This blog has been discontinued. See Adam Gonnerman for all future posts.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Some Options for Baptist Women to Pursue Ordained Ministry

First Baptist Church, 223 Bull Street, Savannah, Chatham County, GA via PICRYL

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, is experiencing some turmoil. As I blogged almost a month ago, Beth Moore has disassociated herself from the denomination that she's called home since she was a child. Her departure is big news because of her relative prominence in evangelical and especially Baptist circles as a Bible teacher. I'm going to share here a bit more commentary from others that has come up since that news, and then discuss some options for Baptist women considering ordained ministry to follow their sense of calling. While I am Unitarian Universalist and not Baptist, I think people should be able to pursue the things that matter to them in life.

First up, David French has some thoughts on the matter of Beth Moore's departure. In a piece entitled 'Cruelty is Apostasy,' he writes:

There are many reasons why people leave a church. Some reasons are good. Some are not. But it’s a singular tragedy when a person is hated right out the front door. I grieve for the hatred Beth endured. I grieve for the steep and exhausting emotional cost paid by those on all sides of our ideological divide who speak in good faith, from the heart, and face not respectful disagreement but self-righteous cruelty in return.  
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Human beings need forgiveness and kindness like we need oxygen. A nation devoid of grace immiserates its people. A church devoid of grace rebukes the cross.

The kind of incessant hate that women receive in evangelical circles for daring to even appear to be leaders astonishing. Consider the following from Twitter:

One wonders how being such a joyless wretch as Rod D. Martin plays out for the other people in his life...especially the women who have to interact with him. His kind of religion is dying, but it can't die fast enough. 

Second, Bob Smietana shares in an article the experiences of other women like Beth Moore, including that of the Rev. Courtney Pace. Specifically she comments on the restrictions that women submit themselves to for the sake of church community and system of belief. 

The Rev. Courtney Pace, Prathia Hall scholar-in-residence with Equity for Women in the Church and a board member of the Nevertheless She Preached conference, has written about what she called “the inevitable evolution of Beth Moore.” Pace said Moore has long been more than a Bible teacher, even if she was not willing to admit it. She’s really been a preacher, even if she stood behind a “Bible stand” rather than a pulpit.

Pace, who grew up Southern Baptist and used to watch Moore’s videos while working out, said when she went to seminary, a number of her female classmates wanted to be “the next Beth Moore.” Even after leaving the SBC, she kept an eye on Moore and eventually began, as an academic, to study her.

She’d long been expecting Moore to leave the SBC. Pace said that over the years, she could see Moore chafing against the restrictions men in the church placed on her, especially the kind of deference she was expected to show to men, as if she needed their permission to be in ministry.

Pace said that growing up Southern Baptist, she felt the same restrictions — saying she felt as if she had to be “as small and quiet as possible” even when she thought God wanted her to raise her voice.

In order for women pastors to follow their calling, their “give a damn” has to break, said Pace.

“If you live your life doing what everybody says you should or what you’re supposed to, you’re never going to get to be yourself,” she said.
The church will be healthier and more whole when women who lead Bible studies or ministries are enthusiastically and unreservedly supported and taught by the church to do so knowledgeably and well. The church will be healthier and more whole when women called to academic realms outside the church are supported and taught by the church to do so with their faith integrated well.

It’s encouraging to see many more women attending seminary in recent years for the purpose of future work in ministry, but, even more, simply to gain a theological education for its own sake, as shown in doctoral research done and reported by Sharon Hodde Miller.

More and more seminarians, in addition, men and women, are seeking theological degrees in order to use them in work outside the church or in bi-vocational ministry. According to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), one-third of 2017 graduates of seminaries were planning to enter bivocational minis­try, Christianity Today reported last year.

That data also shows that Southern Baptist seminaries in particular saw a 12% increase from 2012 to 2016 in female students enrolled in graduate-level degree programs. And the credentials I gained long ago in a state university are now being used to serve the church by bringing them to students in the seminary where I now teach. The parallel tracks have crossed.

When I was a student at Harding University in the late 1990s I had one woman classmate in my ministry training program. She had been admitted on the condition that it was understood that she wasn't preparing for 'pulpit ministry.' This came up from time to time in class discussions. We thought we were being respectful in our behavior towards her, but there's no way a woman can be told repeatedly in front of others that there's something she can't do because of her gender without it being a wearisome insult, at best. While that was a Church of Christ school, and not Baptist, the views toward women in ministry leadership there were as bad as some of the worst I've seen among Southern Baptists. 

Fourth, here's a list of Baptist denominations/networks that do permit the ordination of women. If you're a Southern Baptist woman, or a woman otherwise in a conservative Baptist setting who feels called to ministry, these would be some options to check out.
Note the following: 1) this list is not meant to be exhaustive. It's a starting point that might be sufficient for your search, 2) Baptist churches are congregationally governed, so some churches or associations might not be as welcoming to women in ministry as others, and 3) attitudes towards lgbtq+ folks tend to be more exclusionary among Baptists generally in comparison with mainline Protestant churches. For some limited comparison of denominational policies toward lgbtq+ people, see this table.

Fifth and finally, if you're a Baptist woman looking for someplace to prepare for ministry, I recommend Abilene Christian University's Graduate School of Theology. Although it's historically affiliated with the Church of Christ, it is welcoming towards people of other denominations (including me, a Unitarian Universalist), and women regularly study at ACU GST for ordained ministry. There is, in fact, now a Baptist Studies Center at ACU GST. I hope you'll check it out.