While many roles in the Baptist church have been opened to women, traditionally that of pastor and co-pastor have been off limits. The largest faction of Baptists in America, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), does not allow women to serve in the ministry. However, since the Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) formed in 1983, more Baptist fellowships have accepted the ordination of women.

A Brief History

The first Baptist church was founded in 1612 in England, and now claims over 40 million members worldwide. Instead of the infant baptism popular with many Christian religions, Baptists believe a baptism must be performed only for believers who have chosen to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The congregant is fully immersed in a body of water, signifying a rebirth. At the time one becomes a disciple of Christ, it is his or her mission to evangelize and spread the word of the gospel. Baptists adhere strictly to scripture, believing the word of the Bible to be inerrant. However, many Baptist churches differ in their scriptural focus, their progressive or conservative stances, and their attitudes toward women in ministry. In contrast to the Catholic faith, which looks to the pope as a central authoritative figure, Baptists believe the Bible alone is the Word of God and any believer who studies the gospels can preach. However, in the Southern Baptist Convention, this only applies to male believers.

The Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is the second largest religious denomination in the U.S., second only to Catholics. Southern Baptists, also known as Great Commission Baptists, are the most conservative arm of the Baptist faith, and hold great power in the South, both culturally and politically. The Southern Baptist Convention’s website states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” While they profess that women are equal in value to men, the Southern Baptists' position statement on women in ministry says that “Scripture teaches that a woman's role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men.”

Baptist Women In Ministry

The Baptist Women In Ministry was formed in 1983 with the purpose of “drawing together women and men in partnership with God” and supporting the talents of women who are called to ministry. In the U.S., the earliest known ordained female minister on record was M.A. Brennan. In 1876, she served as a minister at the Bellevernon Freewill Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. For centuries, women’s roles in the Baptist church have been crucial, as they lead missions and educate youth, and many women have served as Baptist ministers without being ordained. In recent decades, with BWIM’s support, women have begun to be officially recognized and ordained as ministers. According to the BWIM’s “The State of Women in Baptist Life” report in 2010, across the U.S. more than 2,000 women have been ordained as Baptist ministers. It is not clear, however, whether all of these women have been able to find ministry positions open to them.

Baptist Fellowships Open to Women in Ministry

Many factions of the Baptist faith, such as the Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Conservative Baptist Fellowship, have opened their doors to women in the ministry. Like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Conservative Baptist Fellowship also adheres to scripture, but it cites this passage in Galatians 3:27-28: “As many of you as are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” CBF’s founding statement reads, “We interpret the reference to women the same way we interpret the reference to slaves. If we have submissive roles for women, we must also have a place for slaves in the Church. … [Jesus] treated women as equally capable of dealing with sacred issues. Our model for the role of women in matters of faith is the Lord Jesus.”