More Women Are Aiming to Become Church Leaders. Together, They Could Change American Christianity.
Christian leadership in the US has typically been seen as a male occupation. The right for women to be ordained and serve as faith leaders has been hard-won over decades, and in several major factions, like the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, women are barred from the highest levels of leadership.
However, among mainstream denominations that do ordain women, a sea change is occurring. More women are entering seminary and other theological programs with the intent of becoming priests. As it follows, more women are also occupying those roles after being ordained.
Experts say one of the main reasons for the increase is that women of faith are looking at their religious traditions and sensing a need for change.
“Women — and men — in the church, have seen abuse and suffering. They’ve seen the role of the patriarchy in the church. They want to address constructively some of these challenges that have been facing both the church and in our society,” says Alexis Abernethy, chief academic officer at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “They’re saying, ‘Enough of this. We need to be different.’ So I think a lot of these women are marshaling energy in that direction.”
However, female priests still face an alarming number of challenges navigating institutional structures built by and for men — challenges that are similar to those faced by women in other workplaces. These challenges also sow deep examinations of faith: If church traditions have historically marginalized women and others, what leads those who have been excluded to forge on anyway?