What is the state of clergywomen in the U.S.?

A forthcoming report, scheduled for release on Oct. 1, will answer that question.

Using statistical analysis of ministry appointments, along with seminary and divinity school enrollment data, the report will provide a snapshot of female clergy across a wide spectrum of Christian denominations and traditions.

The data for the report is the result of extensive research conducted over a six-year period by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed, coordinator for coaching, mentoring and internship as well as associate professor of practical theology at the Nashville, Tennessee, campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and three graduate research assistants, Sarah Reddish, Colleen Maki and Klem-Mari Cajigas Chimelis.

Campbell-Reed previewed some of the findings on her website, including:

  • The percent of female clergy has increased to 20.7 percent in 2016 from 2.3 percent in 1960.
  • Many mainline denominations have seen the percentage of women ministers double or triple over the last 30 years.
  • The number of women of color pursuing master of divinity degrees has increased, while the number of white females doing so has decreased, over the past decade.

“I am so excited to get this kind of more comprehensive data out for public access. It has been far too long since we’ve had a big picture look at where women are in the uphill climb to the pastorate and ministry more broadly speaking,” she told EthicsDaily.com via email. “I hope the resulting report will be useful to ministers, churches, denominational bodies and seminaries as they continue to call, educate and hire women in ministry.”

“Progress in the mainline is impressive in the last 20 years, and women in other denominations have also made extraordinary strides toward equity,” Campbell-Reed said. “Women in Baptist life, with the exception of those affiliated with Alliance of Baptists, are still experiencing very slow growth in terms of ordained clergy and congregational pastors.”

Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) has published five “State of Women in Baptist Life” reports since 2005, which demonstrate the “slow growth” Campbell-Reed has observed.

In its 2015 report, revised in July 2016, BWIM noted “the total number of women pastors and co-pastors had grown to 174, which is a 71 percent increase over the last 10 years.”

Despite this increase, female pastors lead only 6.5 percent of congregations affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and 13.4 percent of American Baptist congregations.

Alliance of Baptists was the exception with 42 percent of congregations led by women.

To highlight the work of female senior pastors in U.S. Baptist churches, BWIM and EthicsDaily.com announced in June a partnership to produce a series of short documentaries.

The first film in the series, set for a fall 2018 release, will feature Mary Alice Birdwhistell, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.

BWIM and EthicsDaily.com both partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which split from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over differences in theological and biblical positions on a variety of topics, including the role of women in the local church.

The SBC asserted the following in the 2000 edition of its Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M): “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

EthicsDaily.com’s founder, Robert Parham (1953-2017), cited CBF’s affirmation of female leadership in denominational and ecclesial contexts as a key distinction between CBF and the SBC in a June 2000 editorial, around the time the SBC published the BF&M 2000 edition.

EthicsDaily.com released that year its first online Bible study curriculum, “Real Baptists,” which highlighted changes in the BF&M.

Longtime Baptist ministers David and Jane Hull addressed the SBC’s prohibition on female pastors in one chapter, writing, “Perhaps the storms of denominational controversy are really the wind of God’s Spirit ready to teach us again that when God gives gifts to women for ministry, service and leadership, who are we to hinder God?”

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