Women as clergy

Part 2 of 2 parts

Religious sexism: when faith groups started
ordaining women as clergy and consecrating
them as bishops. Two denominations that
reversed this process.

This topic is continued from the previous essay

1970 and later: When some denominations or religious traditions started to ordain women (Continued):

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 female 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. 1

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 2

bullet 1981: An Anglican woman was ordained in Kenya.

bullet 1981: Ani Pema Chodron was the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. 2

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. 3

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..." 4 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. 5

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." 1

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. 6

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 2004: The first occurrence in modern times of a woman leading a mix-gender congregation in evening prayer in a mosque occurred in Canada. Maryam Mirxa led the Isha prayer at the Etobicoke mosque in Toronto, ON.

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. 7

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. 8
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. 8

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 1918: Pillar of Fire Church 11

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 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)

bullet 2015: Church of England (Liby Lane). 11

On 2006-JUN-18, the Most Rev Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori became the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA). She was the first Primate (leader of an Anglican province) in the Anglican Communion.

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. These are generally informal 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. 9
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. There are only about 30 senior pastors who 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. and is among the most conservative. They have about 16 million members. More details.


2018: USA: On MAY-05, the South-Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- a liberal denomination -- elected Rev. Patricia A. Davenport, to be the denomination's first female African-American bishop. The following day, the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin followed suit by electing the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld as bishop-elect.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton referred to the denomination as the "most white" of all of the U.S. mainline Protestant denomanations. She said:

"We claim, over and over again, what God is calling us to be is a diverse, inclusive, multicultural church. We’ve been stuck for over 30 years, and I hope this is the start of a trend where God opens our eyes to see the giftedness of people who are not of European descent." 12

Rev. Leah Schade, assistant professor of preaching and worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY said that:

"This is a turning point for the ELCA. It is incredibly important that, at a time when our society needs to see women of color reach the highest levels of leadership, that it’s the church where this is happening."

Luis Gutierrez posted a comment to the article in the Religion NewsService, saying:

"Good for the ELCA. In the Catholic Church, we also need women priests and women bishops. Apostolic succession is not contingent on masculinity. Religious patriarchy is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty and a pastoral disgrace." 12

Bruce Robinson, the coordinator of this web site, couldn't resist posting a comment:

"It is sad that religious denominations are so often the last institutions to rid themselves of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. They should play a leadership role to the rest of society."


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

  1. Ray Frank, "Women in the Rabbinate," Jewish Women's Archive, at: http://www.jwa.org/
  2. Lunn Gottlieb, "Statement" Jewish Women's Archive, at; http://jwa.org/feminism
  3. Bill McKeever, "LDS-RLDS: differences and Similarities," Mormon Research Ministry, at: http://www.mrm.org/
  4. Ari Goldman, "Conservative Assembly votes to admit women as rabbis," New York Time, 1985-FEB-14. Abstract at: http://select.nytimes.com/
  5. "NAPARC votes 6-1 to suspend the Christian Reformed Church," at: http://pins.simplenet.com
  6. "SHJ Leaders and Staff," Society of Humanistic Judaism, at: http://www.shj.org
  7. "MCC Moderator," Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church, at: http://www.holycrossmcc.com/
  8. "Women in church leadership, conclusion," Worldwide Church of God, 2006-DEC, at: http://www.wcg.org/
  9. D. Burke, "The Presbyterians in Australia," Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research, (1996).
  10. "Chronology of Women's Ordination," Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, at: http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/
  11. "Ordination of women," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-28, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  12. In historic votes, Lutherans elect two African-American women bishops," Religion News Service, 2018-MAY-07, at: https://religionnews.com/

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Copyright 1996 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Latest update: 2018-MAY-09
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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