Feminism and Christian Tradition: An Annotated Bibliography and Critical Introduction to the Literature

By Mary-Paula Walsh | Go to book overview

V
The Religious Leadership of
Women

This section presents literature on the religious leadership of women in American Protestant and Roman Catholic contexts. By way of overview, selected theological and statistical sources introduce the subject of women's religious leadership, with attention then directed, respectively, to the "authorized" leadership of women in American Protestantism and the history and current sociological research on women in ordained ministries. A second chapter then presents literature on the "recognized" (but presently unauthorized) leadership of women in Roman Catholicism (e.g., the women's ordination movement, the women-church movement and the feminism of women in "vowed" communities). A third chapter then synthesizes the literature on "Women's Leadership, the Academy, and Theological Education." The distinction between the "recognized" and "authorized" leadership of women may be new to some readers. As used by Hartford Seminary President Barbara Brown Zikmund, it refers to the organizational significance of ordination. Hence, the "authorized" leadership of women entails the full institutional acceptance of women into a denomination's ordained organizational polity, while the "recognized" ministry of women entails the social or communally recognized leadership of women, but not their institutional, organizational incorporation. For Zikmund's specific comments see "Women and Ordination" in Ruether and Keller "135: 294" and see the discussion in "663".

Several themes cut across the literatures of the chapters in this section. First, although Protestant and Catholic women have experienced differing patterns of discrimination within their churches, they have each experienced marginalization from centralized roles of church organizational leadership. Further, this marginalization continues: in Roman Catholicism as women are yet banned from the status of priest and ordained minister before the People of God, and in Protestant churches--almost across the board, as women experience continued sexism, elements of religious backlash and various glass ceilings in denominational structures and organizations.

Second--and with no small amount of irony-it is these same Protestant and Catholic women who, while marginalized, are nonetheless the mainstay of "Full Time Equivalencies" for many seminary student rosters, Protestant and Catholic alike. Third, in addition to their marginalization from most positions of church leadership, these women continue to experience both traditional and contemporary forms of ecclesial discrimination, with the former constituted by differing salaries, benefits, ordination tracks, and careeer histories (cf. "663" and "701"), and the latter issues of modified misogyny cast in terms of homophobic, familistic and/or heterosexist assumptions About ministry (as exemplified by various pre-ordination commitments required of ordination candidates). Fourth--and again with some irony--these women continue to experience the impact of "clericalism" within their lives, and particularly "paternalistic clericalism." At issue here is a phenomenon described in feminist conversation as "white male ecumenism," but identifiable more formally--and more sociologically--as the ecclesial struggle to define a "theology of ordination." Put differently, should one say that ordination confers a "call to service" and is thus a process within which human and social factors are both important and malleable? Or, alternatively, should one say that ordination confers a "special charism" indicative of the recipient's divinely declared distinctiveness and set apartness? The discussion itself is a grounding condition for the stratification of religious roles in terms of lay and "clerical" states, and although the demise of clericalism in many Protestant denominations has historically opened a number of once "male only" doors to women, its presumed demise across the full Christian spectrum has glossed the historical sex-typing of the ministry, and

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