, according to the Baptist Press, a news website that covers the denomination.
Doctrine that scripture reserves the role of pastor for men
The decision was made to expel the churches based on denomination's doctrine that scripture reserves the role of pastor for men, the Baptist Press reported.
The convention is an association comprised by its 47,000 churches and 13.7 million members. Each church has independent control over its practices and policies, unlike a hierarchical organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church.
The expulsions reflect a conservative drift among many American evangelicals in recent years, though there are several other Baptist conventions that welcome women to pastors.
Linda Popham, who has served as a Fern Creek pastor since 1993, addressed the convention on Tuesday.
"We believe the Bible allows women to serve in ways in which all of you do not agree but we should still be able to partner together," she said.
In an letter posted on Twitter on Sunday, Rick Warren, the founder of Saddleback and one of the country's best known evangelicals, said he regretted not speaking up for the women earlier in his life, during what he called his "years of ignorance."
"I held them back from using the spiritual gifts and leadership skills that the Holy Spirit had sovereignly placed in them. That breaks my heart now, and I am truly repentant," he wrote.
Warren retired in 2022, naming Andy and Stacie Wood as his replacements. Three other women were installed as pastors at Saddleback in 2021, according to the Baptist Press.
The Southern Baptist Convention was rocked in 2022 by a scathing report that found complaints of sex abuse by pastors and staff were either ignored or covered up by top clergy.