Women clergy: A growing and diverse community

This summer has seen several landmarks for women in the clergy. First, the Anglican Church in England agreed to call women as bishops. And the Episcopal Church marked 40 years since it ordained its first women priests. The number of minority women in clergy positions is growing, especially in the United Methodist Church where there are organizations and support for Latina, Asian, African-American and Native American women clergy.

But there have been some more controversial developments, too. In June, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicated activist Kate Kelly for advocating the ordination of Mormon women, something the church prohibits.

While women clergy gained ground in Protestant Christianity, their roles have been slower to evolve in religions such as Islam, where women imams are few and generally work in the West. Women rabbis continue to make inroads into Judaism — but only in some branches, like Reform, while Orthodox Judaism continues to bar women from the rabbinate. This edition of ReligionLink looks at the status of women in the clergy and in other forms of church leadership. Who are they? Where are they going? What gains have they made?  What losses?


According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, the number of women clergy has risen fairly steadily for the last two decades. The National Congregations Study found that 10 percent of congregations had senior women pastors in 1998, while the 2001 Pulpit and Pew survey of American pastors found that 12 percent were female. A 2009 Barna survey found 10 percent of Protestant congregations were led by women, while the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voice Survey found 20 percent of mainline Protestant congregations were led by women. And the Faith Communities Today 2010 national survey of 11,000 American congregations found 12 percent of all U.S. congregations had a woman senior pastor or sole ordained leader. In mainline Protestant congregations the figure was 24 percent, while for evangelical congregations the number dropped to 9 percent.

These U.S. Christian denominations currently ordain women:

These U.S. Christian denominations are considering the ordination of women or the role of women in ministry:

In Christianity, the debate over women’s leadership is often framed in terms of “egalitarian” and “complementarian” stances. Egalitarians believe men and women have equal gifts in the eyes of God and that leadership roles, including ordination, should be open equally to both. Complementarians believe that men and women have complementary roles to play in the church and that women should not be ordained. Both camps cite Bible verses that support their views. Egalitarians frequently cite Galatians 3:28 — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Complementarians rely on both 1 Timothy 2:12 — “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” and 1 Corinthians 14:34 — “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”

Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary maintains a list of Christian denominations and their positions — egalitarian or complementarian — as of 2011.

Stories and reports

  • Read a May 12, 2015 report by the Center for American Progress that breaks down the overall progress of women in several areas – pay equity, equality, labor – over multiple generations.
  • Read a Jan. 30, 2015 story by Sarah Parvini for the Los Angeles Times about a women-only mosque in Los Angeles, believed to be the first of its kind in he U.S.
  • Read a July 30, 2014, Religion News Service story about single women clergy who choose to have children.
  • Read a July 28, 2014, National Catholic Reporter story examining the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Episcopal women that also looks to the future of women in other denominations.
  • Watch a July 28, 2014, segment about the ordination of Catholic women priests by an ABC News affiliate in Chicago.
  • Read a July 14, 2014, New York Times story about the vote to include Anglican women in the bishopric.
  • Read a June 23, 2014, New York Times story about the excommunication of Kate Kelly.
  • Read a March 20, 2014, story from the United Methodist News Service about the rise of women pastors within the United Methodist Church. The church’s research finds women clergy serving local congregations increased by 20 percent to 30 percent in the U.S. jurisdictions. The number of African-American women clergy serving a local church jumped from 59 percent 20 years ago to 98 percent of those clergywomen surveyed by the church.
  • Read a Dec. 24, 2013, story in The Daily Beast about Rachel Kohl Finegold, one of the first ordained Orthodox Jewish women.
  • Read a Dec 13, 2013 story by Sarah Pulliam Bailey for Religion News Service about the installation of a Southern Baptist president at Cedarville University and the complementarian stance enforced at the school.
  • Read a June 10, 2013, story in The Tablet about the first three Jewish women ordained by an Orthodox yeshiva. They were not given the title “rabbi,” but “maharat.”
  • Watch a Jan. 11, 2013, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly report about the push to ordain women as Catholic priests.
  • Read a Dec. 16, 2012, story in the online magazine Awaken about a female Buddhist monk in Thailand and the obstacles she has faced.
  • Pink Smoke Over the Vatican is a 2011 documentary about Roman Catholic women priests.

Women clergy

Scholars and authors

  • Ghazala Anwar

    Ghazala Anwar is an associate professor of Quranic studies at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist school, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. She is also on the steering committee of GTU’s Women’s Studies in Religion program. Among her areas of interest are women in Islam and gender equality.

  • Linda L. Belleville

    Linda L. Belleville is an adjunct professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, a Christian liberal arts school associated with Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. She contributed a chapter in support of women in ministry to the book Two Views on Women in Ministry.

  • Ann Braude

    Ann Braude is director of the women’s studies in religion program at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. She teaches a course titled “Religion, Gender and Politics: A Transnational Perspective.” Her books include Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion.

  • Anthea Butler

    Anthea Butler is an associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies and graduate chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in the history of Pentecostalism and is the author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.

  • Patricia M.Y. Chang

    Patricia M.Y. Chang is a lecturer in the sociology department at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. She has studied clergy career characteristics and the supply of ordained leadership in some Protestant denominations, and she co-authored Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Sue Crawford

    Sue Crawford is a professor of political science and international relations at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. One of her specialties is the role of religious institutions in public policy. She co-edited Christian Clergy in American Politics and co-authored Women With a Mission: Religion, Gender and the Politics of Women Clergy.

  • Kathleen Sprows Cummings

    Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. She is an expert on the history of women and American religion and the study of U.S. Catholicism. She is the author of New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era.

  • Rachel Held Evans

    Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger and the author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she explored the meaning of “biblical womanhood” as it is understood by many complementarian and egalitarian Christians. She lives in Dayton, Tenn. Contact via her publicist.

  • Craig Keener

    Craig Keener is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He co-authored an article on the Nation of Islam for A Guide to New Religious Movements. He is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

    He contributed an essay on women clergy in the book Two Views on Women in Ministry.

  • Adair T. Lummis

    Adair T. Lummis is a religion sociologist and a faculty associate in research at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. Her research focuses on denominational policies; gender, spirituality and leadership in communities of faith; and clergy concerns. Her books include, as co-author, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Pamela S. Nadell

    Pamela S. Nadell is director of the Jewish studies program at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the author of several books on Jewish women and American Jewish history, including Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination 1889-1995. She teaches courses on American Jewish history, modern Jewish civilization, Jewish women’s history, the Holocaust and the history of Israel.

  • Laura Olson

    Laura Olson is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and is also an expert on women and gender in religion. Her books include, as author, Filled With Spirit and Power: Protestant Clergy in Politics and, as co-author, Women With a Mission: Religion, Gender and the Politics of Women Clergy. She is also co-author of a paper on mainline Protestant congregations and homosexuality.

  • Phyllis Zagano

    Phyllis Zagano is a senior research associate-in-residence and adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She is the author of Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church.

  • Barbara Brown Zikmund

    Barbara Brown Zikmund is a historian and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Her research and writing has focused on the role of women in the church, the evolution of 20th-century Protestant denominations (with special attention to the United Church of Christ) and the impact of religious pluralism on interfaith relations. She co-authored Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

Advocates for women clergy (egalitarians)

  • Black Clergy Women of the United Methodist Church

    The organization Black Clergy Women of the United Methodist Church works to support, retain and foster black clergywomen in the United Methodist Church. The Rev. Telley Lynnette Gadson is president. Contact via website form or call Gadson, 864-848-7141.

  • Christians for Biblical Equality

    Christians for Biblical Equality promotes “gift-based” rather than gender-based ministry. In 2007 the organization compiled a report of the positions of most American denominations on women in leadership positions. Mimi Haddad is president. The group is based in Minneapolis.

    Contact: 612-872-6898.
  • FutureChurch

    FutureChurch is an organization that advocates for the ordination of women within the Catholic Church. The group is based in Lakewood, Ohio. Deborah Rose-Milavec is its executive director.

  • J. Lee Grady

    J. Lee Grady is contributing editor for Charisma Magazine, one of the leading periodicals of the Pentecostal community, and part of the Charisma Media group that produces magazines, books, other literature and ministry aids for Pentecostals. A veteran journalist, Grady is a knowledgeable and well-respected commentator on the Pentecostal scene.

    He is the author of Ten Lies the Church Tells Women and wrote in support of women’s leadership in Ministry Today magazine.

  • Jules Hart

    Jules Hart is the director of the 2011 documentary Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, about Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. She is based in Carmel, Calif.

  • Ordain Women

    Ordain Women is a grassroots organization that works for the ordination of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of its co-founders, Kate Kelly, was excommunicated in June 2014 for her activism. Ordain Women has multiple spokespersons. Contact via the website.

  • Ordain Women Now

    Ordain Women Now is an organization that advocates the ordination of women clergy in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the more conservative Lutheran denomination in the United States. Elizabeth Goodine is the group’s president. Contact via the website.

  • Roman Catholic Womenpriests

    Roman Catholic Womenpriests is an organization that advocates for and ordains women as Catholic priests. Its ordained women are not recognized as priests by the broader Roman Catholic Church. It maintains a page listing all of its ordained women with contact information as well as a page of women priests by region with contact information. The main contact for the organization is Suzanne Thiel.

    Contact: 503-784-3330.
  • Christine Schenk

    Christine Schenk is a Catholic nun and the executive director emerita of  FutureChurch, based in Lakewood, Ohio, which advocates ordaining married Roman Catholic men and women as priests to alleviate priest shortages.

  • Women Can Be Priests

    Women Can Be Priests calls itself a scholarly website, and it gathers research, resources and other information supporting the ordination of women as Catholic priests. It maintains a page of international scholars who support or oppose the ordination of women and provides contact information.

  • Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality

    The Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality is a program for the American Society of Muslim Advancement. It is a global social network and grassroots social justice movement designed to empower Muslim women, including promoting religious leadership roles for women. Its website posts a list of Islamic women’s organizations. Contact through the website.

Opponents of women clergy (complementarians)

  • Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

    The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is based in Louisville, Ky., and defines itself as an evangelical Christian organization formed in response to the perceived threat of feminism. Its mission statement reads, in part, “men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.”

  • Mark Dever

    Mark Dever is the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is the lead writer at 9Marks, a complementarian ministry.

    Contact: 202-543-6111.
  • Mary Kassian

    Mary Kassian is a professor of women’s studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. She has written to support and explain the complementarian view of women in the church.

  • Mary K. Mohler

    Mary K. Mohler is the wife of Albert  Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. She is director of the school’s Seminary Wives Institute.

  • Kathleen Nielson

    Kathleen Nielson is a writer and speaker and is director of women’s initiatives for the Gospel Coalition, a ministry that supports gospel-based churches. She has written an essay in support of the complementarian viewpoint. Contact via her website.

  • Thomas White

    Thomas White is president of Cedarville University, a Christian school in Cedarville, Ohio.

    Since his installation in 2013, he has reinforced a complementarian position at the school that has led to protests and faculty resignations.

    Contact: 937-766-3200.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Patricia Roane

    The Rev. Patricia Roane is president of Genesis Ministers’ Conference, a monthly meeting of women in church leadership drawn from members of the Pennsylvania Baptist Clergywomen of central Pennsylvania.

    Contact: 215-842-9955.
  • Mary Searight

    Mary Searight — referred to as Lady Mary Searight — is the pastor of Abundant Life Family Worship Church in New Brunswick, N.J. She is married to the church’s bishop and serves with other pastors, both men and women.

In the South

  • MaryAnn McKibben Dana

    MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a Presbyterian pastor and author of several books on religion in the suburbs and women in the church. She is also a co-founder of the online publication Fidelia’s Sisters, which targets clergywomen under 40. She blogs at The Blue Room and serves at Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, Va.

    Contact: 703-573-3027.
  • Diane Dougherty

    Diane Dougherty is an ordained Roman Catholic Womanpriest and a pastor at the First Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta, where she is head of its social justice ministries.

  • Amanda Hendler-Voss

    The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss is senior pastor at First Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Wellspring Clergywomen’s Alliance of the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute.

In the Midwest

In the West

International resources

  • Petra Bleisch Bouzar

    Petra Bleisch Bouzar is a graduate student at the University of Fribourg in Fribourg, Switzerland. Among her interests is the role of women in Islam, and she studied women leaders in a Swiss Muslim women’s association.

  • Miriam Duignan

    Miriam Duignan is a leader with Women’s Ordination Worldwide, an international organization that advocates for women’s ordination and other leadership positions in the Catholic Church. She is based in the U.K.

  • Femmes et Hommes, Égalite, Droits et Libertes dans les Eglises et la Societe

    Femmes et Hommes, Egalite, Droits et Libertes dans les Eglises et la Societe — or Men and Women Equality, Rights and Liberties in the Churches and Society — is an ecumenical French organization that promotes women’s equality in churches and beyond.  It is based in Paris. Contact via the form on the group’s website.

  • Rachel Kohl Finegold

    Rachel Kohl Finegold is one of the first ordained women to graduate from Yeshiva Maharat, an Orthodox Jewish rabbinate school for women. She is director of education and spiritual enrichment at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Quebec, Canada.

  • Christine Hassenstab

    Christine Hassenstab is an American woman and ordained Womanpriest who runs a “huskirke” (house church) in Trondheim, Norway. She focuses on social justice issues around the Roma peoples in Norway.

  • Jen Pollock Michel

    Jen Pollock Michel contributed an essay to Christianity Today about her conversion from an egalitarian to a complementarian Christian. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

  • Susanne Munzert

    Susanne Munzert is an assistant professor at the department of systematic theology at Augustana College in Neuendettelsau, Germany. Among her areas of interest are women in the church, feminist theory and ordination.

  • Women and the Australian Church

    Women and the Australian Church is an organization that works for an inclusive church. Though originally a Catholic organization, it is now ecumenical and does some interfaith work as well. It maintains a list of local groups and their contacts. It is led by a committee of women appointed for one year. It is based in Engadine, New South Wales, Australia.