Women break the 'stained glass ceiling' to lead religious groups

Compiled by Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Mon, Aug. 4, 2014, 8:20 a.m. MDT

 Stained Glass from the inside of a church in Paris, France.

Stained Glass from the inside of a church in Paris, France.

(Photodisc, Getty Images)

Some landmark moments happened in July for women seeking leadership positions in religious organizations. From gaining the right to become bishops in the Church of England to leading the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, women reached new heights within faith communities.

The advancements were celebrated as signs of growing commitment to gender equality in religious groups, but they also highlighted how polarizing the issue of female leadership continues to be.

Although women have been ordained in the Church of England since 1994, The New York Times reported that traditionalists resisted their ascension into the office of bishop on theological grounds. The Church of England's vote mid-month to allow women bishops represented an end to "years of deadlock and division."

"At times the issue became so divisive that there were fears that groups might break away if they lost the argument, either to align with the Roman Catholic Church or with evangelical African churches," the Times article said.

Anglicanism continues to be globally divided on the issue of women's ordination, which threatens the denomination's stability. Although the Church of England's decision met with wide support in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, where women could already hold the office, "some Anglican churches in developing countries do not even ordain women as priests," the Times reported.

Less controversial was CCCU's election of Shirley Hoogstra, its first woman president, although it still represented a big change for the male-dominated organization: "Approximately 9 of its 175 members institutions are currently led by women," Christianity Today reported.

Hoogstra formerly served as the vice president for student life at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Calvin's student newspaper, Chimes, reported that she was "the first woman to serve as a cabinet member" at the college.

CCCU is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports the work of Christian academic institutions. Many of its member schools were part of a recent study done on women leadership at evangelical nonprofits.

The study concluded that "when it comes to women in leadership positions, evangelical nonprofits lag behind their secular counterparts," Christianity Today reported.

"This isn't just about the people in top leadership positions — this is about those who are the top paid leaders, and it's true about the board," wrote one of the study's organizers, Amy Reynolds, for Patheos.

The Women in Leadership study found that of the 1,300 nonprofits analyzed, 16 percent of the top leaders, 21 percent of the boards and 23 percent of the highest paid employees are female. In the nonprofit world as a whole, women make up 43 percent of board members and 40 percent of CEOs.

A recent Religion News Service article on single moms who serve as ministers addressed the ongoing debate about women who divide their time between motherhood and leadership positions.

"There's nothing that points up the traditional conflicts that religious groups have put forward between ordination and womanhood than motherhood," said Ann D. Braude to RNS. "Traditionally, motherhood by Christians and others was viewed as a vocation, and you can only have one vocation: You could have the ministry or motherhood as a vocation, but not both."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

You may also be interested in this story:

Mommy, minister and unmarried: Single mothers in the pulpit

1. Ernest T. Bass
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 4, 2014

Women certainly aren't breaking the stained glass, or any other glass ceiling around here. It appears that it will never happen.

2. Shane333
Cedar Hills, UT,
Aug. 4, 2014

In some cases there is no ceiling to break, such as in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where no priesthood blessings are denied to either gender.

3. mhenshaw
Leesburg, VA,
Aug. 4, 2014

@Red Corvette,

Ask the millions of other Mormon women who don't have a problem with the Church's current doctrine and policy about whether they think there's a glass ceiling.

You can't keep everyone happy all the time no matter what you do. A problem doesn't necessarily exist just because a very tiny minority say they want a change.

4. DoloresCruz1982
Aug. 4, 2014

Once upon a time, women could lay on hands and bless the sick. Women also ran powerful church auxiliary organizations, managing large budgets and deciding on projects. They even published their own magazines. What happened? Correlation. And why can't a woman be a ward clerk? Modern LDS women may not remember how it was, how much women have lost in the church over the decades.

5. mhenshaw
Leesburg, VA,
Aug. 4, 2014

>>Women also ran powerful church auxiliary organizations, managing large budgets and deciding on projects.

They still do. The Relief Society is the largest auxiliary in the Church and it's run by women from top to bottom. They run the Young Women's organization and the Primary organization from top to bottom as well.

And the Church only publishes three magazines -- one for adults, one for teens, one for children. It's not like the men in the Church have their own magazine.