What constitutes women’s leadership in religious communities is open to many interpretations. In the United States, more attention has been paid to the ordination of women due to the highly public and visible nature of these roles, but the issue is much more complicated.
In his 2010 book “Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling: Women Religious Leaders in Their Own WordsRadio host Maureen Fiedler identifies at least eight types of religious leadership roles for women: faith-based and organizational leaders, biblical scholars, theologians, religious activists, spiritual teachers, interfaith leaders and journalists. Although each has its own challenges. and particular struggles, Fiedler notes that “denominational leadership is the most difficult for women to achieve because it involves real power.”
Like a specialist in gender and religious history of the United States, I argue that while attention to the ordination of women is important, it does not tell the whole story of women’s leadership.
Although women have not always had the same rights and privileges as men, there are also long and vibrant traditions of female leadership in world religions.
Women have been nuns, teachers, priestesses, gurus, heads of religious orders, deacons and elders. In the USA, Jarena lee became the first woman authorized to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1819. In 1854, Antoinette Brown Blackwell was ordained by a local congregational church in New York City, becoming the first American woman to receive full ordination as a minister.
But women’s ordination was not widespread in the United States until the 1950s, when some Protestant Christian denominations began offering formal ordination and full clergy rights to women, beginning with the United Methodist Church (UMC) and what would become the Presbyterian Church of the United States in 1956. These changes were born out of a desire to formalize local and smaller-scale practices of women’s leadership as well as to respond to larger cultural changes such as the second wave feminist movement.
Some feminists have rejected all religious institutions, and religion more generally, as inherently patriarchal. Others have left their own communities to create whole new ones female-centered forms of religion. But many preferred to stay and work within their traditions to make them more inclusive, turning to history, tradition and sacred texts as resources. The ordination of women is only part of this work in progress.
In the 1970s, more Protestant denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, voted to ordain women. In 1980, Marjorie Mathews became the first female bishop in UMC and the first American woman to serve as bishop in a major Christian denomination. In 1989, Barbara harris became the first African-American woman and woman bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Today there are more LGBTQ women, women of color and priests and bishops in American Protestantism than ever before.
There have been equally dramatic changes in American Judaism since 1972, when Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi in the United States, ordained by a Reform Jewish rabbinical seminary. Reconstructionist and conservative traditions followed, ordaining female rabbis in 1974 and 1985, respectively.
Since then at least 700 women have been ordained reformists rabbis and at least half of all rabbinical students in the liberal Jewish seminaries are women. The American Jewish Rabbinate is more diverse than ever, not only with regard to gender, but also racial and ethnic diversity as well as LGBTQ identity.
Opposition to change
But the ordination of women remains largely prohibited in many other traditions, including the two largest American Christian denominations – the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, or SBC – as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints. of the Last Days, known as LDS and Orthodox Judaism.
In 2014, Kate Kelly, founder and leader of a movement for the ordination of women to the LDS priesthood, was excommunicated by the SDJ church. In 2000, the SBC attempted to settle decades of debate over women’s ordination. by posting a statement that “the office of pastor is limited to men qualified by the Scriptures.” Despite this, due to the decentralized nature of the Baptist regime, individual churches can, and still do, occasionally. ordain women even if they risk being excluded from the denomination to do so.
While some continue to plead for the ordination of women within the SBC, others, such as the famous Bible study teacher Beth moore, made the painful decision to leave pursue their leadership vocations in less restrictive communities.
Orthodox Judaism also remains officially opposed to the ordination of women, although as of 2009 a small number of women have received rabbinical training and ordination by Yeshivat Maravat, a modern Orthodox seminary based in New York. Most have chosen to call themselves by titles other than “rabbi”.
In response, the Rabbinical Council of America, one of the largest associations of Orthodox rabbis in the world, passed several resolutions condemning the ordination of women, including a statement from 2015 stating that “members of the CAR holding positions in Orthodox institutions cannot ordain women in the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used”.
But in 2016, Yeshiva Maharat graduated Lila kagedan went down in history by becoming the first woman to bear the title of “rabbi”. She currently serves a congregation in New Jersey.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis issued a decree officially allowing women to serve as readers and acolytes in the Roman Catholic Church, roles that many women around the world have unofficially had for some time. Yet he simultaneously distinguishes these lay ministerial roles from the “ordained” ministries of the priesthood and the diaconate, which remain reserved for men.
When asked in 2016 if women would ever be ordained priests, Francis referred to Pope John Paul II’s 1994 declaration. apostolic letter definitively deny the possibility to women priests and noticed that “on the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last word is clear”.
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Yet many Roman Catholic women do not be discouraged and continue their decades-long struggle for the ordination of women. Since 2002, the controversial organization Roman Catholic priests ordained about 200 “women priests” – and a few men – in what they call a “renewed priestly ministry,” many of whom serve communities in the United States
Thinking beyond ordination
The ordination of women has contributed to significant changes in American religious communities, in many cases opening avenues to ordination for LGBTQ and other marginalized groups and leading to greater diversity in their traditions as well as higher levels of participation and engagement among parishioners.
But others criticized the emphasis on ordination as being too limited. Instead of simply being incorporated into male dominated institutions, they argue that women must work to transform them.
The emphasis on ordination also obscures the many less visible forms of female leadership in religious communities. Additionally, it may reflect a limited understanding of individual freedom and the nature of religious authority.
For example, within the American Muslim community, an academic Amina Wadud made headlines in 2005 when she led prayers for a mixed congregation at a high-profile event in New York City, with some calling her America’s first female imam.
Wadud and other Muslim women continued to lead prayers in their communities. But the leadership of Muslim women can also be measure through increased representation of women on mosque boards and the creation of more female-led spaces, such as the Women’s Mosque of America, the first female-led Muslim place of worship in the United States, founded in 2015.
Other forms of discrimination
There is also an important practical difference between ordaining women and having women in leadership positions.
For example, 71.8% of American congregations surveyed say they allow women to preach or lead services. But the 2018-2019 National Congregations Study, which surveyed 5,300 American religious communities, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other religious groups, found that only 56.4% of these communities would allow a woman to be “head of the clergy or principal religious leader”. It also revealed that only 13.8% of congregations are actually led or co-led by a woman, and only 8.1% of US membership belong to communities led or co-led by women – both figures representing an increase of just 3 % since 1998.
Even after decades of ordaining women in major American religious organizations, very few women served in senior leadership roles.
The phrase “stained glass ceilingHas been used to describe the limitations faced by women in religious leadership roles. Although much progress has been made, more subtle forms of discrimination and the limits to women’s advancement opportunities persist. the gender pay gap among the clergy is much worse than the national average.
Although some women have successfully broken the stained glass ceiling, the struggle for more inclusive and just religious communities continues.