By Madison Buchanan and Drew Hudnall
Royal Scribe Reporters
KNOXVILLE — With the rise of the female empowerment movement, some people feel that evangelical groups, and some programs at Johnson University, are behind the times.
Some students and faculty have noticed a lack of women in preaching and church leadership roles within the evangelical movement.
JU Seeks to equip students for Christian ministry, and one of the degrees offered at the university is Preaching and Church Leadership.
While Johnson enrolls both men and women in the program, statistics show a disparity in the gender demographics of students.
According to Johnson’s website, this academic year, only 6 percent of the students enrolled in the Tennessee Campus’ Preaching and Church Leadership major are women.
Women comprise 52 percent of the JUTN student body.
Daniel Overdorf, Dean of the School of Congregational Ministry at JUTN, said he acknowledged that some women have been unsure of their eligibility in JU’s Preaching and Church Leadership program.
He said he wants to make sure they know they are welcome.
“Women have played key [biblical] roles,” Overdorf said, as he invoked biblical heroines.
Of women in current leadership roles, he said that the program equips them to preach and teach in a way that is biblical.
“[Who] we are and what we do is a reflection of the church,” Overdorf said.
In 2017, a Relevant Magazine poll revealed that 39 percent of evangelicals are comfortable with female pastors or priests as opposed to 79 percent of all Americans.
April Conley Kilinski, professor and head of the English department at JU, suggests that failure to interpret scripture holistically may share part of the blame for this absence.
“I’m a literature person so I look for the story and the types,” Kilinski said. “Most people would say it’s not biblical,” she said, referring to traditions which seek to limit women’s roles in church leadership.
“‘You need to be quiet, because you’re a woman,’ [they say]. There’s got to be more to this,” she said.
Kilinski said that such a restrictive understanding discounts half the voices within the congregation.
“God does not discount us, so we should not discount us,” she said.
Kilinski said that an example of the work women did in the Bible is that they were entrusted to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection.
“Women are very active in ministry,” she said, “God gives them incredible and important roles.”
Brooke McLane, a JUTN senior, said that certain aspects of women’s roles in the Christian faith seem underemphasized.
“Certain women in the Bible who have led, like Deborah, were praised for their actions, but probably not [as much] for their leadership roles,” McLane said.
Cameron Jefferies, a junior in the Preaching and Church Leadership program, believes that women should be allowed to be pastors in churches, despite his upbringing.
Jefferies said that his grandmother taught him that a woman was not allowed to teach a man within the church walls but could at home.
“I come from a family that did not support [women teaching in the church],” Jefferies said.
He said that he sees his grandmother’s view as unnecessarily divisive, dividing spiritual roles based on sex and location.
Jeffries said that people need to challenge their embedded theology and that not being informed on both perspectives creates barriers.
McLane, who is in her fourth year at JU, said she could only recall one senior sermon delivered by a female.
“I think women bring something special,” she said of women preachers.
“I think they should see where the student body is at, so they can work to change that,” Judi Addison, a senior who also said she appreciates what women offer in preaching roles, said. “I don’t know of any women that are professors in that program, and I think if [there were], women would feel more comfortable.”