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Posted by on Jan 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

Historic NC Baptist Church Calls Lesbian Pastor

The historic Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has called a lesbian as pastor.  Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber comes to this progressive Baptist congregation, located on the campus of Wake Forest University, from the San Francisco Bay Area where she served as Associate Pastor at Shell Ridge Community Church of Walnut Creek.

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Yarber is a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Brewton-Parker College and McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.  Yarber receive her doctorate in Art and Religion from Graduate Theological Union, an affiliate of University of California-Berkeley.  Yarber has served Baptist churches since 1999 and was ordained in 2004.  As a professional dancer and artist, Yarber’s ministry focuses on the intersection of arts (performing and visual) with worship and education.

Yarber joins Rev. Dr. Susan Parker at Wake Forest Baptist Church.  The congregation has adopted a shared ministry model that abandons the traditional Senior Pastor/Associate Pastor/Co-Pastor labels.  Yarber’s focus as pastor is on preaching and worship while Parker’s focus is on pastoral care.

In 1998, Parker was at the center of a controversy over homosexuality which attracted national attention and was the subject of the award-winning documentary A Union in Wait.  Parker, then a student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and her partner requested permission to hold a covenant ceremony in WFU’s Wait Chapel where Wake Forest Baptist Church meets.  After months of discussion, WFU President Thomas Hearn decided not to interfere in the affairs of the congregation and the covenant ceremony was held in Wait Chapel in September, 2000.

Wake Forest Baptist Church began dialogue on the status of gays and lesbians in 1993, when the church revised its weekly bulletin to say it was “an inclusive Christian community.”  In 1998, the 300-member congregation voted to allow church space to be used for same-sex covenant ceremonies.  The controversial union ceremony was finally held in Wait Chapel in September, 2000.

As a result of the church’s decision to perform the union, the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina cut ties with the congregation.  A year prior, the congregation voted to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention.  The church cited its displeasure with the increasingly conservative policies of the denomination, specifically its stand on women in ministry, targeting Jews and Mormons for evangelism and isolation of congregations that reach out to gays and lesbians.

Wake Forest Baptist Church is currently affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

According to a study produced by Baptist Women in Ministry in 2007, there were only 113 women serving as pastors of Baptist churches in the United States.  Veteran religion journalist Yonat Shimron notes that there are only two other Baptist churches in the South, Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a lesbian pastor.

With the calling of Yarber, Wake Forest Baptist Church becomes the only known Baptist congregation in the South with two openly lesbian pastors.

For more information on the Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber, see her personal website.  For more on the history of Wake Forest Baptist Church and its efforts on behalf of civil rights and gay rights, see here.

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17 Comments

  1. Do you have any comment on this?

  2. Perhaps I should have added that Angela was my youth minister when I was a senior in High School, a close friend of my family and one of my best friends over the past decade.

  3. If that’s a comment, it’s implicit. But ok.

  4. I don’t think anything is implicit. I’m for inclusion and the welcoming & affirming of gays and lesbians. I’ve noted that here on at least a handful of occasions. I’m the author of the history of the Alliance of Baptists featured on their website and am a member of a Baptist church that supports the ministries of both the Alliance and CBF.

    In the last year, I’ve been rather critical of how Royal Lane was treated in an ABP op-ed and a few posts here.

  5. Sorry, I had missed that. Is your church affiliated with BGCT?

  6. Yes and they’ve sent a few messengers the past two Novembers that I’ve been a member.

  7. Just wanted to say hello from Vidalia. I’m a 1974 graduate of VHS and Georgia Southwestern.

    I work with Southern Nuclear Company and I just wondered if your dad is James Weaver.

    I like your site. My cousin, who is a graduate of Vanderbilt and in a progressive Baptist Church in Nashville, sent it to me.

  8. Hi AARON,

    I think it’s time for Christian people to put their stones down.

    • And when Jesus had shamed the crowd into throwing down their stones and leaving, asking the woman where are your accusers and stating that he did not condemn her, he said go and SIN NO MORE. He called it what it was.

  9. You noted that there were just 113 female pastors of Baptist churches in the United States. Though Southern Baptists were never really inclined to consider calling female pastors, and the conservative resurgence effectively ended what inclination there might have been, don’t you find it surprising that the breakoff groups, the Alliance and CBF, along with the more “liberal” African American Baptist denominations and ABC-USA, have not succeeded in putting more women in the pulpit? In fact, it seems that ground is being lost in terms of numbers, not gained. I tend to think that this number will always remain small among Baptists. Women are usually the strongest leaders in African AMerican Baptist churches, but they rarely if ever consider calling one as pastor.

    What do you think is the reason for this?

  10. I’m not sure we can compare the plight of women in predominantly white Baptist organizations with the plight of women in African-American Baptist denominations. The Black Church has a rather unique history and unique culture with its own set of dynamics. I don’t know how many of those 113 senior or associate pastors are serving predominantly Black congregations. But I suspect it’s very very few.

    Here’s my stab at the rest of your question.

    Moderate/Progressive congregations that are likely to call a woman are generally medium-sized churches OR smaller churches that have declined in size over the years. Nonetheless, these churches typically look for a candidate with a number of years experience in the pulpit.

    So, how many Baptist women out there meet those qualifications? Not many.

    Most pastors start out in small churches. But small churches that are willing to take someone straight out of seminary with no experience are generally rural. Rural congregations typically are more conservative and less likely to call a female.

    Women then have very few opportunities to preach, can’t get the experience they need and so don’t get looked at for the medium-sized, more urban churches.

    I think moderates did a decent job of pushing a pro-women in ministry plank but failed to “pressure” pro-WIM moderate churches to actually hire a female pastor or associate pastor. I’m sure there are quite a few moderate churches out there that have professed a pro-WIM position but rarely, if ever, invited a woman to preach when the pastor is out of town, etc.

    My mother-in-law is a Truett grad and hopefully will be ordained in 2011. She wants to preach but there are very few opportunities.

  11. While that study is a faithful representation of those who responded to the survey, it did not include countless other Baptist churches who DO have women as pastors. For example, I was pastoring a church in CA and never received a survey. It only listed something like 2 Baptist senior pastors who are female in the entire state of CA. When I read the study I was shocked because I could have listed at least 10 Baptist female sr pastors in the Bay Area alone. The study was primarily limited to CBF churches in the Southeast. I knew of very few ABC churches that even received the survey. So, there are clearly far more than 113 Baptist female pastors out there. Because Baptists are far from monolithic and their polity has no central organization that keeps records of such things, it’s really hard to determine how many female Baptist pastors there really are.

  12. Yea, if you look at the survey breakdown, it only attempts to count women serving in Alliance, CBF, SBC, BGCT and BGAV congregations – so it’s basically a survey of congregations with current/past ties to the SBC.

    ABC-USA and its related seminaries are not examined.

    According to a a 2005 study, there are 563 American Baptist (ABC-USA) women serving in pastoral ministry. That number includes Associate Pastors and there is a little overlap with the women included in the 2006 BWIM survey. Nonetheless, that at least puts the number of women as Senior or Co-Pastor over 500 (entire U.S.)

    So roughly 24% of Alliance-affiliated congregations 5.9% of CBF congregations and 10% of ABC-USA congregations…have a female Senior Pastor or Co-Pastor

    The ABC survey is here:

    http://www.amazon.com/American-Baptist-Women-Pastoral-Ministry/dp/1929569432

  13. I dont understand how anyone who is homosexual could be a babtist preacher. no matter what gender. what kind of bible do you go by is what i want to know?? because God CLEARLY states that no man shall have sexual relations with another man and same with women.
    thats my take on this. go by Godsss word. stop twisting it!

  14. I know that me and God love her.

  15. It is called “scissor & tape” religion… one cuts out of the Bible what they don’t like and tapes in place what they want. I don’t know why they just don’t say God was an infidel tree attempting to run a universe or maybe he never finished college! Really, why waste a perfectly good Sunday morning worshiping a God they imply
    Is wrong.
    Dave

  16. What a abomination! Wow has America spiraled downward in sin and continues to do so…education, ideas, humanism, gay activist or better known as plain out sin that has replaced solid Bible interpretation and has polluted the house of God; can u say COMPROMISE! Let me guess, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of tax evasion; wake up Christians! Romans speaks of mankind leaving the natural use of the body; must be talking about UFO’s or poodle shampoo. Sin is sin no matter how u sugarcoat it to fit the lust of the eyes and the pride of the flesh.

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