Ordination of women
In Eastern Orthodoxy, mainline & liberal
Protestant denominations, & other religions
Eastern Orthodox churches:
There are individual, national, Christian Orthodox churches within many of the countries of
eastern Europe. During the 11th century, the Catholic Church in the 11th century formally
split into two groups: the Roman Catholic Church and
Eastern Orthodox Chruches. Eacg churche
believes that they represent the original Christian church, and that they other
church broke away from them.
Orthodox churches do not
allow women to enter the priesthood or to be ordained as a deaconess. The late Dr.
Alexander Schmemann, once Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in
Crestweed, N.Y., commented in a letter that:
"...the Orthodox Church has never
faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no
basis, no terms of reference in our Tradition, in the very experience of the Church, and
for the discussion of which we are therefore simply not prepared...the ordination
of women to priesthood is tantamount for us to a radical and irreparable mutilation of the
entire faith, the rejection of the whole Scripture, and, needless to say, the end of all
'dialogues'." Later in his letter he explained: "This priesthood is
Christ's, not ours...And if the bearer, the icon and the fulfiller of that unique
priesthood, is man and not woman, it is because Christ is man and not woman." 1
An article in a mid-1998 issue of The Greek American contained a transcript of
a call-in radio program; it included a query by a listener to Archbishop Spyridon about
women's ordination. He replied: "...the Orthodox Church does not know of anything
of an institution of priestess. But it does know about the institution of deaconesses."
He mentioned that such a post existed until the 11th or 12th century and that there are
currently active discussions of "revitalizing that in institution today."
Some in the World Council of Churches (WCC) consider that the
ordination of women in Orthodox churches is not a closed matter.
During 1998, at their 8th assembly in
Harare, Zimbabwe, women's ordination and the use of inclusive language surfaced as
key issues. Most of the member denominations of the WCC are Protestant churches; most of
them ordain women as ministers and priests.
"Vsevolod Chaplin, an official of the
Russian Orthodox Church described the ordination of women and inclusive language as
Dr. Raisner, commenting on Chaplin's statement, noted that two
respected Orthodox theologians, Bishop Kallistos Ware and Elisabeth Behr-Siegel, had
concluded "there are no essential or ecclesiological reasons preventing the
ordination of women in the Orthodox tradition."
Dr. Janice Love, of the
Methodist Church (USA) and a 23 year veteran of the WCC's outgoing central committee,
described Chaplin's speech as "one of the saddest I have ever heard." 2,3
Liberal and mainline Protestant groups:
Most liberal and mainline Christian denominations (e.g. Congregationalists, some
Lutherans, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Canada,
United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, etc.) ordain women and give them
access to other positions of power.
The Presbyterian Church, USA adopted a Brief Statement of Faith that
"Women and men are called to all of the ministries of the church. This is part
of our confessional understanding of such scriptural words as Jesus’ declaration
that 'whosoever would be a leader must be a servant,' and Paul’s words that 'In
Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female.'
We affirm the Good News of Christ’s Gospel contained in the Old and New
Testaments, authoritative and ever judging of human cultures, and hence
liberating of all peoples from cultures of submission and gender inequality.
We value biblical scholarship that has shown how the early Church’s appeal to
women, slaves, and other dispossessed groups came through the welcome they
received in a restrictive social context.
In our own context, partly shaped by the democratic traditions of Reformed
Christianity, we recognize the importance of public statements such as this one
in making clear the presence of Protestant Christian traditions that honor
women’s gifts of leadership and service.
We are aware of efforts to broaden the ecumenical linkages of our church and
other members of the National and World Councils of Churches, but do not believe
in a false deference to the views of denominations that do not share authority
equally, in word, sacrament, administration, or witness. 4
A study by the Hartford Seminary, 5 commented upon by the
Boston Globe, 6 has examined the Christian denominations which
do ordain women. The study shows that the number of clergywomen in 15 large Protestant
denominations has skyrocketed over the past two decades. For example, between 1977 and
1997, female clergy:
- in the American Baptist Church has increased from 157 to 712;
- in the Episcopal Churches in the USA has increased from 94 to 1,394;
- in the United Methodist Church has gone from 319 to 3,003.
The study found that clergywomen are paid 9% less on average when compared to men
working in similar jobs within the same denomination and the same sized church. Few women
serve as senior pastors. Female clergy more often serve as assistant or associate pastors;
this will probably change with time as women gain more seniority on the job.
President of Hartford Seminary, Brown Zikmund, commented:
''Women are finding that
even though a lot of doors are open there is still a lot of difficulty. There is still a
lot of resistance and uneasiness. And it may not always be malice, as much as a lack of
experience and uneasiness by some members of the laity. Some people are still not used to
seeing a woman in the pulpit.''
The executive summary of the report states, in part:
"The study argues that
churches need to give greater attention to the need for systemic change. If denominational
leaders are actively hostile, or insensitive to finding the right ministry settings for
women, women get discouraged. When this happens, it is not because women are failures -
rather, it is because the system is failing women...The experience and sense of
calling among clergy women in the 1990s shows that clergywomen are not merely survivors,
nor are they breaking down old barriers simply to get into a vocation shaped and still
dominated by male perspectives. Rather, clergywomen are reinventing ministry for the
future. Clergywomen are expanding the very essence of Christian ministry and guiding the
whole church to rethink and renew its leadership and membership."
However, women remain in a minority in those denominations that permit them to be
ordained. According to Time magazine, the liberal Unitarian Universalist Association
has the highest percentage of female clergy -- over 50%. (The UUA is regarded by many as a
non-Protestant, non-Christian denomination.)
- Liberal Jewish groups have admit women to the rabbinate for years;
Reform Judaism since 1972; and Conservative Judaism since 1983. 7
- The theology of most Neopagan groups has always emphasized
the equality of the genders; a few give their priestesses greater authority than priests.
- Native American traditional religions have recognized both
male and female healers and leaders.
- Women have been accepted as ministers within the Unitarian
Universalist Association since 1871.
Burleigh, was one of the very first regularly ordained female ministers in
any American denomination.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Rt. Rev. Alexander Schmemann, "Concerning Women's Ordination - a letter to an
episcopal friend," available at: http://www.episcopalnet.org/TractsForOurTimes/
- "Raiser raises possibility of women's ordination in Orthodox churches,"
Ecumenical News International, 1998-DEC-8
- "Raiser raises possibility of women's ordination in Orthodox churches,"
Ecumenical News International, 1998-DEC-9
- "Commissioners' Resolution 00-25," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2000, at:
- B.B. Zikmund, A.T. Lummis, P.M.Y. Chang, ''Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling,''
Hartford Seminary, Hartford CT (scheduled to be published in 1998-MAY)
- Diego Ribadeneira, "The Spiritual Live, Still facing resistance, women
clergy's role," Boston Globe, Boston MA, 1998-FEB-07, Page B02.
- Barry H. D. Block, "A Reform Rabbi Observes Changes in Conservative
Judaism," 2007-JAN-05, at:
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Latest update: 2008-SEP-24
Author: Bruce A. Robinson