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More women become leaders in American Christianity

AJ Willingham of CNN writes that more women than ever have entered into positions of leadership in churches across the United States in the past few decades. Such moves have often been controversial as leadership positions have traditionally been restricted to men. Large denominations like the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches still limit high-ranking positions to men.

There have been changes, however, even among larger denominations. For example, 40% of pastors for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are women even, and the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention has recently expelled several affiliated churches that refused to comply with gender-based restrictions.

Willingham continues:

However, among mainstream denominations that do ordain women, a sea change is occurring. More women are entering seminary and other theological programs with the intent of becoming priests. As it follows, more women are also occupying those roles after being ordained.

Experts say one of the main reasons for the increase is that women of faith are looking at their religious traditions and sensing a need for change.

“Women — and men — in the church, have seen abuse and suffering. They’ve seen the role of the patriarchy in the church. They want to address constructively some of these challenges that have been facing both the church and in our society,” says Alexis Abernethy, chief academic officer at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “They’re saying, ‘Enough of this. We need to be different.’ So I think a lot of these women are marshaling energy in that direction.”

However, female priests still face an alarming number of challenges navigating institutional structures built by and for men — challenges that are similar to those faced by women in other workplaces. These challenges also sow deep examinations of faith: If church traditions have historically marginalized women and others, what leads those who have been excluded to forge on anyway?

When considering women in the priesthood, this history of exclusion can appear to be a major conflict. The argument against women in Christian leadership is largely based on a specific interpretation of the Bible, but even in cultures where the theology has been decided in favor of women, they still face things like lower pay, less opportunities, and inconsistent support in areas like maternity leave.

Read full article here.

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