Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

counseling, and observing Holy Communion. But about one-half of the members stated a preference for a man in the position of priest/pastor, suggesting that the position is somehow viewed as more sacred than the functions.

Most of the Anglicans in England and Australia indicated that they would vote for women's ordination, prior to their denomination's officially taking that position. But in the face of congregational conflict and potential schism over the issue in the free churches, only about 30 to 50 percent of members said they would press the issue of accepting a woman as pastor.

The differences in receptivity to women in ministry between the three societies is negligible. Whether the church members in one society appear more or less receptive to clergywomen depends on which facet of receptivity one is considering, and typically the differences are not great.

Finally, it would be a mistake to overgeneralize about what "the lay church member" thinks about the ordination and placement of women as clergy. There is simply too much diversity in church members' statements to pretend that church members' attitudes are monolithic. What we can say, however, is that more church members appear to accept women in ministry than resist them.

Even though a majority of lay church members indicate endorsement of the women-in-ministry movement, the minority of members who are opposed have the potential of carrying more influence on congregational decisions than their numbers would suggest. As shown in the relative hesitancy to support clergywomen in the face of congregational conflict over the issue, the opponents of women's ordination and placement have a powerful social tool to use in pressing their point, i.e. the threat of congregational schism and decline in financial resources. The tendency frequently observed for the minority to press their case vociferously often makes the liberal majority misread the facts of the situation and allow the minority to block women's appointments. It is unfortunate that they usually do not also know that the threats of congregational decline rarely materialize (See Royle 1984). With clergywomen at the helm, most congregations continue to meet the religious needs of their members. The church continues to be the church.


REFERENCES

Epstein Cynthia Fuchs. 1988. Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ice Martha Long. 1987. Clergywomen and Their World Views: Calling for a New Age. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Lehman Edward C., Jr. 1979. Project SWIM: A Study of Women in Ministry. Valley Forge, PA: American Baptist Churches.

-----. 1985. Women Clergy: Breaking through Gender Barriers. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

-----. 1987. Women Clergy in England: Sexism, Modern Consciousness, and Church Viability. Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellen Press.

-----. 1994. Women in Ministry: Receptivity and Resistance. Melbourne, Australia: The Joint Board for Christian Education.

-107-

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