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Women as clergy

Religious sexism: when faith groups started
(and two stopped) ordaining women

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Definition of "sexist:"

We define a religious organization as sexist when it refuses to accept an otherwise competent individual as a group member or leader solely because of that person's gender.

Some visitors to this site are distressed at the our of harsh word such as "sexist," "racist," "homophobic," or "tramsphobic" because they feel that their holy book requires that they discriminate against individuals on the basis of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, we define these terms by the faith group's impact on individuals and society, and not by the source of the discrimination.

When some denominations or religious traditions started to ordain women:

Formal discrimination against women in positions of authority has been gradually eliminated in Western societies, with the exception of some assignments in the military, and positions of power in many conservative religious institutions.

A partial list with the approximate dates of either:

bullet the approval of female ordination in principle or
bullet the ordination of their first women clergy by Christian and Jewish 10 faith groups

appears below. We are attempting to add to this list and firm up the dates shown:

bullet Early 1800's: A fundamental belief of the Society of Friends (Quakers) has always been the existence of an element of God's spirit in every human soul. Thus all persons are considered to have inherent and equal worth, independent of their gender. This led naturally to an opposition to sexism, and an acceptance of female ministers. In 1660, Margaret Fell (1614 - 1702) published a famous pamphlet to justify equal roles for men and women in the denomination. It was titled: "Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father (John 20:17)." 7 In the U.S., "In contrast with almost every other organized religion, the Society of Friends (Quakers) have allowed women to serve as ministers since the early 1800s." 8
bullet 1853: Antoinette Brown was ordained by the Congregationalist Church. However, her ordination was not recognized by the denomination. She quit the church and later became a Unitarian. The Congregationalists  later merged with others to create the United Church of Christ. 5,6
bullet 1863: Olympia Brown was ordained by the Universalist denomination in 1863, in spite of a last-moment case of cold feet by her seminary which feared adverse publicity. She later became a Unitarian. After a decade and a half of service as a full-time minister, she became a part-time minister in order to devote more time to the fight for women's rights and universal suffrage. In 1961, the Universalists and Unitarians joined to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA became the first large denomination to have a majority of female ministers. In 1999-APR, female ministers outnumbered their male counterpart 431 to 422.
bullet 1865: Salvation Army is founded and has always ordained both men and women. However, there were initially rules that prohibited a woman from marrying a man who had a lower rank.
bullet 1866: Helenor Alter Davisson was a circuit rider of the Methodist Protestant Church in Jasper County, IN. She was the first woman to be ordained a minister in any Methodist denomination. Later church conferences challenged the principle of ordaining women. 16
bullet 1871: Celia Burleigh became the first female Unitarian minister.
bullet 1880: Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church. 12
bullet 1888: Fidelia Gillette may have been the first ordained woman in Canada. She served the Universalist congregation in Bloomfield, ON during 1888 and 1889. She was presumably ordained in 1888 or earlier.
bullet 1889: The Nolin Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church ordained Louisa Woosley. 1
bullet 1889: Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained in the United Brethren church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church. 12
bullet 1892: Anna Hanscombe is believed to be the first woman ordained by the parent bodies which formed the Church of the Nazarene in 1919. 11
bullet 1909: The Church of God (Cleveland TN) began ordaining women in 1909.
bullet 1911: Ann Allebach was the first Mennonite woman to be ordained. This occurred at the First Mennonite Church of Philadelphia.
bullet 1914: Assemblies of God was founded and ordained its first woman clergy
bullet 1917: The Congregationalist Church (England and Wales) ordained their first woman. Its successor is the United Reformed Church. They now consider it sufficient grounds for refusing ministry training if a potential candidate is not in favor of the ordination of women.
bullet 1920's: Some Baptist denominations.
bullet 1920's: United Reformed Church in the UK
bullet 1922: The Jewish Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis stated that "Woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination."
bullet 1922: The Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren granted women the right to be licensed into the ministry, but not to be ordained with the same status as men.
bullet 1930: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first female as an elder
bullet 1935: Regina Jonas was ordained privately by a German rabbi.
bullet 1936: United Church of Canada.
bullet 1942: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Florence Li Tim Oi was ordained on an emergency basis. Some sources say it happened in 1943.
bullet 1947: Czechoslovak Hussite Church
bullet 1948: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
bullet 1949: Old Catholic Church (in the U.S.)
bullet 1956: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first woman minister.
bullet 1956: The General Conference of the United Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. 17
bullet 1956: Maud K. Jensen was the first woman to receive full clergy rights and conference membership in the Methodist Church. 12
bullet 1958: Women ministers in the Church of the Brethren were given full ordination with the same status as men.
bullet 1960: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden
bullet 1964: Southern Baptist Convention: Addie Davis (circa 1917-2005) was ordained at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham NC on AUG-09, the first in the denomination. The "Baptist Faith and Message" doctrinal statement was modified in the year 2000 to prevent future female ordinations.. 20
bullet 1967: Presbyterian Church in Canada
bullet 1968: We suspect that the Metropolitan Community Church has accepted women ministers since its founding in 1968.
bullet 1970: The Lutheran Church in America (LCA) ordained Elizabeth Platz. The American Lutheran Church (ALC) started ordaining women later that year. These are predecessor denominations to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
bullet 1971: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang were the first regularly ordained priests.
bullet 1972: Reform Judaism
bullet 1972: Freda Smith was the first woman ordained by the Metropolitan Community Church.
bullet 1972: Swedenborgian Church
bullet 1972: Sally Priesand became the first woman rabbi to be ordained by a theological seminary. She was ordained in the Reform tradition.
bullet 1970's: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
bullet 1974: Methodist Church in the UK
bullet 1974: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first woman rabbi to be ordained within the Jewish Reconstructionist movement. 9
bullet 1976: Episcopal Church (11 women were ordained in Philadelphia before church laws were changed to permit ordination)
bullet 1976: Anglican Church in Canada ordained six female priests.
bullet 1976: The Rev. Pamela McGee was the first female ordained to the  Lutheran ministry in Canada.
bullet 1977: Anglican Church of New Zealand ordained five female priests.
bullet 1979: The Reformed Church in America. Women had been admitted to the offices of deacon and elder in 1972.
bullet 1981: Lynn Gottlieb became the first woman ordained as a rabbi in the Jewish Renewal Movement 18
bullet 1981: An Anglican woman was ordained in Kenya
bullet 1983: Three Anglican women were ordained in Uganda.
bullet 1984: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints authorized the ordination of women. This is the second largest Mormon denomination; it is now called The Community of Christ. 2
bullet 1985: According to the New York Times for 1985-FEB-14: "After years of debate, the worldwide governing body of Conservative Judaism has decided to admit women as rabbis. The group, the Rabbinical Assembly, plans to announce its decision at a news conference...at the Jewish Theological Seminary..." 14 Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi.
bullet 1985: The first women deacons were ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church.
bullet 1988: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
bullet 1990: Anglican women are ordained in Ireland.
bullet 1992: Church of England
bullet 1992: Anglican Church of South Africa
bullet 1994: The first women priests were ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church.
bullet 1995: Seventh-day Adventists. Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park VA ordained three women in violation of the denomination's rules.
bullet 1995: The Christian Reformed Church voted to allow women ministers, elders, and evangelists. In 1998-NOV, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) suspended the CRC's membership because of this decision. 3
bullet 1998: General Assembly of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan)
bullet 1998: Guatemalan Presbyterian Synod
bullet 1998: Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands
bullet 1998: Some Orthodox Jewish congregations started to employ female "congregational interns" "Although these 'interns' do not lead worship services, they perform some tasks usually reserved for rabbis, such as preaching, teaching, and consulting on Jewish legal matters." 9
bullet 1999: Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (ordination as either clergy or elders)
bullet 1999: Tamara Kolton became the first female rabbi in the Humanistic Judaism tradition. 19
bullet 2000: The Baptist Union of Scotland voted to allow their churches to either allow or prohibit the ordination of women.
bullet 2000: The Mombasa diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
bullet 2000: The Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons. It is a united church which dates back to the 1970 local merger of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and other Protestant denominations.
bullet 2005: Upon the retirement of Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), Ref. Elder Nancy L, Wilson was elected Moderator. 21
bullet 2007: The Worldwide Church of God, a denomination with about 860 congregations worldwide decided to allow women to serve as pastors and elders. This decision was reached after several years of study. 15

When some denominations or religious traditions started to consecrate bishops:

Only some Protestant churches have bishops. A few of these have allowed women to become bishops:

bullet 1980: United Methodist Church
bullet 1989: Episcopal Church in the U.S.
bullet 1992: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany
bullet 1996: Lutheran Church in Sweden
bullet 1997: Anglican Church of Canada
bullet Unknown: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
bullet Unknown: Anglican Church of New Zealand
bullet 1998: Presbyterian Church in Guatemala
bullet 1998: Moravian Church in America
bullet 1999: Czechoslovak Hussite Church
bullet 2008: Anglican Church of Australia
bullet 2009: Lutheran Church of Great Britain (the first woman bishop in Great Britain)

Many conservative faith groups still refuse to consider women for ordination, irrespective of their talents, training and ability. Many teach that women have very specific roles, both in the family and in religious organizations where positions of authority and power are reserved for males. This list includes the Roman Catholic Church, all Eastern Orthodox churches, a minority of provinces within the Anglican Communion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and many fundamentalist and other evangelical Protestant denominations.

On the other hand, the Unitarian Universalist religion is the first major faith group which has a majority of female clergy. Women have always held equal and sometimes superior roles within Wiccan and many other Neopagan groups.

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When some denominations stopped ordaining women:

We are aware of only two denominations in recent history which once ordained women and have since stopped. Both were unusual situations in which fundamentalists took over a previously more moderate denomination and restored sexist policies:

bullet 1991: Australia: The Presbyterian Church of Australia began ordaining women in 1974. However, most Presbyterians in that country merged with other denominations to form the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977. This left a small number of fundamentalist Presbyterians who refused to join. They voted to stop ordaining women in 1991. 4
 
bullet 2000: USA: The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) had undergone a struggle between fundamentalists and moderates which ended in the late 1990's with a fundamentalist victory. The Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee of the SBC, issued a statement on 2000-MAY-18 recommending that "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." The SBC currently has about 1,600 ordained women among their  41,099 churches. About 30 of their senior pastors are female. The recommendation was approved at their annual meeting on 2000-JUN-14. Their existing female pastors are allowed to remain, but no new female pastors will be ordained. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.; they have about 16 million members. More details.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Louisa Mariah Layman Woosley," at: http://www.cumberland.org/
  2. Bill McKeever, "LDS-RLDS: differences and Similarities," Mormon Research Ministry, at: http://www.mrm.org/
  3. "NAPARC votes 6-1 to suspend the Christian Reformed Church," at: http://pins.simplenet.com 
  4. D. Burke, "The Presbyterians in Australia," Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research, (1996).
  5. Elizabeth Cazden, "Antoinette Brown Blackwell: A Biography." The Feminist Press, (1983).
  6. Luther Lee,  "Woman's Right To Preach The Gospel: A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of the Rev. Miss Antoinette L. Brown, at South Butler, Wayne County, NY, Sept. 15, 1853," Syracuse, NY, Published by the Author, 1853.
  7. Bill Samuel, "A Sincere and Constant Love," QuakerInfo.com. at:  http://www.quakerinfo.com/
  8. "Religion: Quaker Women," Herstory, at: http://library.usask.ca/
  9. Ray Frank, "Women in the Rabbinate," Jewish Women's Archive, at: http://www.jwa.org/
  10. Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 Beacon Press, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  11. "Historical Statement," Church of the Nazarene, at:  http://www.nazarene.org.au/
  12. "Historical firsts for women clergy, Part 2," The General Commission on Archives and History for The United Methodist Church, at: http://www.gcah.org/ This website is currently offline. You might look at "Women Clergy" at: http://archives.umc.org/ instead.
  13. "Chronology of Women's Ordination," Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, at: http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/
  14. Ari Goldman, "Conservative Assembly votes to admit women as rabbis," New York Time, 1985-FEB-14. Abstract at: http://select.nytimes.com/
  15. "Women in church leadership, conclusion," Worldwide Church of God, 2006-DEC, at: http://www.wcg.org/
  16. "United Methodist Church," Conservapedia, at: http://www.conservapedia.com/
  17. "Women Clergy," United Methodist Church, 2005-OCT-17, at: http://archives.umc.org/
  18. Lunn Gottlieb, "Statement" Jewish Women's Archive, at; http://jwa.org/feminism
  19. "SHJ Leaders and Staff," Society of Humanistic Judaism, at: http://www.shj.org
  20. John Pierce, "Addie Davis, first woman ordained as Southern Baptist pastor, dies at 88," Associated Baptist Press, 2005-DEC-09, at: http://www.abpnews.com/
  21. "MCC Moderator," Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church, at: http://www.holycrossmcc.com/

See our news feed on women's issues.
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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Latest update: 2011-MAR-29
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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