In general, the tide appears to be shifting towards genuine support for women in ministry. Many Protestant denominations are making strides towards opening the door for female clergy to serve in historically male dominated positions. However, large percentages of women still lag behind men in lead pastor roles.
According to The Center on Religion and the Professions at the University of Missouri, in the article, “Women’s studies and gender studies: About the discipline,”
Women remain in a minority at the highest religious leadership positions, however. Southern Baptist churches do not allow women senior pastors and the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women. Other sects of Christianity such as the Pentecostal movement have long encouraged women to lead in ministry. Mainline Protestant churches welcome more female pastors each year and some say the future may show a female-dominated clergy in these denominations, though statistics show women are most often at small churches and are paid less than male pastors at larger churches.
Regarding the view “the future may show a female-dominated clergy in these denominations,”
Dr. Letty M. Russell, associate professor of theology at Yale University divinity school states,
The entrance of large numbers of women into ordained ministry may cause it to become a “female profession” like nursing or primary school teaching. Sexism causes work done by women to be devalued in society; when large numbers of them enter a field, the men tend to leave; prestige and salaries drop. If this prejudice continues, it may cause ordained ministry, which is already associated with the private sphere and with feminine cultural characteristics of being loving and kind, to become not only “feminized” but also “female.” This development might, however, have a side benefit: an ever-increasing erosion of clergy status would diminish the line of separation between clergy and laity.
Clerical ministry as a female profession is by no means the only alternate scenario, but it is important to notice the trends pointing in this direction in order to work for a more balanced professional ministry that neither keeps women out because of sexism nor turns over jobs to women because of sexism, but recognizes the gifts of both women and men in a partnership of ministry (The Future of Partnership, by Letty M. Russell [Westminster, 1979], chapter 6, “Flight from Ministry”).
So then, what does true advocacy look like? Is it merely placing women in leadership roles that men don’t want? Is it creating an environment where women dominate the field and men flee? How do we prayerfully, intentionally foster an environment where the gifts of men and women are equally valued and appropriately matched with ministry venues?
The following resource provided by the United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, offers some wonderful first steps. Excerpts from their strategies are below: (Keep in mind that this document was written for the UM Church. However, their model for advocacy is admirable and instructive)
Examples of advocacy
- Host “listening” sessions for seminary women
and reporting what they hear…
_ Work with UMW to orient new women members
to the annual conference, and delegates to
General and Jurisdictional conferences.
_ Work with Religion & Race to hear and report
concerns of racial-ethnic clergywomen.
_ Review conference budgets for inclusion of
women-friendly initiatives and women’s leadership, and push for greater representation.
What to monitor for…
_ Women as leaders in nontraditional vs. more
_ Men’s participation in advocacy for women.
_ New women and girls being recruited and
mentored into leadership positions.
_ Number of women vs. men in “unofficial” as well
as “official” decision-making roles.
_ Systematic exclusion of so-called “troublemakers,”
especially women and people of color.
Be a “Change Agent..”
Speaking truth to power, even
when it’s not popular, is what
we’re called to do, in order to
bring the church into full and
faithful witness for Christ.
To read more of this power point presentation on advocacy for women in ministry, visit, http://www.gcsrw.org and type into the search box, Advocate. Monitor. Change Agent. Accomplishing the work of the Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
What methods of advocacy have you found to be helpful? What ideas do you have to promote effective advocacy for female clergy? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,