First Baptist Church of Alexandria's  
Future Within the Southern Baptist Convention

In 2023, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) overwhelmingly voted to disfellowship (or vote out) two Southern Baptist churches for employing female pastors: Saddleback Church in California and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky. Further, the SBC voted to adopt a constitutional amendment specifying that SBC churches can only employ men as pastors or elders.
This action was in stark contrast to the longstanding ideal that SBC churches were autonomous and that, “the Convention does not claim and would never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations or convention.”
As a church that employed two female pastors at the time, First Baptist Church of Alexandria (FBCA) was engaged in this debate and grieved by this result. We remain resolute in recognizing God’s calling to ministry for both men and women. For nearly 100 years, women have had a prominent role in ministry and positions of authority at FBCA.
In the coming year, the SBC will vote to ratify the amendment. At that time, FBCA members will have to make difficult decisions about the future of our church’s participation in the SBC.
This document provides detailed background information about the SBC’s recent decision and FBCA’s options going forward.
I. Recent History of SBC Activity Regarding Female Pastors

• June 13-16, 2022 – The Southern Baptist Convention in Anaheim, CA
A resolution is proposed to disfellowship any Southern Baptist church employing female pastors. The Resolution Committee declined to entertain the motion, but following the recommendation of others, a motion to amend the constitution at the next meeting of the SBC in June 2023 is adopted by the Messengers.

• February 21, 2023 – SBC Executive Committee Meeting
Five churches employing female pastors, including Saddleback Church in California, were deemed “no longer in friendly cooperation” with the SBC on the recommendation of the Credentials Committee.

• June 13-14, 2023 – The Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, LA
FBCA sent three Messengers (church representatives) to New Orleans: Robert and April Stephens and Bryan Jones.  Two of the five churches ruled out of friendly cooperation in February appealed the Executive Committee’s decision (a third church, dismissed for having an inadequate response to sexual abuse, also appealed): Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, KY represented by Pastor Linda Barnes Popham, and Saddleback Church in Southern California represented by retired founding pastor Rick Warren. Both appeals were easily overruled by Convention vote.
After several revisions made on the floor, the proposed amendment comes to a vote.  Technically, in its final form, the amendment adds a requirement to Article III of the SBC Constitution – specifying that any cooperating church “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by scripture.”  The amendment passed overwhelmingly.  In order to be ratified, a second vote in 2024 is required.

II.  Our Church's Response

• In July 2023, the congregation gathered for a “Family Meeting” to hear an update from Pastor Robert on the proceedings of the Convention and the potential ramifications of the amendment. Several important ideas were explained:

1. The importance of scripture in determining what we believe about women serving in pastoral ministry. Quoting from Isaiah 66:2, Pastor Robert reiterated our dependence upon and adherence to scripture as our one rule of life and faith.
2. The two offices of church leadership mentioned explicitly in scripture: “pastor/elder/overseer” and “deacon.”
3. The modification of the statement of faith of the SBC, known as the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), in 2000. Specifically, Article VI
of the SBC Constitution states, “…while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited
to men as qualified by Scripture.”
4. The autonomy of the local church, a distinctly Baptist conviction, and the basis of the dilemma facing FBCA and the SBC. Article IV of the SBC Constitution states: “…while independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or Convention.” This means that the current situation is not simply concerned with one's stance on women in pastoral ministry, but with potential infringement upon the autonomy of the local church.

In coordination with the Executive Church Council, the governing body of FBCA, Pastor Robert made four recommendations to guide our congregation through the process:

1. FBCA should send the maximum number of Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2024.
2. FBCA will assess all existing partnerships thoroughly.
3. FBCA will consider the impact of a potential exit from the SBC should there be a second vote in favor of the amendment in 2024.
4. FBCA should conduct a thorough teaching of the role of women in ministry as presented in the Bible.
FBCA continues to recognize God’s calling to ordain any qualified individual, male or female, for pastoral ministry. We are grieved at the direction the SBC has taken over the last year, which was foreshadowed in its revisions to the Baptist Message and Faith in 2000. However, we know the obstacles ahead of us are answerable. The recommended actions outlined in July 2023 have given us some practical/actionable steps leading up to next year’s Convention.

1. Messengers
In 2023, FBCA gave a total of $1,359,130.00 to the Southern Baptist Convention, comprising of 4% of our general budget giving along with two annual special offerings, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. This level of giving entitles us to send 12 Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, June 10-13, 2024.
Beginning January 16, members of FBCA were invited to nominate themselves or others to serve as Messengers. These names were then given to the Nominating Committee to prepare a list of recommendations for church-wide approval at the Quarterly Business Meeting on April 14. In addition to these Messengers, church staff and others may attend the Convention to observe the proceedings.

2. Partnerships
Article II, Section 1 of FBCA’s Constitution specifies four ministry partners specifically:
1. NorthStar Association
2. The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV)
3. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
4. The Baptist World Alliance (BWA)
To ensure a complete understanding of these partnerships and the SBC specifically, the Executive Church Council held a series of discussions in 2024 with each organization.
1. January 28: SBC – Represented by Todd Lafferty, Executive Vice President of the International Mission Board (IMB)
2. February 12: BGAV – Represented by Jody Faig, Field Strategist for the NOVA Region; Chris Backert, Associate Executive Director for BGAV/Ascent; David Washburn, Treasurer for BGAV/Ascent; Dean Miller, Coordinator for BGAV’s Impact Missions
3. February 26: NorthStar – Represented by Bryan Jones, Executive Director; Mike Bradley, Associate Executive Director
4. March 11: Baptist World Alliance – Represented by Elijah Brown, General Secretary and CEO

3. Impact
Article VIII, Section 1 of FBCA’s Constitution specifies that Constitutional Amendments can be made “by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting at any monthly business meeting, or at any special business meeting, provided the amendment shall have been offered in writing at a Church business meeting at least one month prior to the time of voting on the amendment.”
Depending on the decisions made at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2024, the Executive Church Council (ECC) will be called upon to provide the church with a recommendation to either continue with its SBC ministry partnership or disassociate.

4. Teaching
The role of women in ministry is not a new reality for FBCA. Women have had a prominent role within the ministry and positions of authority within the leadership of FBCA for nearly 100 years.
As part of our Winter J-Term discipleship initiative, Pastor Robert led a scriptural study of Women in Pastoral ministry. Please see a recording of these lessons below:
III.  What We Anticipate

• April 14, 2024 – Quarterly Business Meeting
The church will vote on the Nominating Committee’s recommended Messengers to attend the Southern Baptist Convention in June.
• June 10-13, 2024 – The Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, IN
During the Convention, there will be a second vote to ratify the amendment fully that was originally adopted in 2023. FBCA Messengers will once again oppose the amendment.
If the amendment passes, FBCA will stand in violation of the SBC Constitution and will come under the scrutiny of the SBC’s Credentials Committee. It may take over a year for the Credentials Committee to contact FBCA, at which point we will be given an opportunity to come under compliance. If we do not, then – just as Saddleback and Fern Creek experienced – we will be dismissed. At that point, we may make an appeal before the Convention at an annual meeting – most likely in 2027 or 2028.
If the amendment does not pass, FBCA will remain in good standing with the Southern Baptist Convention.

• July 7, 2024 – Quarterly Business Meeting
Regardless of the SBC’s decision, FBCA will have difficult decisions to make after the Convention adjourns. The Executive Church Council will be prepared to make a recommendation to the Church regarding possible actions – including, but not necessitating, Constitutional changes. If a recommendation is made to change the Constitution, the vote would then occur at a Special Called Business Meeting no earlier than August 7, 2024 (according to Article VIII, Section 1 of FBCA’s Constitution mentioned above).

1. What does it mean in practice if FBCA is disassociated from the Southern Baptist Convention?
FBCA will remain to be the church that you have grown to love and been called to serve. Women in pastoral ministry is not a new reality for FBCA. We have historically ordained 3 women to ministry in the last 30 years, and we have had multiple women in pastoral positions already on staff.

2. Would we retain the name First Baptist Church of Alexandria?
The First Baptist Church of Alexandria (FBCA) was established as a church long before the Southern Baptist Convention was created. FBCA has always been known as the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, and it will continue to be so. Our Baptist beliefs and values will continue to be the foundation of our identity, and we will proudly remain a Baptist church.

3. Does FBCA have the option to appeal the SBC’s decision?
Our Senior Pastor will be in place to speak against the amendment at the 2024 annual meeting before the vote is taken. After the ratification of the constitutional amendment, FBCA will not be allowed to challenge it. However, if the Credentialing Committee suggests disfellowshipping FBCA to the Messengers from the SBC due to this amendment, there is a process available to appeal this decision. If FBCA is put in this situation, we will make use of our right to appeal.
4. In theory, couldn’t a church like FBCA simply change the title of its female pastors in order to remain in compliance with the proposed amendment?
Based on the teachings of scripture, we believe that God calls and equips both men and women for pastoral ministry. Therefore, it would be dishonest to empower women in pastoral ministry within the church, and yet withhold the title of pastor from those whom the church discerns as called.
5. If we do disassociate with the SBC, what would we do with the money normally budgeted to support them?
We currently allocate 12% of our general budget giving to denominational missions, with 8% going to the Baptist General Association of Virginia and 4% to the Southern Baptist Convention. If we decide to disassociate, the Executive Church Council will make a recommendation to the church during the August Special Called Business Meeting to amend the 2024 general budget. While the exact recommendation is yet to be determined, one thing is certain: we will not bring those funds back within the doors of the church. However, we will continue to support mission work around the world by reallocating those funds elsewhere.