A non-scientific survey by Baptist Women in Ministry suggests the conventional wisdom that Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches “aren’t ready” for a woman pastor is eroding.

“I think the myth that churches aren’t ready may be changing,” Eileen Campbell-Reed, a co-author of the study, said at a workshop session Thursday afternoon. “This [study] is not indicative of this, but it might suggest that lay people are more ready to call women pastors than we’re giving them credit for.”

Despite opening doors in the last few years for clergywomen–especially in chaplaincy and counseling positions–females “are still in a fairly marginal place when it comes to the overall picture of women’s service,” Campbell-Reed said.

A second annual State of Women in Baptist Life, unveiled Thursday at the CBF General Assembly in Washington, found that 95 percent of CBF laypersons responding to the survey said they would be open to calling a woman to their church as pastor. One in five said they would prefer a woman, compared to 17 percent who would prefer a man.

Yet only about 6 percent of CBF churches are led by a woman.

“That disparity is the story, we think, of what’s going on with the marginalization of women,” Campbell-Reed said. “Not that pastor is the only important ministry role, but it’s a barometer that gives us a measure of the full inclusion of women.”

The responses seemed to confirm the widely held perception that progressive and moderate Baptists support women in ministry in theory, the study said, but women have advanced only marginally in the profession of ministry in Baptist life.

“The attitudes about women in ministry were overwhelmingly positive,” said the other co-author, Pamela Durso. “The support is high, but the practical reality is low.”

Asked why that is so, 78 percent of respondents said Baptist tradition holds women back. Nearly as many, 69 percent, said men in power prevent women’s advancement. Twenty-one percent said the church is not ready for a woman’s leadership. Fewer than 6 percent said they believe the Bible prohibits women from serving as pastors.

Women who serve in professional ministry but are not ordained said the main reason is their ministry has not required ordination (74 percent) followed by 41 percent who said the right opportunity and circumstances for ordination had not occurred. Seven percent said they have pursued ordination in the past, but it has not come to fruition.

Rather than a scientific, random and controlled study, the survey was sent out to supporters of Baptist Women in Ministry, who were encouraged to share it with others. A total of 1,464 responded.

Records aren’t kept about how many women are ordained in churches. The BWIM study estimated conservatively the number of 1,825.

More than 60 percent of women’s ordinations reported in a recently launched on-line registry for ordained and professional women have occurred since 2000.

The study attributed the increase to establishment and growth of two new Baptist organizations, CBF and the Alliance of Baptists, and the establishment of 14 new seminaries, theology schools and Baptist studies programs that affirm Baptist women in ministry.

The study found that 39 percent of students in seminaries supported by CBF are women, above average for seminaries in North America.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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