Women in ministry continue to feel blocked in their callings and ignored in their ministry because they are women, according to an annual report released June 21 by Baptist Women in Ministry.
“The State of Women in Baptist Life,” which surveyed 555 female ministers from October to December 2021, found that 86% of respondents “feel barriers due to gender” and 59% “said they were ignored and silenced in their ministry.
The survey also reported that 63% of Baptist women in ministry said they “have to fight for a place at the table” in their roles, and 25% said “yes” when asked if they had been victims of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct in their work. ministry settings.
“Some victims are ashamed and fear being silenced, not believed or even blamed. Many victims find it difficult to label their experience as harassment or assault and find it easier to act as if it never happened,” the report explains. “Even if the BWIM survey was anonymous, it is likely that the actual number of women involved is higher.”
But the survey also documented supportive and positive experiences for women in ministry, as well as the progress they have made overall.
“Compared to 2015 data, this 2021 report definitely shows that Baptists continue to make progress for women in ministry in almost every area,” he says. “Even with the sharp drop in ordinations during the pandemic, the annual average of women ordained from 2016 to 2021 has increased from the previous report’s average. The number of female pastors and co-pastors increased from 2015, and all faith groups had a higher percentage of women serving at the highest levels of pastoral ministry.
Number of ordained women growing
BWIM said its number of ordained women ministers increased from 2,433 in 2016 to 2,722 last year.
“From 2016 to 2021, Texas (57), North Carolina (51), Georgia (47) and Virginia (36) hosted the majority of female ordinations. These states also had the highest number of ordinations in previous reports. The correlation is most likely due to the Baptist-affiliated seminaries located in each of these states, as students frequently seek ordination during or shortly after their time at the seminary.
But the good news must be taken with the bad, according to the report.
“Every ordination, call, installation and positive experience of a Baptist woman in ministry depicted in this report is cause for celebration,” said BWIM Executive Director Meredith Stone. “But Baptist women deserve safe places where they are affirmed, respected and empowered for ministry. Unfortunately, this report reveals that much work remains to be done to make a Baptist world just for women a reality.
BWIM added that the project “captures the complex lived experiences of women in ministry today, recognizing that women are not monolithic and that the personal experiences of women in ministry have fluctuated incredibly over the years. complex”.
This complexity is evident in statistics on women in leadership positions in ministry, including BWIM’s findings that the number of female Baptist pastors and co-pastors increased from 174 in 2015 to 272 in 2021.
By faith group, the American Baptist Churches in the United States, with 440, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, with 105, lead the pack in 2021 in terms of most women pastors and co-pastors, according to the report. They were followed by the Alliance of Baptists (60), the Baptist General Association of Virginia (48), the Baptist General Convention of Texas (33), the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (33), and the DC Baptist Convention (28).
But the growth is very slow
While this is a positive development, the numbers don’t tell the whole story, BWIM said. “For most faith-based organizations, the percentage increase was very small, indicating that while Baptists are making progress, progress over the past six years has been minimal.”
BWIM noted that the Alliance maintained the highest percentage (45.1%) of congregations led by women pastors or co-pastors, although its total number did not change from 2015 to 2016.
The survey also indicated that while the percentage of CBF congregations with female pastors and co-pastors increased to 7.4% in 2021, the increase was due to a decline in the total number of affiliated churches. The Fellowship’s figure of 105 is down from 117 in 2015.
“There is far too much space between the beliefs we hold and the reality that exists in our Fellowship.”
“This is neither acceptable nor an expression of the faith we hold,” CBF executive coordinator Paul Baxley said in comments included in the report. “This year’s report on The Status of Women in Baptist Life makes it incredibly clear that there is far too much space between the beliefs we hold and the reality that exists in our community.”
Baxley said CBF will work closely with BWIM to inspire churches to call women to ministry, adding that there are many candidates in the pipeline. “About half of the students in our theological schools today are women, and there are increasing numbers of women in other positions on the church staff.”
Obstacles are like rocks
But much more needs to be done to change the attitudes of clergy and congregations about the valuable role of female clergy, the report continues.
“The obstacles that women in ministry face often resemble the size of rocks. Some women are told they cannot serve in the ministry because of their gender. Other times they are theoretically encouraged in their calls to ministry and supported to serve in another church, but are told repeatedly that they cannot minister here.
The report included many comments from women ministers about their experiences.
“I felt the call to preach, but I have no support in my local community. … I know I am called upon, but I feel lost and unsupported and often completely ignored,” said a former youth minister.
The survey also reported that 21% of Baptist women in ministry have been asked inappropriate questions about family planning in interviews and other settings, and 28% have been asked inappropriate questions about their love life. .
Additionally, 30% said they were given different ministerial titles than their male counterparts, 49% said they were paid less than male clergy, and 72% said they had to provide more evidence of competence than male ministers. .
Of those surveyed, 57% said men were recognized for their ideas, 67% said men interrupted or talked about them, and 45% had been seen by peers or church members. “After my first sermon, a congregant asked my husband if he had written my sermon,” a pastor said.
“In light of the statistics on the barriers women continue to face in ministry, there appears to be a disconnect between how Baptists think they support women in ministry and the reality of women’s experiences in their middle,” BWIM said in the report.
As a result, comments on the survey often reflected considerations or decisions to leave for other Christian traditions.
“Although I still identified with my Baptist roots, I decided to go into service in another denomination where I would be invited to serve as a pastor and use the gifts I had received. I miss my connections with Baptist churches, but I don’t think there is a place for me,” a pastor told BWIM.
Bigger challenges for women of color
The survey also found that women of color in ministry felt challenged even more than white women. When asked if their leadership was seen as controlling, angry, or unsympathetic, 65% of women of color said yes, compared to 46% of white clergy women.
Similarly, 62% of women of color said their professional contributions were ignored, compared to 44% of white clergy women. And when asked if people comment on their emotional states, 46% of women of color said yes compared to 38% of white women.
BWIM found that these disparities continued during the COVID-19 pandemic when 35% of women of color reported insufficient access to mental health care resources, while only 24% of white women said the same.
Pandemic lingering effects
The BWIM report includes an entire section exploring the impact of the pandemic on Baptist women in ministry. He revealed that 72% suffered from burnout, 48% had more responsibilities at home and 50% felt pressured to spend more time in ministry. A further 42% said they were considering “downgrading their ministry” or taking a leave of absence, and 34% actually left the ministry due to the pandemic.
The pandemic, according to the report, “could set back progress in women’s representation in the workplace by half a decade, after many women left their jobs in part because of burnout and increasing care responsibilities”.
BWIM concluded that there is much to celebrate despite the roles of the pandemic, the continued decline of Baptist institutions, and the gap between belief and practice contributing to the challenges women face in ministry.
“There is cause for celebration in the trends of overall growth of women in ministry in the 2021 report. There is also a deep need for Baptists to reimagine how churches, institutions and our own attitudes toward women can develop into broader methods of increasing support for women in ministry.
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