Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. discusses current issues facing the SBC

Monday, August 21, 2006
Do SBC Moderates Really Believe Women Should Serve as Pastors? An Important Research Project

The controversy over women in the pastorate has been a part of Southern Baptist life for the last three decades. This is not to say that the controversy has itself reshaped the Baptist landscape at the congregational level. As is now clear, “moderate” churches historically identified with the Southern Baptist Convention are virtually as reluctant as conservative churches to call a woman as pastor. Instead, the question of women in the pastorate has become something of a symbolic issue for SBC moderates and their successors. In a very real sense, the question has become rather hypothetical, serving as an indicator of a theological trajectory rather than a genuine openness to having a woman serve as pastor.

The conclusive evidence for this is found in a report commissioned by Baptist
Women in Ministry
. “The
State of Women in Baptist Life, 2005
” by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed and Pamela
R. Durso is a major research project that should reshape the conversation over
women in ministry among Baptists.

The researchers acknowledge their own ideological commitments, but their analysis appears to be both comprehensive and fair. “The perspective of this report rests firmly in the moderate-to-progressive constellation of Baptist organizations in the southern United States,” the authors state. “Institutions that make up this constellation are those that parted company with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), some gradually and others more abruptly beginning in the 1980s.”

After tracing the history of the ordination of women in Baptist life, the report turns to the controversial question of women serving in the pastorate. With specific reference to moderate and liberal Baptist bodies including the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the authors offer this blunt assessment:

Never before have so many Baptist women officially served as pastors and co-pastors, and yet statistically the great majority of Baptist churches affiliated with the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF have not called women to serve as pastor.

Indeed, their research indicated that out of the thousands of churches involved in their sample, only 66 of these churches have called women as pastors or co-pastors. The percentages tell the story. The BGAV reports 16 women pastors among 1,411 churches. Among the BGCT’s 5,900 churches, only 11 women serve as either pastor or co-pastor — and this amounts to .19% of the total. In other words, even if the BGCT is understood to be supportive of women in the pastorate, less than one-fifth of one percent of their churches have called a woman as pastor or co-pastor.

Unsurprisingly, the group most supportive of women pastors is the Alliance, and that group reports 26 women serving as pastor or co-pastor out of 118 affiliating congregations.

The bottom line of the research reveals that moderate Southern Baptists, while
registering strong opposition to the 2000 revision of the Baptist
Faith and Message
, and while offering strong words of encouragement to women
seeking to serve in the pastorate, appear to be extremely reluctant to call
women to serve in these positions.

As a matter of fact, dozens of the largest and most visible moderate pulpits have transitioned over the last 20 years, but, as yet, not one of these churches has yet called a woman to serve as pastor. These churches would include congregations such as Crescent Hill Baptist Church and Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Wieuca Road Baptist Church and First Baptist Church Decatur in the Atlanta area, South Main Baptist Church in Houston, First Baptist in Asheville, Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Broadway Baptist Church and University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Third Baptist Church in St. Louis, Kirkwood Baptist Church in Kansas City, and even churches like River Road (Baptist) Church in Richmond.  The list goes on.

In other words, moderate Baptist congregations — even self-consciously liberal congregations — are just not calling women to serve as pastors to any significant degree.

This report deserves a wide reading and should be of interest to both moderate and conservative Baptists. The researchers cover a wide range of questions and their quantitative analysis should prompt much discussion among Baptists on both sides of this controversy.

Among moderates, the report should serve as a catalyst for asking what must be a very hard question:  To what degree are moderate Southern Baptists actually open to women serving in the pastorate? At the hypothetical level, this openness appears to be nearly universal among moderates — especially those associated with the CBF. At the congregational level, however, the reality appears to be dramatically at odds with this public commitment.

Beyond this, this report points to a future crisis in terms of a disconnect between moderate theological education and moderate churches. According to these researchers, women now constitute a majority of students studying for ministry at schools including Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.  Will churches call these women to serve as pastor?  Will the feminization of these schools force a disconnect between these institutions and their supporting churches?  Where are the men?

[The percentage of women enrolled at American Baptist Convention USA schools such as Andover Newton Theological School and Colgate Rochester Crozer Theological Seminary were even higher. At Andover Newton, 65% of students are women, reflecting an exodus of men from the ministry among mainline Protestants.]

This important report, now available online, helps to clarify and to quantify where many Baptists really stand on the question of women serving in the pastorate. If nothing else, regardless of one’s convictions on this question, the report must raise the question of credibility on the part of moderate Baptists who claim to support women pastors. At this point, with the singular exception of the Alliance of Baptists, this support appears to be hypothetical, not real.