Women in Church Governments: A Sampling

As of today, women pastors/priests represent only 11% of all religious congregations in the United States.  Many of the largest religious bodies, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox,  Latter Day Saints, and Southern Baptist Convention , do not ordain women at all. 

1. Southern Baptist Convention: The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist association in the United States, dismissed all women pastors in 2000.  At that time the newly adopted Baptist Faith and Message stated that while "both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."  The convention stands by that statement today. 

2.  American Baptist USA.  The American Baptist Churches ordain women.  Statistics on percentages are not available.

3. Presbyterian Church USA:

1930—Women are admitted to the office of elder
1956—First woman is ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament
1964—First African American is elected moderator of the General Assembly
2002—The PCUSA becomes a member of Churches Uniting in Christ, a coalition of nine denominations that have committed themselves to the recognition of each other's ministries. In the worship service celebrating this coming together members of the churches join in Holy Communion. The Episcopalians choose a bishop to represent them as a celebrant. The Presbyterian representative is an elder, a Chinese-American woman.

4. Free Presbyterian Church: A burning question for many today is whether or not women may be ordained to the ministry of the church. It is often stated that any denial of such a right is demeaning to women and denies their equality with men in Christ. Requiring an all-male ministry and eldership is portrayed as sexism at its worst. More and more churches are sweeping away all restrictions on a woman exercising any part of the ministry of the church, whether in a preaching or a pastoral (including governmental) role. The Free Presbyterian Church takes the Biblical position of historic Christianity on this issue and is therefore at variance with the modern trend.

The New Testament shows that women participated in the public prayer meetings of the church (Acts 1:14). As well as praying, they also prophesied. We are expressly told that Philip's four daughters did so (Acts 21:9). Paul tells the Corinthians that any woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head (I Cor. 11:5). Yet in the very same epistle Paul goes on to make this emphatic statement: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. . . . It is a shame for women to speak in the church" (I Cor. 14:34, 35).

To sum up: "If woman is now assigned a different position, this is done, not by God, but by man, and by man in contradiction to God. . . . Whatever sphere we may assign to woman in our church practice today dare not contravene her divinely ordained subjection and obedience, for this would conflict with God's own order" (R. C. H. Lenski). Thus the Free Presbyterian Church, gladly affirming the rich ministry of godly women in the church throughout history, nonetheless maintains that no woman may Scripturally be elected or ordained to any preaching, pastoral, or governmental office in the church.

The United Church of Christ has 1,803 female leaders while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has 1,358 ordained women.

The Episcopal Church in the United States: The Episcopal Church is almost four hundred years old. The American church accepted women as priests and bishops nearly 40 years ago. But church leaders in California, Illinois and Texas barred women clergy for many years.  The last diocese to ordain women priests was Quincy, Illinois in 2010. The overall church, which approved women's ordination in 1976, has more than 1,000. The Episcopalians ordained the first Anglican female bishop in 1989. The General Synod of the "mother church" in England endorsed the concept of female priests in 1993. In 1991 Queen Elizabeth paved the way for female priests by appointing a woman as one of her royal chaplains in Scotland. The first female bishop in England was ordained last year. At present 1/3 of the American Episcopal priests are women, but women still represent a small percentage of diocesan bishops. Katharine Jefferts Schori was ordained Presiding Bishop in 2009.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, though more conservative than other Lutheran bodies, is beginning to allow women to preach in regular worship services. A survey showed that about 1,000 LCMS clergymen maintain that the Bible is not opposed to the ordination of women (Christian News, Feb. 13, 1989).  The Synod still does not ordain women pastors.

8.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  As of 2013 women make up 24% of ELCA clergy.

9. Disciples of Christ and Reformed Churches: Both the Disciples and many of the Reformed ordain women, in keeping with their understanding of oneness in Christ, the inclusiveness of the ministry to the gospel, and the gifts of ministry given to Christians regardless of their sex, race, and other natural and social distinctions. Although we have not considered the ordination of women to be an obstacle to mutual recognition between our churches and those which cannot yet in conscience affirm the ordination of women, we cannot consider the issue to be in any way secondary or expendable in the effort for unity in the church.

10. Christian Reformed Churches: July, 1994: Less than 24 hours after voting that women cannot be ordained ministers, the Christian Reformed Church told local congregations June 22 to remove from office any women currently ordained to the lesser office of elder. In a tangle of procedural maneuverings, emotional protests and sharp debates, the 184 male delegates to the 300,000-member Calvinist denomination's annual synod - its highest policy-making body - spent the better part of two days wrestling with the issue of the role of women in the CRC.

Synod 1995 recognized that there are two different perspectives and convictions on this issue, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, and decided to give classes the option of declaring the word male in Church Order Article 3 inoperative, thereby allowing their churches to ordain women to all the offices. Synod 1995 also passed a set of regulations to be in effect until 2000 that restricted women from serving as delegates to synod or as synodical deputies or to be appointed by synodical agencies to ordained positions. The regulations also prevented any synodical delegates, synodical deputies, or seminary board members from being required to vote, against their consciences, on women candidates or nominees. Synod also decided that, in classes that do not declare the word male inoperative, churches may still choose to ordain women as elders. These decisions constitute the current position of the CRC on women in ecclesiastical office. Synod 2006 adopted a compromise about women in ecclesiastical office that many delegates called illogical yet inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Synod 2006 voted to remove the word “male” from the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church, theoretically allowing ordained women to serve in all the same assemblies as their male counterparts, including synod.
But in the same breath, the 186 male delegates declared that women may not be delegated to synod, the church’s broadest assembly, or serve as synodical deputies (synod’s representatives) at classis meetings. Removing women’s eligibility from serving as synodical deputies reverses a decision by Synod 2005 to allow it.

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church: Vashti McKenzie made history in 2000, when she was elected the 117th bishop, making her the first woman to achieve the highest rank in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Since McKenzie was elected, two more female pastors have announced they are candidates to become bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Jarena Lee was the first woman to preach under the auspices of the AME church. The child of free black parents, Lee was born in New Jersey in 1783. Rebecca Cox Jackson was another rare early woman preacher.

12. Methodist Episcopal Church: On May 4, 1956, in Minneapolis, the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. Half a century later, the fruits of that action are the nearly 12,000 United Methodist clergywomen who serve the church at every level, from bishops to local pastors.

13. United Methodist Church: Current bishops include 11 African-American men, three African-American women, two Hispanic-American men, one Asian-American man, 24 white men and eight white women.

14. Roman Catholic Church: Pontifical letter of May 1994: Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

15.  Assemblies of God Churches:  By the time the Assembly of God Church formally came into existence in 1914 it already had long experience with women preachers and pastors.  It has maintained that tradition ever since.

16.   United Pentecostal Church International.  The formal documents of the UPCI do not bar women ministers, but in practice women are still relegated to supportive roles.  As of 2006 women held 18.6% of ministerial positions in UPCI.