Baptist Women in Ministry is hoping to nearly double participation in a second annual day for women to preach in Baptist churches early next year.
Fifty-five churches reported taking part in February’s inaugural Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching. The goal for next year’s emphasis, scheduled Feb. 3, is for at least 100 churches to participate.
Named after an 18th-century South Carolina Baptist woman who preached alongside her brother and husband, the Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching is both a celebration of women in the pulpit and an opportunity to educate congregations about women in ministry.
According to the 2006 State of Women in Baptist Life, nearly 40 percent of students attending 14 theology schools affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are women, but just 6 percent of CBF churches are led by a woman pastor, co-pastor or church planter.
An informal survey found a gap between attitudes and opportunities for female ministers in moderate Baptist life. While 93 percent of respondents said they support women being ordained to the ministry, just two thirds said their church had ordained a woman and only 31 percent had belonged to a church with a woman pastor.
“Although the findings of the SWBL Survey seem to confirm the widely-shared perception that progressive and moderate Baptists support women in ministry, the fact remains that women have only advanced marginally in the profession of ministry in Baptist life,” the study concluded.
An estimated 1,825 southern Baptist women have been ordained since 1964, the report said, but the vast majority of ministry opportunities for women are in non-pastoral roles like counseling and serving as missionaries.
Support for women in ministry was a founding principle for the CBF, a group of disenfranchised Southern Baptists and former Southern Baptists organized in 1991.
“The New Testament gives two signals about the role of women,” the group said in the first public address of an interim steering committee adopted May 9, 1991. “A literal interpretation of Paul can build a case for making women submissive to men in the Church. But another body of scripture points toward another place for women. In Gal. 3:27-28 Paul wrote, ‘As many of you as are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (NSRV).'”
“We take Galatians as a clue to the way the Church should be ordered,” the statement said. “We interpret the reference to women the same way we interpret the reference to slaves. If we have submissive roles for women, we must also have a place for the slaves in the Church. In Galatians Paul follows the spirit of Jesus who courageously challenged the conventional wisdom of his day. It was a wisdom with rigid boundaries between men and women in religion and in public life. Jesus deliberately broke those barriers. He called women to follow him; he treated women as equally capable of dealing with sacred issues. Our model for the role of women in matters of faith is the Lord Jesus.”
That view contrasts with the Southern Baptist Convention, which in 2000 amended the Baptist Faith & Message to include the statement, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, explained the SBC opposition to women’s ordination Wednesday as guest host of “The Albert Mohler Radio Program.”
“The Apostle Paul says in First Timothy Chapter 2 that he does not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” Moore said in response to a caller’s question. “Immediately following that the Apostle Paul lays out the qualifications for pastor–qualification that applies specifically to men–husband of one wife, manager well of one’s household. This is given to men.
“You also have passages in First Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul also affirms male headship and grounds all of that in God’s creation order: that God created Adam and Eve, created both of them with equal dignity and equal worth, redeems both of them equally, but gives them different roles, gives them different aspects of the way they live out their lives.”
“And that’s seen in the church, in which you have men who are to serve as self-sacrificial, loving, heads of the church, and in the home, where men are to serve as self-sacrificial, loving, heads of the family,” Moore concluded. “I think that’s very clear in Scripture.”
Churches participating in the Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching will reserve Sunday, Feb. 3, as a day for a female to preach in their worship service. Congregations are encouraged to ask a church member to preach, or to contact a Baptist college or seminary to invite a student or faculty member to their pulpit.
Churches that register their participation will be recognized in a spring newsletter. (To register send church name, city, state and name of the guest preacher to Julie O’Teter at Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 214-887-5470.) A downloadable certificate is also available to present to the woman preacher on Feb. 3.
Churches that cannot participate Feb. 3 may choose an alternate date. Churches that already have a female pastor are encouraged to invite another woman to preach for the special observance.
Founded in 1983 in Louisville, Ky., Baptist Women in Ministry is a donor-supported organization based at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.