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The Southern Baptist Convention is trying to prevent women from being pastors. What does that mean for religion in America?

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The Rev. Linda Barnes Popham sings with the choir at Fern Creek Baptist Church during a service, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Louisville, Ky. In February, Fern Creek was one of five churches disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention because they have female pastors. But Fern Creek Baptist and Saddleback Church of California have decided to appeal. The challenge will be voted on at the upcoming SBC annual meeting. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The Southern Baptist Convention’s recent decision to expel several churches with women pastors and consider an amendment to prohibit women from being pastors at all is a bellwether moment for American evangelism. The SBC, the largest Protestant group in the country, will make a final decision on the amendment next year. But the SBC’s deliberation on the role women can, or can’t, have in SBC-affiliated churches is indicative of a more general swing toward far-right thinking in American Christianity, says Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, an assistant professor of religion and anthropology at Northeastern University. For women involved in conservative Christian communities, “the situation is bleak and only getting worse,” she says.

“Part of this decision to further the exclusion of women from SBC leadership is growing religious fundamentalism within the institution that focuses on inflexible gender roles, purity culture and patriarchal hierarchy,” Riccardi-Swartz says. “This fundamentalism seems to be built around a fear that women’s rights will lead to rights for other marginalized Christians, including LBGTQ+ Christians.”

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