June 12, 2024

Southern Baptists pick new leader, will decide whether to formally ban churches with women pastors

Messengers raise their ballots in support of a motion put up for vote during a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Indianapolis. - Doug McSchooler / AP Photo

Messengers raise their ballots in support of a motion put up for vote during a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Indianapolis.

Doug McSchooler / AP Photo

By PETER SMITH and HOLLY MEYER

Southern Baptists on Wednesday elected a North Carolina pastor and longtime denominational statesman to be the next president of their convention in a contest between six candidates that went into two run-off votes.

Clint Pressley, who is senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, will be the next Southern Baptist Convention president after winning 56% of votes in the final run-off race.

The SBC president — one of the most prominent faces of the conservative evangelical network of churches — presides over the annual meeting and appoints members to the denomination’s committees.

Pressley's nearest opponent, a Tennessee pastor, Dan Spencer, received 44% of the votes after four other candidates were eliminated in earlier rounds.

Pressley has said he favors a measure being voted on later Wednesday to amend the SBC constitution to ban churches with women pastors.

Pressley earned a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisiana, one of the SBC’s official seminaries. He has led Hickory Grove since 2011 after pastoring churches in Alabama and Mississippi. Pressley was first vice president of the SBC in 2014-15 and served on numerous other denominational boards.

On Wednesday, delegates will decide whether to enshrine a ban on churches with women pastors in the convention's constitution, stiffening its position on an issue that has prompted years of debate in the United States' largest Protestant denomination. It is the final day of the SBC’s two-day annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The measure would follow decisions by Southern Baptists to kick out churches with women pastors last year and Tuesday night.

The SBC’s nonbinding statement of faith already declares only men are qualified for the role of pastor. It’s interpreted differently across the denomination, with some believing it doesn’t apply to associate pastors so long as the senior pastor is male.

The proposed amendment, which received preliminary approval last year, would formally exclude churches that have women in any pastoral positions, from lead pastor to associates. Supporters believe it is biblically necessary, estimating hundreds of Southern Baptist churches have women in those roles.

Opponents argue the convention already has the power to remove churches over this issue, and the amendment will have unintended consequences, including disproportionately affecting Black Southern Baptist congregations, which tend to have women on their pastoral staffs.

Last year, Southern Baptists refused to take back one of the convention's largest congregations, Saddleback Church in California, and a small Kentucky church over the issue.

Both churches appealed their ouster to the 2023 annual meeting and were overwhelmingly rejected by the delegates. A similar scenario played out in Indianapolis on Tuesday, when messengers voted overwhelmingly to kick out First Baptist Church of Alexandria in Virginia for believing women can hold the top job.

Messengers early Wednesday rejected a proposal to abolish the SBC's public policy agency, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The measure reflected the views of some that the the staunchly conservative commission wasn't conservative enough.

Meyer reported from Nashville, Tennessee.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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