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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As they prepare to vote on a formal ban on churches with female pastors, Southern Baptist Convention The annual meeting voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to expel one of these churches from its ranks.

The Messengers, as the voting representatives are called, voted 6,759 to 563 for the overthrow First Baptist Church of Alexandriaa historic church in Virginia that affirms that women can assume any pastoral role, including senior pastor. A similar scenario played out at last year’s meeting. Two churches, including a well-known Megachurch in Californiawere excluded from the assembly. 92 percent of the MPs voted in favor of this year’s expulsion.

The Virginia congregation has been part of the country’s largest Protestant denomination since its founding in the 19th century and has donated millions to religious causes, but it came under scrutiny after the pastor of a neighboring church reported it to denominational authorities for having a woman as its children and women’s pastor.

The vote came after the denomination’s credentials committee recommended earlier Tuesday that the denomination view the church as not “friendly cooperating,” which would be the wording for expulsion, on the grounds that it conflicts with Baptist beliefs and message. This statement of Southern Baptist doctrine states that only men are qualified for the role of pastor. Some interpret this to mean that this only applies to assistant pastors as long as the senior pastor is a man.

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 16, 2021, photo, people attend the morning session of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Southern Baptists, meeting for their next annual convention on June 11-12, 2024, in Indianapolis, will vote on whether to enact a constitutional ban on churches with female pastors. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley speaks during Sunday service at Myrtle Baptist Church, Sunday, May 5, 2024, in Newton, Massachusetts. In 2015, Crowley, the senior pastor of the church, one of the oldest black churches in America, announced to his congregation,

“We are not pleased with this recommendation, but we have come to the conclusion that the Church’s egalitarian ideas regarding the ministry do not closely align with the statement of faith adopted by the Assembly,” said Jonathan Sams, chairman of the creed committee.

The Alexandria church is currently led by a man, Robert Stephens, but the church has made it clear that it believes women can serve as senior pastors. Stephens said his church has had women in ministry for more than 44 years and wants to continue working with Southern Baptists who disagree on the issue.

“First Alexandria stands before you today as proof that we can cultivate a fruitful partnership with churches that have a different attitude toward women in ministry,” he said. “At First Baptist, we share the gospel and hope to continue to partner with all of you.”

Afterward, representatives from the Alexandria Church wished the SBC well, but said they would focus on First Baptist’s work, which ranges from sending a mission team to Nicaragua to working on a Bible translation project, participating in a church youth camp and other responsibilities.

“This is a sad moment for us, but we also recognize that God has a future for First Baptist Church,” Stephens said.

“We have good news to share with the world and we will continue to do so,” added Kim Eskridge, pastor for children and women.

On Wednesday, delegates are expected to consider adding a ban on churches with female pastors to the SBC’s constitution. The proposed change was tentatively approved last year and must be voted on for good this year to take effect. As of Tuesday evening, 10,895 messengers had registered to participate.

Early Tuesday, a small group of women gathered outside the Indiana Convention Center for a modest demonstration in support of the role of women in church ministry.

“I hope people know that women are equal and can be ministers,” said Rev. Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. The organization was founded in the 1980s among Southern Baptists but now works with women from various Baptist denominations.

Christa Brown, who has long been an advocate for victims of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and has criticized the denomination’s resistance to reforms, was also present. She documented these efforts in her new memoir, “Baptistland.” The Southern Baptists’ ongoing fight against reforms in the area of ​​sexual abuse is also on the agenda this year.

She said there was a direct link between abuse issues and equality for women in church ministry.

“If you oppress some people, it leads to many more people being oppressed,” she said.

A task force to implement the SBC abuse reform recently completed its work. While it has developed a curriculum for training churches in abuse prevention and response, it has not mandate of previous annual meetings to create a “Ministry Check” database of perpetrators’ information that could help churches avoid hiring such perpetrators.

“We’re probably beyond frustrated that there are no names in the database right now or the database isn’t active right now,” said Josh Wester, chair of the task force, which officially concluded its work on Tuesday. Messengers adopted their recommendations and tasked the denomination’s executive committee with implementing goals such as activating Ministry Check and creating a “permanent point of contact” for anti-abuse efforts.

After denominational officials said they could not take out insurance to create a Ministry Watch List, Wester and several others formed a separate nonprofit to manage the list. But he said the new leadership of the executive committee is looking for ways to monitor the list internally.

The list would also include those who have been convicted or found liable for abuse in civil court, unlike a previous annual meeting that called for a list of people who have confessed or been credibly accused outside of court.

Wester said the ultimate goal is a broader list.

“We are currently trying to put a database online because it can always be improved,” said Wester.

Although some have advocated for reform over the past two decades, the SBC has struggled particularly hard to respond to sexual abuse in its churches since a 2019 report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News said that about 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct over the past two decades.

The denomination then commissioned a consulting firm, Guidepost Solutions, to prepare a report, which concluded that the leaders of the congregation’s executive committee intimidated and mistreated Survivors who sought help. The committee handles the day-to-day business of the convention.

Some vocal voices claim that there is no abuse crisis under the Convention and that such allegations are exaggerated.

But survivor Tiffany Thigpen, one of several abuse advocates who attended the meeting, pointed out that SBC messengers have repeatedly advocated for reform.

“Our hope was that the messengers would finally get as frustrated as we were and say, ‘Okay, wait, we’re not going to let this happen anymore,'” she said.

Politics was discussed at the events on the sidelines of the meeting. On Monday, the former President Donald Trump In a videotaped message, he appealed for votes to participants in a conservative group of staunch anti-abortion activists meeting next to the convention center.

On Tuesday, former Vice President Mike Pence told an audience of about 500 that he would “never” vote for President Joe Biden and criticized him for his border, abortion and other policies. But Pence stopped short of endorsing Trump, his former running mate.

The messengers later passed a resolution against all efforts to establish a state religion, including “Christianity as the state religion of the United States” – a remarkable step given the rise of Christian Nationalism in some conservative circles. The resolution calls for extensive religious freedom and the participation of Christians in public office.

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

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