In Theory: Is there a gender issue in religious leadership?

Researchers with the Pew Research Center looked at nine major U.S. religious organizations and found that women rarely held leadership positions, both historically and presently.

Among the groups looked at were American Baptist Churches USA, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Unitarian Universalist Assn.

Women had previously led two of the nine institutions, while women currently helm another two of the organizations.

Several religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not allow women to be ordained or serve in leadership positions.

Q: Does the lack of women in religious leadership roles concern you? What, if anything, needs to be done to address the issue?

The survey results do not cause me concern. Some groups included in this study don’t fall within the bounds of Christianity. They are outside of the scope of my expertise so I can’t comment on the proper role of women within their ranks.

Regarding leadership within the Christian church, I believe the Bible is God’s revealed word to us and that it — and not current cultural norms — is our ultimate authority. I find two offices, or positions of authority, prescribed for leadership in the church: elders (or “overseers”) and deacons. The qualifications for these offices are clearly delineated in 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Titus 1:5-9. One of the qualifications is that the elder or deacon be “the husband of one wife” as the New American Standard Bible translates it.

Literally, this means “a one-woman kind of man.” Careful examination of the original language reveals that to hold either of these offices the person must be a grown man (not a boy, not a woman) who has the character trait of being devoted to one woman at a time. This does not require him to actually be married but it does literally mean that he has to be a man.

In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul the apostle placed a restriction upon those who teach the corporate gathering of the church (a responsibility often given to elders): “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” I find no biblical injunction against a woman teaching a group of women, so I encourage it. I understand that many people disagree with these restrictions, nevertheless the church’s standard must remain biblical and not politically correct. It is only reasonable to apply these qualifications to those who have authority over multiple churches, as in the case of denominational executives or bishops.

That being said, there are plenty of women in leadership roles in the evangelical church and we need every one of them. They may not hold offices as pastors or deacons or evangelists, but they lead by example. They exemplify biblical leadership by sacrificially giving their time, talent and treasure for the cause of Jesus Christ.

The church simply would not function properly without them. They are created in the image of God, valued by God and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ the same way men are. Nevertheless, women and men are not interchangeable. God created gender roles and responsibilities, and the more we honor them the healthier our churches and families and marriages will be.

Pastor Jon Barta

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Yes, it does disturb me that religions have not had more women in leadership positions.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. In the good ol’ USA no women served on the Supreme Court until Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor in the 1980s. While I believe America leads the world in championing women’s rights, women are still not considered equal to men here, but there is a gradual change, and we may soon even have our first woman president! (And even if we don’t, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a leading contender for our nation’s highest office is a “first.” And the fact that Carly Fiorina over on the Republican side could feel that she had a chance is also a good sign.)

I don’t know what it is about religious institutions that won’t put women in charge (for the record, my denomination, the United Church of Christ, has plenty of ordained female clergy). The claim is sometimes that Jesus chose only male disciples, so only men can do the job. I think that’s bogus, and it allows the deep down fear of women or outright misogyny to masquerade behind the skirts of Jesus!

The feminist Gloria Steinem stated one time: “If the job doesn’t require a penis, I want it.” I love it that she made that statement, and I agree; what possible reason is there for not giving a woman every chance as a man? Come on, you Roman Catholics! Come on, you Mormons! You are being non-Christian in keeping your women down.

Remember Jesus with Mary and Martha? Martha was busy in the kitchen and asked Jesus to have her sister, sitting at Jesus’ feet, to join her. But Jesus took Mary’s side!

So what would Jesus do? In fact, what did Jesus do? He treated Mary as a full-fledged disciple. How can we not do the same?

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


I have not read the entire Pew study so I am not sure which movements have women at their head and which do not, but I think that citing only congregational organizations as the sole source for such a study is too narrow.

We need to look at religious service organizations, schools and universities as well. However, I do agree that the more conservative religious organizations and institutions have been reluctant to promote women into leadership positions, while the more liberal movements in Judaism such as Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal have been ordaining women as Rabbis for the past 50 years and in American Christianity, ordained women leading pulpits has been going on since before the Civil War.

Now, what can be done to change conservatives into liberals? As always, when I am unsure, I use text as my guide.

Psalm 43: “O send out your light and your truth… let them bring me to your holy mountain and to your dwelling places.”

May God’s enlightening truth guide all those currently leading and all those, male and female, who seek the top of the mountain called leadership find their own Mt. Sinai, a place known for love, holy commandments and peace.

Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet

The ordination of LDS women is a much larger issue in the news and social media than it is among church members.

In a Pew survey published last year, 87 percent of Mormon respondents — including 90 percent LDS women — said they did not support the ordination of women. Based on personal observation, I believe those percentages are low.

To most church members the priesthood means more than holding certain church offices, but since the question has to do with leadership, I will address it from that perspective. The LDS church relies on lay members to fill all leadership positions. Every willing member is given opportunities to serve and, inevitably, some of these opportunities will involve a leadership role.

Women hold leadership positions locally and at the worldwide level. They also have, for years, delivered sermons to the church’s global membership during our twice-yearly General Conference meetings and they help determine church policies locally and globally.

A relatively small number of LDS women, perhaps influenced by secular feminist movements, have sought ordination to the priesthood. The church has reiterated that this is contrary to doctrine that the Lord has revealed for the church.

But, to put that in some context, no one gets to pick the position in which they serve. We are “called” to these positions by church leaders, who are trained to make their decisions a matter of serious thought and prayer. In this way, we try to ensure that the choices are the Lord’s, and not those of any individual. It is wrong to interfere with this process because of personal desire or ambition. For example, it would be very inappropriate for a man to lobby to become a bishop. So inappropriate, in fact, that it would probably disqualify him from consideration.

Most church members understand this and also accept that men and women play different, though equally important, roles in the church and in their families.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


I served in American Baptist churches, and I know a little about the denomination. Overall, it’s considered rather liberal among Baptist expressions, in that it does ordain women and it has something of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding certain other issues. The denomination had a small schism about a decade ago when a conservative California region split and formed a new identity that it felt was more biblical. The American Baptists recovered and continued, and today they have member churches with theological perspectives that lean right, left and all points in between. How this can be lies in the nature of Baptist churches generally, where denominational association is voluntary, and congregations maintain absolute autonomy. They decide if their denominational relationship is beneficial or not. When benefits become less than liabilities, churches may decide to remove themselves. But because churches are self-governed, they will call the pastors of their own choosing no matter what genderless ideals their denomination might promote.

Now the singular issue of pastor qualification is not up for popular vote or contemporary preference. The Bible seemingly makes this a masculine position within the context of church, and most have followed this from time immemorial. Many leadership functions in the church currently are femininely “manned,” from board members and deaconesses, to women’s ministry, youth and leading worship, but the role of Pastor is biblically understood to be a position incumbent upon men because they are men. Recently it’s been observed that the Bride of Christ (the Church) with its majority female membership and great feminine activity has actually driven away men (who prefer more masculine climes and less emotive singing and hand holding). Make the Pastor into a Pastor-ess and you will make it a women’s club altogether.

So it’s not about feelings, it’s about divine revelation that dictates a male pastorate. God is “Our Father;” Jesus is the “Son” (the “second Adam”) and his 12 male Apostles were specifically chosen from myriad disciples that included women. The New Testament Pastoral Epistles are addressed to men, and therein state “do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (1Timothy 2:12 NIV) and “if a man wants to be a pastor he has a good ambition. For a pastor must be a good man” (3:1-2 TLB). Many passages convey male qualification for this pivotal role, which has nothing to do with gender intelligence or capability.

Today, denominations may allow for pastorettes, but they leave it to congregations to wrestle with the biblical implications of its seeming contrariness, and most will not be persuaded to fill their pulpits with ecclesiastical “mothers.”

Rev. Bryan A. Griem



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