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In a last-ditch effort, longtime Southern Baptist churches expelled for women pastors fight to stay

The robed choir sang an upbeat missionary chorus, the congregation sung hymns from the Baptist Hymnal, and the pastor talked on the need of being attentive to God before urging those in attendance to publicly declare their trust in Jesus.

Recent Sunday’s service at Fern Creek Baptist Church was a textbook example of a classic Southern Baptist gathering.

But for that one small point.

The minister is a lady.

As a result, Fern Creek is no longer affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention decided in February to exclude Fern Creek because of its female pastor, the same reason it expelled four other congregations, including the enormous Californian church Saddleback. Independent Baptist churches cannot be ordered about by the convention, but the convention may select which ones are “not in friendly cooperation,” the conventioneering term for expulsion.

The annual conference of the SBC is taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday in New Orleans, and Fern Creek and Saddleback are appealing the decision.

The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham has been pastor of the little Fern Creek Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for the past 30 years. She has been active in the church since she was a teenager in her home state of Alabama.

For example, “when I was eight years old, I knew that God was calling me in some sense,” she said. She now knows without a doubt that God has called her to minister to the people of Fern Creek.

Longtime attendee Rick Pryor remarked, “I’ve never seen anybody with a more dedicated heart for the Lord than Linda.”

This is thought to be the first time the SBC has removed any congregations for violating the statement of faith’s stipulation that only males may serve as pastors. Both churches believe that Baptists should be able to respectfully disagree with one another while still working together to spread the gospel.

Like Southern Baptists have done for decades, Popham wants to “worship under that same umbrella” and “do missions together.”