Monday, April 20, 2009

Overpromising and Underperforming

Eileen Campbell-Reed was awarded the Betty Galloway Advocacy for Women in Ministry Award at the General Assembly of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Nashville on Saturday. The annual award recognizes a person, church, or organization that excels in encouraging women in ministry roles. In her remarks, Campbell-Reed observed that it would be a great day when such awards were no longer needed because the day had come when both women and men could exercise their gifts for ministry without regard to their gender.

Unfortunately such a day is not on the horizon for moderate Baptists in the South. Last summer the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship completed a “discernment process” to shape priorities and strategy for the national organization in the next several years. The cause of women in ministry ranked rather low in that list of priorities. This past Saturday, the Tennessee CBF Transition Team presented their report on the future of the state organization. A portion of the report dealt with what constituents felt were priorities for the future of TCBF. Again the role of women in ministry ranked at the bottom of the list.

Of course, no one claims that either of these processes is statistically accurate or objective in their results, but they do indicate something very disheartening. For almost twenty years, Baptist women in the south have looked to the CBF movement as a place where they would at last have the opportunity to “become all that they could be.” It’s not happening.

Although the last “State of Women in Baptist Life Report” reports an increase of “ordained Southern Baptist women” from 200 in 1982-83 to 2000 “ordained in Baptist life in the South” by the end of 2007 and states optimistically that “[t]housands of Baptist women in 2008 are serving on church staffs; ministering in hospitals, prisons, and the military; proclaiming the gospel on the mission field; working among the poor and disenfranchised, and regularly preaching from Baptist pulpits,” it is not enough.

When gifted young women are graduating from CBF-related theological institutions, serving internships in welcoming churches, and still cannot find pastorates, it is not enough. When not one of the full-time state CBF coordinators is a female, it is not enough. When only one woman holds a position as coordinator on the National CBF staff, it is not enough. When the rank and file of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seem to feel that this is no longer a real issue, it is not enough.

This is not to denigrate the wonderful and effective service of women who serve as associate pastors, church staff members, chaplains, pastoral counselors, and program leaders and specialists for national and state CBF organizations. They are the hope of the future . . . but when will the future come? Personally, I have been looking for it since 1970 when I was told as a Baptist Student Union director, “There just some things that women can’t do!” It is any wonder that some of our most gifted women are no longer Baptists? Why stay some place where your gifts are not welcomed and utilized?

I think that moderate Baptists in the CBF movement have overpromised and underperformed when it comes to improving the place of women in ministry. And that saddens me.


Anonymous said...

Local church autonomy is always a factor with Baptists.

Ircel said...

Danny, please expand on this. Do you see local autonomy as a plus or a minus in calling women as senior pastors?

Robin Sandbothe said...

Thank you, Ircel, for articulating well what has been on the hearts of women called to ministry who also have a relationship to CBF life. It does this woman in ministry's heart good to know she has an advocate in you.

Chris Harbin said...

I am "afraid" that too many churches are afraid of leadership in a time they desperately need it. They are afraid of change, and though they may give lip service to women in ministry, it is too threatening for many. Others have just not recognized their failure to consider women as possibilities for more than pulpit supply.

Ircel said...

Having a woman as pulpit supply (besides "missionary testimonies") would be a step forward for most of the churches I deal with!