Do Baptists Believe that Women Should Not Be Preachers?

by Bethney Foster
Women were ordained pastors and preachers in the early history of Baptist churches.

Women were ordained pastors and preachers in the early history of Baptist churches.

Some Baptists believe women can be preachers and some Baptists do not. There are dozens of different Baptist denominations, each taking different stands on women's role in the church. In addition, Baptist doctrine calls for autonomy of the individual church in making decisions, meaning each congregation decides whether to ordain women to preach or to call a woman to the role of pastor.

Early History

In 1640, Baptist women were preaching in England, and as early as 1754 a woman was preaching in Baptist churches in America. During and following the First Great Awakening revival in the 1730s and 1740s, the Separate Baptist denomination formed and allowed women to be preachers, deacons and elders. Lura Mains was an ordained minister in two Michigan Free Will Baptist churches in 1877.

Restrictions

According to the Baptist History and Heritage Society many early churches might have allowed women to preach, but often refused to appoint them as elders or pastors. The Particular Baptist denomination formed in the 17th century and limited ministry to men. When the Southern Baptist Convention, with the largest membership of any Baptist denomination, organized in 1845 the only participants were men. By the time of the 1885 meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention changed its constitution to make an explicit rule that only men would be allowed to participate.

Advances

Despite the Southern Baptist Convention's refusal to allow women to participate, women were preaching in other Baptist denominations in the 19th century. There were women pastors at six Free Will Baptist churches and one American Baptist church. In 1918, the Southern Baptist Convention allowed women participants for the first time. Even then, a man gave the Women's Missionary Union report to the convention and women were not speakers. That changed in 1929, when a woman gave the Women's Missionary Union report for the first time. In 1965, Addie Davis was the first woman ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Opposition

As women began to regain some ground as preachers, pastors and leaders in Baptist churches, a formidable opposition arose in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Women's Missionary Union, which has been an independent auxiliary of women in the Southern Baptist Convention since 1888, came under attack from a coalition within the denomination. In 1984 the convention passed a resolution that stated women should not be pastors. In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention changed its statement of faith, limiting the role of pastor to men only.

Today

Most Southern Baptist congregations do not ordain women as pastors today. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, along with other Baptist denominations and individual congregations, generally does allow women to be ordained and to preach, according to the Baptist History and Heritage Society. However, there are few women answering the call. According to the Baptist Standard, as of 2008, there were 600 women who were pastors or co-pastors of Baptist churches.

About the Author

Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.

Photo Credits

  • Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images