More Southern Baptist Women Reach Pulpits : Clergy: Despite opposition by the denomination’s leadership, the number of ordained females is on the rise. Most are better educated than their male counterparts.

From Associated Press

Although the Southern Baptist leadership doesn’t like it, increasing numbers of women have been ordained in that largest Protestant denomination.

The upsurge in women ministers has come even as the denomination and its officers have stiffened their front against such ordinations.

“Sometimes, opposition strengthens positions,” said sociologist Sarah Frances Anders of Louisiana College in Pineville, La.


Under Baptist policy, local congregations do the ordaining and are autonomous, free to make their own decisions about it. They’ve increasingly conferred clergy status on women despite upper-level objections.

Anders, who keeps tabs on the phenomenon, said the growth rate of women ministers has been faster than in any other major denomination, most of which authorize women’s ordination.

There are about 900 Southern Baptist women clergy, compared to 75 in 1978. That is when a campaign started that has put biblical fundamentalists in control of the denomination.

“Women are not seeking ordination simply to be defiant,” said Amanda Hiley of Louisville, Ky., administrator of Southern Baptist Women in Ministry.

“They pay a heavy price for ordination, the personal ridicule they have to put up with,” she added. “They have to be very serious about their call to the ministry in this environment to accept ordination.

“It wouldn’t work if the goal was just to be defiant.”

However, she said there was some backlash to a resolution adopted by the denomination’s 1984 convention, saying Scripture “excludes women from pastoral leadership.”


This rule, the convention said, is to “preserve a submission that God requires because man was first in creation and woman was first in the Edenic fall,” blaming women for initiating original sin in the Garden of Eden.

Women are “not to assume the role of authority over men lest confusion reign in the local church,” the convention said. Since then, the number of ordinations by local congregations has tripled.

“It was a watershed,” Hiley said. “It influenced local churches to choose where they stood, either accepting it or not. It generated a radical increase in the rate of ordinations.”

A new survey indicates that 80% of women clergy have advanced graduate degrees, far surpassing the average educational level of male Southern Baptist pastors, for whom no educational requirements are set.

Comparatively, ordained women “are very, very highly prepared, educated and skilled,” Hiley said. “But they don’t get the same opportunities in job placement as men do. There’s no way you can talk of equal footing for men and women.”

Among ordained Southern Baptist women, the largest bloc--202--are chaplains, 43 have been pastors, 57 associate pastors. Others serve in various capacities such as missions, social work and counseling.


Now working on her master of divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Hiley also leads a tiny, rural congregation an hour’s drive from the city.

Most other major Protestant bodies started allowing women’s ordination in modern times. Those denominations, the dates they started it and the current count of ordained women include:

United Methodist Church, 1956, total 4,743; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1956, total 2,419; United Church of Christ, 1853 in predecessor denomination, total 1,803; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1970, total 1,358; Episcopal Church, 1976, total 1,070.

The figures put Southern Baptists in sixth place in numbers of women clergy, although the denomination of 15.2 million is far larger than the others.

But congregations hiring women ministers sometimes are expelled from local denominational associations, as has happened in numerous locales-- Marin County; Memphis, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Southeast Kentucky and elsewhere.

In January, a scheduled talk by a daughter of Billy Graham in Oklahoma City was canceled by the state Baptist convention because some male pastors thought she would be preaching--a role they claim is reserved to men.


Last fall, some messengers to a Pennsylvania-South Jersey Baptist convention walked out when Gaynor Yancey, a veteran female home missionary, gave the sermon.

The denomination’s Home Missions Board has a policy against aiding any new congregations led by women.

Southern Baptist Women in Ministry, organized in 1983 in the early phase of the denominational shift to fundamentalist leadership, celebrated its 10th anniversary this week at a meeting of Southern Baptist moderates in Birmingham, Ala.

Carolyn Hale of Georgetown, Ky., president of the women’s organization, says: “If there is anything that we know, it is that the God who has led us to this time and place is the God who is leading us still. We move through an open door that no one can shut.”