As the Southern Baptist Convention gathers in Birmingham, Alabama, this week, the role of women in the church surely will be a top issue. The #Metoo movement, allegations of sexual misconduct and the lack of women in leadership roles, has brought this issue to the forefront. Although many congregations will allow women to be ordained, preach from the pulpit and hold leadership positions, in other churches, there is still a divide about a woman’s proper role despite their contributions to ministry throughout history.
In fact, only 11 percent of American congregations are led by women, according to National Congregations Study survey. This is the case even though Christian women tend to be more religious and attend church more often than Christian men. People look to the Bible to justify whether or not women can serve in leadership positions in church.
Many cite First Timothy 2:11-12, which is interpreted as women should not teach or have authority over men. For some, like Dilana Martinez, who has attended a church with a woman pastor, the scripture leaves no room for further interpretation.
Martinez, a member of Washington, D.C. International Christian Church, said she values the contribution of women in helping to run the church. But she said women should not cross the thin line between sharing their Christian experience with others and preaching.
“Young women, I would imagine would have questions and I think the only thing you can do is share the scriptures with them. And talk about how men leading other men is kind of the goal in those scriptures,” Martinez said.
Others say the scripture is often interpreted through cultural lens and there have been clear biblical leaders like the prophets Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4-5), Esther (Esther 4:15-17), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Athaliah (2 Chronicles 22:10-12), all women.
Younger women embrace the idea of a church with a female pastor. “I feel great about it,” said Leah Young, a college sophomore. “We have this male-centered idea of how religion, or anything else for that matter, should be run but that’s not always the case,” she said.
Young attended “The Heart of a Woman” service hosted by the Washington D.C. International Christian Church. She said the best part of attending such events is being around other like-minded women. “I think it opens your eyes to the fact that everybody’s life can be completely different but we can still have similar experiences and grow from that together,” Young said.
The Rev. Robin Turner, an associate minister at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C, the oldest African-American Baptist Church in the city, said ultimately women must be able to attend to their spiritual callings as men are. “There is great misunderstanding about what the Bible says about women in ministry. Most of this is cultural,” Turner said. She was the first woman ordained as a minister by the church in 2004, and leads the church’s prayer ministry and supports global missions.
“In the end, any person who is truly called must answer to God – not to men or women,” Turner said. “To be faithful to one’s call, the Spirit affirms (and confirms) with signs and wonders following. Such a minister need not ever worry if she never preaches from a pulpit. Her gift and calling are no less valid.”