By Molly Brummett
I am a Baptist female trying to be faithful to God’s call upon my life. From the very fibers within my being I know that I am called to ministry. Yet is there a place for me as a senior pastor within the future of Cooperative Baptist life?
Associated Baptist Press recently reported Carol McEntyre’s call to the senior pastorate at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo. Along with countless others, I celebrate this placement. Carol is a wonderful minister who is more capable and gifted than many of her peers.
Yet McEntyre reported that in the process she dealt with about a dozen different search committees. Some told her she was clearly the best candidate but they just couldn’t bring themselves to recommend a woman as senior pastor.
She even described for a time entertaining thoughts of entering another denomination where she could serve as a pastor. She realized, however, at the core of her being she is Baptist and desired to remain so.
Hosts of daughters within moderate Baptist life know how she feels. The reality is this: Cooperative Baptist churches ordain women but do not call women to preach and to teach as senior pastors with the same intentionality that they call men.
There are many phenomenal male candidates available for CBF pastorates, for sure, but are men automatically better than women as senior pastors? Or are our congregations merely living out the historical double standard between sexes?
Why must we live with a reality that a female senior pastor is presumed less qualified? Why do we still perpetuate this blatant sexism?
This double standard permeates our Cooperative Baptist world. By ordaining women to the ministry but not allowing them to be pastors, we proclaim that gender does matter.
Each time we praise a female for her helping to “break the stained-glass ceiling” or celebrate a church “finally calling a female,” we acknowledge this double standard. By setting “women in ministry” apart, we imply that a called woman is the exception.
When will calling a woman to the pastorate be no more newsworthy than calling a man to the same role in Cooperative Baptist churches? It will happen when we choose to stop fooling ourselves. It will happen when we realize that those who formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, in part as an affirmation of women in ministry, have failed.
Cooperative Baptists raised my generation to believe that in Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female,” but our experience falls short of our belief. As a result, CBF faces the real possibility of losing a generation of well-qualified daughters (and sons) who desire to live out the call of Christ upon their vocational life as congregational ministers but want to do so within a network of churches that take inclusivity and equality seriously.
Genuine change will occur when we realize that our sister in Christ is just as qualified and called as any brother. The double standard will end when we get serious about not only claiming the way of Christ but living out the way of Christ. We must confront the sexism lingering within our Fellowship.
I celebrate with Carol McEntyre that her call is finally affirmed. As I enter my third year of divinity school and look toward the future, her story gives me hope.
I am hopeful, but I am not naïve. On the whole, sexism and its accompanying stained-glass ceiling still remain. The double standard lingers. I know that a “woman in ministry” will continue to be the exception to the rule for my beginning ministerial years.
But I hope and pray the Kingdom shall break into Cooperative Baptist life around this issue. I hope and pray that we dismantle the sexism and double standard that permeates our Fellowship.
I hope and pray, for my generation and for the next, that one day we finally allow all of God’s children to be “ministers” in every sense of that grace-filled calling.