Sara Herrington Jones is a current student at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Read below as Sara offers a thoughtful reflection on Journey for Justice, an event held earlier this month seeking to empower women in ministry.
Baptist Seminary of Kentucky recently sponsored the annual “Journey for Justice” event in cooperation with Central Baptist Church. Featured guest Rev. Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed addressed issues of justice for women in ministry.
While for some this topic may seem antiquated, how we treat women, and particularly address the question of women in ministry, extends beyond the church. Our intentional practice toward women benefits the whole world. The church where all are embraced as equally created and made in the image of God and empowered to follow the calling of God, brings about an environment in which all may thrive and flourish regardless of gender. Inclusion of women extends beyond denominational or theological structures which are often used to keep “some” people out of leadership. Both in our churches and in other ministries, recognizing women’s gifts for holy and sacred work becomes imperative when viewed through the lens of justice.
The weekend began affirming God’s call of women (citing the story of Mary and Elizabeth). Dr. Campbell-Reed challenged participants to join God’s vision and participate in turning the tides so that churches become more like God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Next we encountered tangible means for pastors, congregations, and search committees to move beyond mere words of affirmation into the action of employment and ordination of women. On Monday, the conference continued as Dr. Campbell-Reed gathered with women in ministry to discuss necessary steps to self-care. Following an afternoon class focusing on recent changes in the church and the need to reclaim our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, the conference wrapped with a worship service and table fellowship. Closing worship advocated for the necessity of and power within the act of blessing ministers and served as a blessing for all in attendance.
Although all of the sessions sparked further conversations with my own congregants, the practicality of the “Beyond Advocacy” session lingers. The truth is that the prevalence of women being hired in my denomination of service remains a dismal 6.5% even when we advocate with our words that God created both male and female in God’s image. In some contexts women are still told by those in power that they are not capable of sharing the good news merely because their biological make up differs from XY chromosomes. So what can we do? Dr. Campbell-Reed offered several tangible ways to put action to our words of advocacy, but three action items emerge for me as most important:
First, we need courage. Both as individuals and as congregations we need courage to stop hiding behind the adage, “we’re just not ready yet.” Confront that falsehood! Instead, speak the uncomfortable truth and bring it to life, “Yes. We are ready. The time is now.” It takes courage but the Holy Spirit will lead if we are truly willing to follow. It means following in the narrow way – a way unexpected and unfamiliar – and confronting our fear rather than acquiescing to what is easy and familiar.
Second, we need to talk with the women who are applying for the positions. When a congregation has been happy with an older man who is father to 2.5 kids under the age of 5 (such a person does not really exist), naturally the congregational surveys and profile reports reflect those qualities as the ideal candidate. It’s what has always been known. Many congregations report that they are pleasantly surprised that women have better suited their ministry requirements and congregational personalities. The best fit for the congregation emerged only when committees or congregations agreed to interview the women candidates who had applied for ministerial roles. It meant leaning into the Spirit and having courage rather than opting for the easiness of “we’re not ready yet” statements. At least talk with the candidates and be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit at work.
Third, we need to have equitable pay and offer block raises (not percentage-based raises). If the Holy Spirit and congregational discernment process leads a church to hire a female minister, equitable pay is absolute. (If you don’t think this is a real problem in the twenty-first century, here’s a personal story: I was once told my salary would necessarily be less than the male staff members in the new budget because they were the providers for their families even when both have wives who earn more than they do.) The church will not have a voice of authority on issues of justice for all of God’s people if in our practice we miss this mark. We need to have absolute transparency and intention when it comes to equal pay practices.
If we are brutally honest, the root issue of women in ministry is a primal struggle to act as Jesus did – recognizing the equality and value of all people, and the ability of all people to share the Good News. It is the news which Christ himself proclaimed: the kingdom or reign of God does not look like the world! How can we be more intentional about joining the work Jesus began when he proclaimed the good news of God for all people? I believe if we’re serious, we will start with the three tangible steps Dr. Campbell-Reed suggests.