Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

11
Attitudes to Women's Ordination in Protestant Congregations in the United States, Britain, and Australia

Edward C. Lehman Jr.

One of the most important recent developments in Western religious organizations is the women-in-ministry movement. During recent decades, increasing numbers of women have entered theological seminaries and rabbinical schools aspiring to become ordained priests, ministers, and rabbis. Hundreds of those women have been placed as ordained religious leaders of congregations. Some observers expect these changes in the sex composition of the pastoral ministry to modify the future image and practice of ministry (e.g., Weidman 1985; Nason- Clark 1987).

Given its potential impact on the church, the movement has also been highly controversial. The issues have been debated regularly in official denominational meetings. In those discussions the proponents of women in ministry typically promise that women's unique ministry style will help solve some of the church's problems (e.g., Ice 1987), while the women's detractors predict that the change bodes only catastrophe for the community of faith. Where denominations decided to ordain women, their supporters rejoiced, but some others who opposed the decision changed their denominational loyalties by switching to more misogynistic groups.


THE RESEARCH QUESTION

What do ordinary church members think about these issues? That is what we ask here. In most media coverage of discussions of the women-in-ministry movement, the focus has been on what church officials say about it. Missing has been any consideration of what ordinary people in the pews have to say. This is a significant omission, because those lay members constitute the fragile organizational and financial base on which church leaders sit. Without lay participation all grand denominational structures and programs would wither and fade from the scene. The ultimate fate of clergywomen will be determined not in the denominational offices

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