More women are serving as Baptist pastors and co-pastors than at any time in history, but statistically the vast majority of even progressive churches have not yet opened their pulpits to females, according to an inaugural “State of Women in Baptist Life” report unveiled Wednesday by Baptist Women in Ministry.
“Never before have so many Baptist women had so many opportunities in ministry; yet women continue to struggle to find employment in churches, and often women are not considered for senior-level positions, such as the pastorate and denominational leadership roles,” co-authors Pam Durso and Eileen Campbell-Reed reported. “Thus, while Baptist women have made great strides, they still have far to go.”
The first in what is planned to be an annual report gauging progress for Baptist women in ministerial roles became public during the annual BWIM gathering in Atlanta. After presentation during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 2006 General Assembly Thursday morning, it was to be posted to the Baptist Women in Ministry Web site.
Campbell-Reed, a doctoral candidate in religion at Vanderbilt University, and Durso, associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, said women have experienced moderate gains in Baptist ministry since ordination of the first female Baptist minister in the South in 1964.
According to the study, more than one in five pastors or co-pastors of the 118-church Alliance of Baptists (22 percent) in 2005 was a woman. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a larger and more centrist organization that also supports women’s ordination, meanwhile, had no more than 5.5 percent of its churches led by women.
“While gifted and called women in most Baptist denominational traditions have experienced some limited success in finding churches to pastor or co-pastor, hundreds of other Baptist women have left their denominations in order to fulfill their call to ministry,” it says.
Women’s biggest gains in church work have occurred in ministry roles other than senior pastor.
Baptist churches in the South began employing women in large numbers as directors of music, youth, children and education in the 1960s, though they were not ordained or well-paid. In the 1980s and 1990s, some churches began to change titles of women staff from directors to ministers, and some began ordaining women as staff ministers.
As women’s ordination expanded in the 1980s, chaplaincy and pastoral counseling became common career paths for Baptist clergywomen. More than half (52 percent) of chaplains and counselors endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists are women, compared to one in four (28 percent), by both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
International missions have long been a viable ministerial option for women across the theological spectrum. The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which officially opposes women pastors, has a higher percentage of appointed female missionaries (53 percent) than the officially pro-woman CBF (49 percent).
But in terms of leadership, the SBC has elected fewer women to governing boards in recent years, while the Alliance, CBF and American Baptists all committed to more equity in both elected offices and hiring.
Women students enrolled in 14 theology schools and seminaries affiliated with the CBF at a slightly higher rate (38 percent-36 percent) than the average for female students in all accredited seminaries. Women outnumbered men in ABC-USA seminaries, comprising 57 percent of student bodies, while women in six SBC seminaries lagged well behind the average at 22 percent.
Women make up 39 percent of faculty at American Baptist seminaries, 26 percent of CBF-partner seminaries and 9 percent of Southern Baptist seminaries.
The number of Baptist churches ordaining women as deacons has increased significantly, but the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist churches don’t ordain women as deacons. Still, the study says, the trend of ordaining women as deacons appears to be increasing in many parts of the country.
“We hope that the increased awareness of the state of women in Baptist life will invite Baptists to continue including and encouraging women in ministry,” BWIM Coordinator Rachel Gunter Shapard said in a press release.
Organized in 1983, Baptist Women in Ministry works for advocacy, support and education about women in ministry.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.