'Creating a fresh momentum for change'
Our figures hide a background of embedded resistance to women’s ministry: the Baptists Together Gender Justice Hub is exploring ways of loosening some of the barriers. Mary Taylor reports from its most recent meeting
On 6 February, 1918, the British Parliament passed the Representation of People Act which extended the vote to all men and to many women over 30. It was the culmination of the campaign for women’s votes that had been running since before the turn of the century.
At a moment when women’s rights are prominent in the media, both commemorating past history and looking at current scandals, members of the Baptists Together Gender Justice Hub met the previous week (Monday 29 January) in Birmingham with other friends who share a vision to see much more progress within our own Baptist life.
Over many years there has been a succession of amazing groups within our Baptist Union who have worked to highlight the need for equality within Baptist life as well as in our wider society. These groups have worked to support women become all that God has called them to be. That Baptists believe that women are equally able to exercise the full range of gifts and offices in the church has been affirmed by Baptist Union Council in February 1926 and then nearly 100 years later in March 2010: it has therefore been the official policy of our Union and our collective understanding of Scripture for a long time.
The most recent group to work together in this way is the Gender Justice Hub. Its vision is to focus on promoting a just culture for women and men. Working alongside the Racial Justice and Disability Justice Hub, we work with a common agenda for enabling and supporting all people to share their gifts equally within the body of Christ whilst understanding the complexities which arise as different aspects of justice intersect.
So, what does the picture look like now? A snapshot of women in Baptist ministry shows that of fully accredited ministers, 16 per cent are women. For those in training and those who are newly-accredited the figures rise to 38 per cent and 34 per cent, so there is movement in good directions.
But the figures hide a background of embedded resistance to women’s ministry, often unconscious but sometimes overtly expressed in theological terms. For those just beginning to explore using their gifts for God or sensing a call to leadership there can be a gender barrier which prevents young women being identified, apprenticed or recognised. A survey by the Sophia Network of women and church life yields many anecdotes of unconscious or active inequality as well statistical evidence. It will be published in March.
Jenni Entrican, reporting from her experience within the European Baptist Federation, mentioned influential teaching in some countries which promotes a theology of male-only leadership and of complementarianism. A theology of equality does not always have the strongest voice. The purpose of gathering a wider group was to explore ways to change this message, especially by action from men alongside women, intentionally identifying and encouraging women with gifting, engaging in biblical and theological teaching that is broader in focus than the ‘problem passages’, and creating a fresh momentum for change.
Looking back to some significant centenaries we want the whole Baptist family to celebrate the pioneering women who pursued their clear call from God and entered ministry and training as pioneers 100 years ago: Edith Gates (1918), Violet Hedger (1919) and Maria Living Taylor (1920).
We also want to spur the Baptist family on to reflect and where necessary repent of the barriers that are still in place for women wanting to exercise fully their gifts and calling in the church.
A number of actions and activities will be promoted on the Baptists Together website: get together, get passionate and get involved. Next up is a conference in June for women in or exploring Baptist ministry.
The Gender Justice Hub meets next on 1 May. If you want to find out more please get in touch.
Mary Taylor (Convenor) firstname.lastname@example.org
Wale Hudson-Roberts (Baptists Together Justice Co-ordinator )
The Story of Women in Ministry in the Baptist Union of Great Britain explores some of the ways in which Baptists have addressed the issue of women in leadership and ministry within our Union.
The Lydia Question - a fresh look at God's calling - downloadable Bible studies to accompany The Story of Women in Ministry in the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Image | Olivia Snow | Unsplash