A Nashville pastor's decision to license female preachers in his church may cost him his credentials, and could cost his congregation its affiliation they have held for more than a century.
Frank Stevenson, senior pastor at St. Luke Primitive Baptist Church, said he won't back down.
"I knew we were going against tradition," Stevenson said. "Quite honestly, I'm surprised it went to this level and moved so quickly."
Stevenson recently received a letter informing him that he could lose his ordination credentials at the church he helped grow from 50 members to more than 1,200 in the past decade.
On June 18, 15 women became the first licensed female preachers in the congregation's long history. That is against the rules in the church's denomination.
"Right now, I have what we call a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," Stevenson said. "They are preaching in Primitive Baptist churches across the country, but they can't be identified as preachers with a license."
Stevenson has licensed three more women since the first ceremony.
The letter Stevenson received from the church's executive board said he has until Sept. 14 to take the licenses back in order to avoid having his credentials suspended.
But Stevenson is not giving in.
"That is not of God, and I plan to challenge it in every aspect," he said. "Even if it costs me everything I have worked for in my ministry."
Stevenson's congregation is standing beside him and the women.
"He has the full support of the church, the deacon board, our entire membership," said Robert Frazier, executive director of the church's deacon board. "We're excited and behind him 100 percent."
St. Luke, one of the founding Primitive Baptist churches in Nashville, risks losing its association the church has held for 147 years, and could find itself an independent church.
"I felt the Lord, I believe he created me just for this moment," Stevenson said.
Stevenson is making an appeal to the 32 local churches that have the power to reverse the board's decision. And his fight doesn't stop there.
"I'm leaving today (Tuesday) to go to our national convention in Birmingham," Stevenson said. "I will give our president a letter of disappointment on how we've treated women in our faith."
Channel 4 News reached out to the Primitive Baptist executive board, but did not receive a call back by deadline.
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