D.A. Carson

New social-media explosion could make news: Should Protestants have women pastors?

New social-media explosion could make news: Should Protestants have women pastors?


Should women be pastors or preachers in U.S. Protestant churches?


The above issue erupted in recent days among U.S. evangelicals (more on this in a moment). In the interest of full disclosure, the (Protestant) Religion Guy’s personal opinion on this is yes, and in fact his own local congregation has its first female pastor. But as usual “Religion Q & A” intends to provide a non-partisan journalistic survey.

Let’s first note that Catholic and Orthodox tradition bars any realistic prospect of female priests, even as increasing numbers of U.S. Protestant women become ministers. The Association of Theological Schools reports women are 30 percent of the students (mostly Protestants) in member seminaries preparing for the M.Div. professional clergy degree.

With “mainline” Protestants, the Congregationalist ancestors of today’s United Church of Christ ordained America’s first female, Antoinette Brown, in 1853, though she later went Unitarian and few other women followed till the 20th Century. Women achieved full clergy status in e.g. predecessor bodies of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1956 and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1970, and in the Episcopal Church in 1977 (following non-canonical protest ordinations in 1974).

Among “evangelical” Protestants, from the late 19th Century some denominations appointed women to such leadership roles as preacher, evangelist, missionary or deacon, and in certain instances to clergy status. But most congregations barred women pastors, either de facto or de jure.

Lately, a vigorous evangelical movement has formalized the belief that limiting pastors, preachers and lay officers to males is God’s mandate in the Bible. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) organized in 1987. Its founding “Danvers Statement” defined Protestant “complementarianism,” meaning the two genders have distinct roles that complement each other, over against “egalitarians.”

This document teaches that gender distinctions are part of God’s “created order.”

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Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Evangelical voices persist: What about traditional believers who didn’t choose to be gay?

Here’s a remarkable book with news potential that no reputable evangelical publisher would have issued, say, five or 10 years ago: “Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity” by Gregory Coles.

Significantly, New Testament scholar D.A. Carson, a staunch conservative, blurbs that the work “needs to be thoughtfully read by straight people, and by gay people, by unbelievers and by Christians” -- and read “with humility.”

The publisher is the book division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, long hassled by many colleges because its student officers are expected to uphold Christian tradition, including the limitation of sex to one-man- one-woman marriage. Last year, IVCF reaffirmed that policy for employees, sparking media coverage. (InterVarsity hires those of  “LGBTQI identity” if they support its orthodox stance on sexual morals.)

Coles is a church musician and active member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in State College, Pa. He’s solidly evangelical, thus takes seriously what the Bible teaches, carefully examined the arguments from liberal revisionists but concluded that scripture opposes same-sex marriages and sexual relationships.

What then? Though he has no idea why, since youth he’s been “unable to conjure even the slightest heterosexual desire,” and this is no “choice.” He prayed earnestly. He cried. He “felt dirty, worthless, irredeemable.” After long struggles he “stopped praying to be straight” and doesn’t see how that could ever occur. Thus, he’s concluded that he is “a thing that wasn’t supposed to exist: a single gay Christian.”    

The book is a heartfelt plea to fellow evangelicals to rethink their approach to this, the most divisive issue to face U.S. Protestantism since slavery.

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