My Response: I highly recommend this well-researched article that gives an overview of women in religious leadership as a slow work in progress by Dr. Deborah Whitehead, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Boulder, Colorado. Bridget Mary
"Women have been nuns, teachers, priestesses, gurus, heads of religious orders, deacons and elders. In the U.S., 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 Congregationalist church in New York, becoming the first U.S. woman to receive full ordination as a minister.
But women’s ordination was not widespread in the U.S. until the 1950s, when some Protestant Christian denominations began to offer formal ordination and full clergy rights to women, beginning with the United Methodist Church (UMC) and what would become the Presbyterian Church USA in 1956. These changes sprang from the 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 rejected all religious institutions, and religion more generally, as inherently patriarchal. Others left their own communities to create entirely new women-centered forms of religion. But many preferred to remain and work within their traditions to make them more inclusive, looking to history, tradition and sacred texts for resources. Women’s ordination is only one piece of this ongoing work...
When asked in 2016 whether women would ever be ordained as priests, Francis referenced Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter definitively denying the possibility of women priests and remarked that “on the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last word is clear.”
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Yet many Roman Catholic women remain undeterred and continue their decadeslong struggle for women’s ordination. Since 2002, the controversial organization Roman Catholic Women Priests has ordained around 200 “womenpriests” – and some men – into what they term “renewed priestly ministry,” many of them serving communities in the U.S.
Thinking beyond ordination
Women’s ordination has contributed to significant changes in U.S. religious communities, in many cases opening pathways to ordination for LGBTQ and other marginalized groups and leading to greater diversity within their traditions as well as higher levels of participation and commitment among women parishioners.
But others have criticized the focus on ordination as too limited. Instead of simply being incorporated into male-dominated institutions, they argue that women should work to transform them.
The focus on ordination also obscures the many less visible forms of women’s leadership in religious communities. Further, it may reflect limited understandings of individual freedom and the nature of religious authority.
Other forms of discrimination
...For example, 71.8% of U.S. congregations surveyed say they allow women to preach or lead services. But the 2018-2019 National Congregations Study, which surveyed 5,300 U.S. 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 clergyperson or primary religious leader.” It also found that only 13.8% of congregations are actually led or co-led by a woman, and only 8.1% of U.S. adherents belong to communities that are led or co-led by women – both figures representing increases of just 3% since 1998.
Even after decades of women’s ordination in major U.S. religious organizations, very few women have served in top leadership roles.
The phrase “stained glass ceiling” has been used to describe “the limitations encountered by women in religious leadership roles.” Although much progress has been made, more subtle forms of discrimination and limitations on women’s opportunities for advancement persist. The gender pay gap among clergy is far worse than the national average.
Although some women have been successful in breaking through the stained glass ceiling, the struggle for more inclusive and just religious communities continues."
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