American evangelicals least comfortable with having women as pastors –Barna report

American evangelicals are not that comfortable with having female church leaders compared with Protestant and Catholic groups, according to a recent Barna Group study.

(REUTERS / Randall Hill)Rev. Betty Deas Clark speaks during a memorial ceremony marking the first anniversary of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., which left nine people dead. June 17, 2016.

On Women's Day, Barna Group released a report revealing the sentiments and thoughts of Americans about female leaders. The report, titled "What Americans Think About Women in Power," revealed that only 39 percent of American evangelicals are accepting of a woman as their pastor or priest.

Practicing Christians are more accepting of women pastors, as 62 percent of them are comfortable with having a woman as a ministry leader. The result is higher with Protestants and Catholics, with 74 percent and 80 percent of them, respectively, accepting of church leadership roles for women.

The Barna report also reflects that most (79 percent) of the general American population are comfortable with female priests and pastors. Most men (75 percent) are affirming of a female preacher and the same can be said of most women (84 percent).

According to Barna Group editor-in-chief Roxanne Stone, the study is significant for the church because women make up more than half of most congregations. She said women are also rising up the ranks at work and play increasingly important roles within the workforce. However, the situation is more complicated when it comes to evangelical groups.

"As evidenced by the research, the issue of women in leadership is a complicated one for many evangelicals. There is a long history among evangelicals of emphasizing motherhood and family as a woman's primary calling," Stone explained. "While the broader culture, and much of the Christian church, has shifted away from this, evangelicals seem more reluctant to do so. This reluctance is often tied to a scriptural reading that insists men are to occupy primary leadership positions within the family and church and, by extension, society."

Libby Grammer, a female minister, told Baptist News Global how surprised she is with the results of the Barna study. Based on her experience with the Southern Baptist culture, she would have guessed that only 50 percent --- and not 79 percent as the study reflects --- of Americans are comfortable with female pastors.

For Grammer, the 79 percent figure fits with the situation in Richmond, but not in Chattanooga or the northern part of Georgia. Katie Morgan, who serves at the McLean Baptist Church in McLean, Virginia as a minister of spiritual formation and outreach, said she has observed that more and more women are joining the ministry nowadays.