It Isn’t Easy, But Being a Woman In Seminary Is Worth the Work

Pearl / Lightstock
Pearl / Lightstock

When I started seminary a few years ago, I didn’t really feel as if I belonged. I’m a conservative Christian woman in her 40s with several English degrees and a full-time teaching job—a far cry from the typical divinity school student.

From the outside, I look like the kind of woman described in a recent Buzzfeed article. As someone who grew up in a conservative Christian home and was shaped by the religious right movement of the ’80s and ’90s, I resonate with many of the concerns shared by the women the author interviewed: passionate commitment to social justice, authentic acknowledgement of human weakness, and a strong desire for community. Sometimes dubbed “New Evangelical Women,” their numbers are legion, filling arena after arena for gatherings like the Belong Tour, creating online communities like She Reads Truth, and boosting product and book sales for parachurch ministries like Beth Moore’s Living Proof.

In evangelical seminaries, however, women are relatively scarce. According to the Association of Theological Schools, in 2015 women filled only one of every three divinity school seats, and as Sharon Hodde Miller notes, the gap is even greater for evangelical schools. The gender disparity makes sense. Female divinity school graduates don’t have many job prospects, in part because of restrictions in pastoral and teaching roles in certain evangelical denominations and their affiliated schools. Cedarville University, for example, prohibits men from enrolling in courses taught by their female Bible faculty. Other factors contribute to low numbers of female seminarians, as well. Many married evangelical women—with or without children—shoulder domestic responsibilities and therefore don’t have time for seminary (or higher education more generally). And of course lack of money is often a problem.

Nonetheless, women crave spiritual nourishment and theological education no less than men. The universality of this desire is evidenced by the explosion of the Christian blogosphere, with its niche emphases on mothering, relationships, pop-theology, and life coaching. Women by the scores turn to these resources for discipleship, spiritual formation, and edification. Why? Some local churches simply don’t offer theologically substantive ministries for their female members. For the ministries that do, some suffer from a lack of formal support by church leadership, and others can’t compete with the flashy, mass-marketed resources of online ministries.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Marybeth Davis Baggett