I was talking with a group of seminary students a few weeks ago about the plight of Baptist women in ministry. One of the students, a female, recounted how a representative from one of the more “moderate” Baptist institutions told her that women in ministry is “inevitable.” He went on to say that, if she really wanted to preach, maybe she should consider church planting rather than pastoral ministry. I suspect the representative meant well, but his comments deeply hurt this young woman. She is a talented preacher. She is an excellent student. She works diligently as an intern at her current church. But she has already faced rejection in Baptist life because of her gender. She was one of two final candidates for a youth ministry position. But the church ultimately rejected her because she is female.
Inevitable: “unable to be avoided, evaded, or escaped; certain; necessary . . .” (Random House Dictionary, 2d ed., unabridged).
Something that is inevitable can’t be avoided, like flu season or taxes. “Inevitable” conveys the idea that whether we like it or not, it’s going to happen. “Inevitable” is not typically a word that inspires hope. Although (according to Random House) it can mean “certain,” it’s the kind of certainty with a ball and chain attached. The word makes a woman who is pursuing ministry feel like an outsider who isn’t really wanted but who will eventually worm her way in, welcome or not.
No one wants to be inevitable.
And, frankly, “inevitable” isn’t accurate when it comes to Baptist women who want to be pastors in Texas.
In Texas, Southern Baptists are adamantly opposed to women as pastors (just read the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 edition Article VI “The Church”). “Moderate” Baptists, represented by the BGCT and the CBF (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), affirm women in pastoral roles. Their affiliated institutions, such as Truett Seminary in Waco and Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, are supportive of women in ministry. They train women for all types of ministry, including pastoral ministry.
The problem is the churches. Churches affiliated with the BGCT aren’t hiring women as pastors. Currently only about twenty-six (26) women serve as pastors of Baptist churches affiliated with the BGCT. TWENTY-SIX! Considering how big Texas is, that is not exactly an overwhelming number. The reality is, as many female graduates of BGCT affiliated seminaries will tell you, most Baptist churches will not hire a woman as a senior pastor. These women study and train; they receive support and affirmation from their seminaries; they preach in their preaching classes; but when they go out in Texas to find a job as a pastor, they are turned down, one after another.
Why? Because women in ministry are not inevitable.
The BGCT does not have the authority to appoint pastors to churches. A pastor is hired by each individual congregation. Because of this, even though the BGCT and its seminaries are fully supportive of women in ministry, they have no power to insist that congregations follow suit. And support for women in ministry hasn’t exactly “trickled down” to most Baptist churches in Texas. Baptist churches clearly don’t view women in ministry as inevitable because they are doing a really fine job of avoiding women in ministry. They simply don’t hire them.
Women in ministry are not inevitable just as no social cause is inevitable. The end of slavery wasn’t inevitable. African Americans and women winning the right to vote wasn’t inevitable. Civil rights wasn’t inevitable. These things happened because brave people took risks to make them happen.
Several years ago I was asked to help plan a Women in Ministry conference at my school, mainly because I am the only female professor on our School of Theology faculty (I am not on the seminary faculty). I was asked to bring two undergraduate women to the meeting to help with the planning. During the meeting, a female representative from the BGCT asked one of the undergraduate women what she wanted from the conference. “Hope,” the young woman responded. “Hope that I can get a job.” The BGCT representative said, “I can’t give you that hope.”
It was a horrifying, devastating moment. But an honest one.
The two undergraduates I brought to the meeting were demoralized. They had no desire to attend a conference that could offer them no hope. And, I told my dean, if Baptist churches won’t hire the women our school is training, then we are giving women hope where there is no hope.
That was eight or so years ago. I thought things had changed for the better. But when I heard the “inevitable” comment made by the Baptist representative just a few months ago, I realized that nothing had changed. The BGCT affirms women in ministry but has been unable to transform the ethos in Texas. The statistics show that most BGCT churches don’t affirm women in ministry, and the BGCT is powerless to make them.
Unless there are some brave Baptist congregations out there who will take a stand and hire women as pastors, then women will have to go elsewhere—to other regions of the United States where women are welcomed as pastors; to other denominations that long ago resolved the gender issue; or to non-church related institutions that are grateful for women to serve in leadership positions. And believe me, women are leaving the Baptist fold. Baptists are losing some of their brightest and best.
If change is going to occur, it has to be intentional, radical, and risky. If Baptist churches in Texas are ever to accept women as pastors, it won’t be because it’s inevitable. It will be because the churches themselves decide to step outside their prejudices and closed-mindedness. It will be because pastor search committees bring female candidates and challenge their churches to expand their boundaries. It will be because persons within the churches see the ethical problem of denying God-called, female ministers the opportunity to preach and serve and minister.
Women will become pastors of Baptist churches in Texas only when the churches act, not because it is inevitable.