Richmond pastor reacts to Southern Baptist's vote on female ministers: 'We love our female pastors'

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Posted at 3:40 PM, Jun 13, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- On Wednesday, the Southern Baptist Convention asked voting representatives from Baptist churches across the country if women have a place in the ministry.

Those voting, said “no," and the proposed ban narrowly failed to be amended into the Convention’s constitution.

Jim Somerville, Senior Pastor at First Richmond Baptist Church, was not in attendance. In fact, he co-facilitated the departure of his congregation from the SBC due to the proposed amendment.

In an interview with CBS 6, he shared his thoughts on the newest development.

“I was surprised by the vote today,” Somerville said. “I thought it was a foregone conclusion [that] this amendment would be ratified.”

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Pastor Jim Somerville

In May 2023 two Baptist churches were ousted from the Convention due to the presence of women in their ministry. They weren’t the first church to do so—and according to Somerville, they won’t be the last either.

“I’m hearing stories from churches that say ‘Your decision on May the 19th has emboldened us to take action of the same sort,'” said Somerville.

The decision to propose leaving the SBC is not one that came lightly to Somerville. He described the reaction of the congregation when it was decided they’d be departing the Convention—one of “quiet understanding that things would be different," rather than raucous celebration.

However, staying with the SBC would not have been worth losing two First Baptist female ministers, Lynn Turner and Allison Collier.

In the “What We Believe” section of their website, the official statement on the church’s 2023 departure states:
“Women are worthy of God’s calling and find freedom in Jesus Christ. Women are created in the image of the boundless and limitless God.”

Somerville reiterated this in discussion with CBS 6. “I am the head of First Baptist Church, but [Turner is] the heart.”

Somerville’s passion for women in the ministry doesn’t just come from those working alongside him, though. He also credits his mother, grandmother, and first Sunday school teacher.

“I get tears in my eyes thinking about the way women have ministered to me, and taught me,” said Somerville. “And I would not be where I am today without the gifts and ministry of women.”

He says this experience is something the SBC “doesn’t seem to understand.” To him, “the word pastor can be applied to women as well.”

Though it won’t have a place in the SBC’s constitution, the proposed ban will have lingering effects for churches who are a part of the Convention. The Associated Press reports that churches could still be ousted for having female ministers.

Such was the case for the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, a church that was expelled from the SBC yesterday for “belieivng women can serve as pastors.”

Since 2000, the SBC has included this “nonbinding statement of faith” in their doctrine, stating “only men are qualified for the role of pastor.”

While it’s a statement that’s been widely subject to different interpretations, Somerville makes his clear: “We see when we read scripture that Jesus is elevating women at every point.”

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