Southern Baptists Move to Purge Churches with Female Pastors
The letter in October came as a shock to Linda Barnes Popham, who had been the pastor of Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., for 30 years, the first woman to lead her congregation. She had served in ministry even longer, since she started as a pianist at age 16.
But now, she read in the letter, officials of the Southern Baptist Convention had received a complaint about her church being led by a woman. The denomination was investigating, it said.
She replied at length, listing her qualifications and her church’s interpretation of the Bible that affirmed her eligibility to lead. Church deacons, including men, rallied to her defense.
Convention officials decided to expel her church anyway, along with four other congregations that have female pastors, including one of the most prominent in the country, Saddleback Church, based in Southern California.
“I never believed this would happen,” Ms. Barnes Popham said of the move to expel her church, as she prepared to appeal the expulsion on Tuesday afternoon before thousands of delegates at the annual S.B.C. convention in New Orleans. “Why would you want to silence the voices of the faithful churches? Why?”
However the delegates vote on her appeal, the larger message is clear: There is a movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that is often a bellwether for evangelical America, to purge women from its leadership.