Protestant pastors in America have major differences on the issue of women in pastoral roles, a new Lifeway Research survey that indicates the divide is largely along denominational lines says.
The poll, released Tuesday, found that 55 percent of Protestant pastors say a woman could be a senior pastor at their church.
But the findings vary dramatically according to the denomination. Although 94 percent of Methodist pastors and 78 percent of Pentecostal pastors say a woman could be a senior pastor at their church, only 14 percent of Baptist pastors answered that way. Three-quarters of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (77 percent) answered in the affirmative, while Lutheran pastors (47 percent) and non-denominational pastors (43 percent) were less likely to say a woman could be a senior pastor.
“Someone without context may think differences of opinion on where women can serve in church are simply fickle or archaic perspectives. But these are not questions of opinion as much as biblical interpretation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This question has been debated for centuries with biblical scholars in different denominations coming to different conclusions about what Scripture means.”
Although 76 percent of mainline pastors said a woman could be a senior pastor at their church, only 44 percent of evangelical pastors did. The issue of women serving as deacons found slightly more agreement, with 79 percent of mainstream pastors and 56 percent of evangelical pastors agreeing.
“The reason some pastors make a distinction between women leading as pastors or deacons or even teaching men compared to other leadership roles is because of how they interpret the Bible,” McConnell said. “In the Apostle Paul’s letters, he gives instructions to churches regarding these specific roles. But Protestant churches disagree on his intent.”
The poll involved interviews with 1,000 Protestant pastors.
“While the Apostle Paul mentions differences in a couple of specific church roles, any difference in the standing of women and men in the church ends there,” McConnell said. “When discussing a person’s relationship with God, he teaches, ‘There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28, CSB).”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.