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Religion Library: Baptist

Gender and Sexuality

Written by: David Buschart

There is no single Baptist view of matters related to gender, nor to issues of sexuality.As with other topics, the diversity of views on these two topics reflects the fact that the Baptist tradition is marked by autonomy or independence among its churches; thus, there is no centralized authority to make determinations regarding these issues.This said, in general Baptists have historically held to views of gender and sexuality that are consistent with commonly-held Protestant views.More recently, a significantly increased diversity of views has emerged, as has been true in most Protestant traditions.

In the earliest centuries of the Baptist tradition (early 17th through mid-18th centuries), the pastors and formally recognized leaders were men.This male-only pattern was a function of both the larger societal context, in which formal leadership roles were almost exclusively open to men only, and the belief that the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:11-15), prohibited women from certain leadership positions, particularly that of pastor.Women supported these men and the work of the churches in a variety of ways, mostly through or as extensions of their domestic roles.

In the 19th century, women began to assume more public roles.One of the more common avenues in which women began to exercise more public and formal leadership was through Christian missions.Through both mission societies that were for women and societies that were not gender-specific, women like Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) provided both leadership and strategic rank-and-file participation in efforts to carry the gospel of Christ to places around the globe.Moreover, women, such as Lottie Moon (1840-1912), were among those missionaries who went to those places around the globe, learned foreign languages, and carried out the work of mission, sometimes including preaching and teaching.As in other Protestant traditions, women working in contexts outside the United States, particularly in situations where the ministry needs were urgent and no men were available, sometimes carried out responsibilities, including preaching, teaching, and baptizing, which they were not permitted to fulfill in North America.

Over the course of the 20th century, women's roles further changed, and, once again, these changes were not unrelated to changes in the larger societal context.Beginning in the 1960s and continuing beyond, women have assumed increasingly public leadership roles within the Baptist tradition.In some predominantly white Baptist conventions or associations, such as the American Baptist Churches, USA, this includes ordained pastoral ministry.In other predominantly white conventions or associations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, women cannot be ordained or hold the position of "pastor."Among these churches and conventions, the lines of distinction between Baptist conventions or associations that ordain women and those that do not largely parallel the lines of division among Baptist groups emerging from the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the early-and-mid-20th century.Women have long held important leadership roles, not least as deaconesses and "mothers of the church."Some African American churches recognize women as "evangelist-preachers" who can preach and teach the entire congregation, including men.

 

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