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Saddleback Church ordains its first three female pastors: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards, on Thursday, May 6, 2021. This even though their denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, restricts the pastorate to men. | Facebook/Saddleback Church

Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church ordains first women pastors

Saddleback Church, the California-based megachurch founded by Pastor Rick Warren, continues to get criticism and praise for ordaining their first three women pastors.

The church, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the ordinations in a Facebook post. It was a “historic night,” the church posted to social media.

“We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards,” Saddleback Chuch said in the post. “We commissioned three new elders, Anthony Miller, Jeremiah Goley, and Jason Williams! And we appointed Pastor Johnny Baker as the new global leader of Celebrate Recovery!”

“We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards! We’re so grateful to share this moment with you. Our best days are ahead of us!”

Petty’s LinkedIn profile lists her as children’s minister at Saddleback, where she has served since 1999. Puffer’s description is listed as “minister” at Saddleback Church in both her Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Her Facebook profile describes her as a pastor for pastoral care at the church. Edwards serves as student ministries pastor at Saddleback’s Lake Forest campus, where she has worked for over two decades.

Petty stated in an interview it Warren informed her of the pending ordination last November.

“He explained that he and the elders had been discussing for many months the possibility to ordain women as Pastors at Saddleback Church,” Petty stated. “He told me that the elders unanimously voted to appoint me one of the first three women pastors at Saddleback Church! . . . He affirmed my leadership and my calling to ministry, and it was a conversation I will not forget.”

The ordination of female pastors is uncommon in the denomination, which points to scripture for its policies.

Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also to scripture. He posted a comment labeling the ordination as an example of “unbiblical developments,” adding that the “time to leave is NOW.”

“Now is the time to leave and find a sound congregation. Do not delay. There is no spirit of competition in what I write here; what Saddleback is doing grieves me, and I have no doubt grieves many in the congregation,” posted Strachan, himself getting more than 140 likes and loves as of Saturday afternoon.

Jason Keith Allen with Spurgeon College in Kansas City called it “a disappointing departure from the clear teaching of Scripture, the BF&M, & long-held SBC consensus & practice.”

“Churches that affirm women pastors are opposing the Word of God, and opposing the Word of God means opposing God himself,” Strachan added.

To justify his stance, Strachan cited 1 Timothy 2:9-15, which includes the verse in which Paul writes: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.’

But many on social media applauded the move saying it was about time.

Ashley Easter commented in a tweet, “I’m glad Saddleback Church ordained 3 of their first women pastors. But don’t forget these women have been with the church since the 90s. That’s how long it takes for a church to say ‘oh, these women are pastoral.’ That’s the hill women have to climb. p.s. still no women elders.”

Warren has become a somewhat controversial pastor in evangelicalism. Some church sociologists and others see it as part of a trend towards a focus on “emotion” in the church and away from anything that makes churchgoers feel uncomfortable.

In Identity, political Scientist Francis Fukuyama compared Warren’s approach to Robert Schuler by “downplaying sin.” He also said Warren avoids anything that sounds in the least judgmental and instead focuses on self-esteem.

Fukuyama writes, “If therapy became a substitute for religion, religion itself took an increasingly therapeutic turn. This was true of both liberal and evangelical churches in the United States, whose leaders found that they could reverse the trend toward declining attendance if they offered what amounted to psychological counseling services built around self-esteem. Rick Warren, whose Church Growth Movement has transformed many thousands of evangelical churches in recent decades, has put forth a similar therapeutic message. His trademarked Purpose Driven Life movement emphasizes the importance of pastors attending to the ‘felt needs’ of nonbelievers, deemphasizing traditional Christian doctrine in favor of an overtly psychological language.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice