The category of “women preachers” has drastically risen in recent days and while some celebrate this trend—others are very concerned. How did we arrive at this juncture? Why are more women pursuing the pulpit and why are more Christian leaders promoting this movement? While we can’t be certain about the motives of certain leaders who seem very complicit in this uptick in women preachers, we can be certain that there is reason for concern.
The Increased Numbers
In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a rise in the number of women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” In a new statistical analysis, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.”
While this is mainly Mainline denominations, the trend still demonstrates an uptick across the board. When adding totals from American Baptist Churches USA, Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations, the numbers indicate 32 percent of clergy from those denominations in 2017. Compare the most recent percentage total (32%) with numbers from 1994 (15%) and 1977 (2.3%) and the trend is easy to follow. The numbers reveal an explosive growth of women serving in the office of pastor.
It seems that while evangelical churches are still slow to respond to this trend, there is an increase nonetheless. However, if you remove the office of pastor from the statistical analysis within evangelicalism—you would discover that many women are regularly preaching in conferences and church settings. This trend has continued to rise through the popularity of Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer along with others who are popular within the LifeWay brand and the Southern Baptist Convention. Look for these numbers to drastically grow in the coming days, especially if the recent heated debate on the need to elect a woman as the president of the SBC is any indicator of where this conversation is headed in the future.
Social Justice Agenda
Russsell Moore recently talked to Laruen Green of Fox News and suggested that “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” is about race and a refusal to pursue racial reconciliation. Not only is this a poor assessment of the issues at hand, it’s a complete misrepresentation by Russell Moore. To make matters worse, he actually stated the following:
What we’re really talking about is race. And so, I think we have a long lasting issue within evangelicalism of people saying ‘Let’s not talk about issues of racial reconciliation, unity, and justice—that would be a distraction from the gospel.’ That’s exactly what was happening in the 19th century as it related to human slavery. That’s exactly what was happening in the 1920s and 1950s as it related to Jim Crow and it persists among us.
According to Russell Moore, the Statement on social justice is merely about race. In an unbelievable slanderous manner, he aligns us with the oppressive and sinful agenda of the Jim Crow era. Not only is that unbelievable, but he didn’t want to address Lauren Green’s point about Voddie Baucham’s involvement with the Statement and his positions as a black man who served as a pastor in the United States for years before moving to Zambia. Furthermore, what Russell Moore didn’t want to discuss is the Statement’s denial in Article XI on Complementarianism where we point to the unique roles of biblical manhood and womanhood and insist that remaining consistent in our positions of complementarianism will not prohibit women from flourishing within the church for the glory of God. Out of a total of fourteen articles in the Statement, only two of them are specifically designed to address the issue of race.
Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the Ace of Spades in a card game. The victim approach to ladder climbing is both politically correct and extremely powerful. According to specific data, women are claiming to be discriminated against in their work environment—claiming that unreal expectations are placed upon them on a regular basis. Now, with the rise of the #MeToo hashtag, it’s clear that women are speaking out, speaking up, and demanding that when they step up—they must be accepted.
The social justice movement is driving a strong egalitarian agenda down Main Street of evangelicalism. Some would argue that this is an unfair assessment, but let’s be honest, if it’s not egalitarian—whatever we call this trend, it shouldn’t be labeled complementarian. When Beth Moore stepped into the #MeToo world with her twitter account and social media presence, it was like throwing gasoline on an open flame.
A well meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry. It didn’t. #MeToo
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) October 16, 2017
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) October 16, 2017
What I’m not suggesting is that women who have been mistreated or abused should remain silent. What I am suggesting is that this social justice agenda is now claiming that we must not only admit wrong in the past by how we have mistreated, discriminated against, oppressed, and held back women from serving in the life of the church—but now we must empower them.
It’s precisely this language of empowerment that is quite disturbing. J.D. Greear released a short video just prior to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at which he was elected as the president of the SBC, and in that video he pointed to the need for empowering women. He likewise tweeted back to Beth Moore and stated that he saw a need for the “tearing down of all hierarchy.” Therefore, it seems clear that many in the SBC, including Russell Moore are committed to this new direction and social justice is the platform that’s being used to make it happen. In a recent post on Instagram, Russell Moore who serves as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC, posted a picture of himself with Beth Moore and Jamie Ivey. The caption for the picture read, “What a joy to get to minister with two heroes in the faith @bethmorrelpm and @jamieivey here at #erlc18!” Now, if you read the comments, you would find a lady (inesmcbryde) who responded with these words:
sooooo jealous that you get to hear her! she was the first woman preacher i ever heard in the USA when i was in college. made my preacher heart awaken! love mama beth. 💜
If God had a plan from the beginning that was spelled out in the Garden of Eden and rooted in creation why must we suddenly change directions now? If the early church recognized God’s intent in the differing roles and responsibilities of women as revealed in the sufficient Word of God—why now are we suddenly hearing a consistent drum beat of empowerment within the social justice conversation?
We need doctrinal clarity, definitional clarity, and methodological clarity in evangelicalism on issues related to complementarianism. When the Word of God takes the central place in the life of the local church and the church body is consistently looking to the elders for leadership and shepherding through God’s Word—what will emerge is a healthy church where both men and women flourish for the glory of God. When social justice and any other cultural fad takes the focus off of God’s plan for his church—then the people will walk down a broken road filled with many pains.