16 March 2008

April 2008

by Rod Benson

Australia has a female Deputy Prime Minister, two female High Court Judges, and numerous women company directors, CEOs, professionals and senior academics. Victoria has a female police commissioner, and Victorian Baptists nurtured the first woman President of the Baptist Union of Australia. Victoria leads the way in ordaining women to Baptist leadership.

There are also many hundreds of women who lead, teach and serve God and others in Victorian Baptist churches, and in the wider community.

But all is not well. Women called to lead in the church face ostracism, disempowerment and even denunciation based on their gender. Men simply do not face these challenges.

Developing women pastoral leaders is especially difficult. Some women are reluctant to pursue formal studies, aware that there may be no place to serve upon graduation. There may be few churches willing to employ a female lead pastor, and this lack of demand creates additional problems when women pastors seek a second or third pastorate. Gifted women often move from a church into chaplaincy or other roles. Male pastors, by contrast, normally find it easier to secure pastorates once experienced and more mature.

Even where church leaders are progressive on gender, and a church appears committed to gender equality, a church meeting may fail to call a woman pastor for various unspoken reasons. Or a denominational committee may treat women applicants more rigorously than men.

And what to do when a female pastor (or denominational committee member) begins bearing children? Or when her husband is offered a job transfer out of the community? Or when other women in the church feel sexually or psychologically threatened by the presence of a woman pastor? These and other related issues bear careful consideration.

It is little wonder that gifted, well-trained and experienced women continue to drift away from the church, and out of it altogether.

We must learn to view women and men as equals, as God views them. For some, this will be very hard. Thank you, Victorian Baptists, for demonstrating leadership and courage on this vital issue.

Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney.