The Role Sexuality Plays in Ordination Discrimination – Pt 1

The Role Sexuality Plays in Ordination Discrimination – Pt 1

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I think back to a spring day in 2009.  My wife and I were sitting at home and the doorbell rings.  I peek out the side window and see two individuals, a young teen and gentleman who appeared to be in his forties.  They were Jehovah’s Witness.  We usually do not bother to open the door because we know that our belief systems don’t match but on this day we felt like entertaining the conversation.  They didn’t know what they were in for.  My wife being a seminary student at the time immediately asks the gentleman what he thought about females being able to pastor.  He responded by saying that the bible says that it is not good for women to speak in church.  He didn’t know what he was getting himself into with that comment.  He went on to explain to us that it was really ok for women to speak in church but they couldn’t do it in the pulpit and they certainly couldn’t become pastors.  My wife and I then began to give the gentleman a little bible study of our own explaining to him the social context in which Paul states that women shouldn’t speak in church.  We also pointed him to biblical rules established in parts of the bible that were not followed in today’s society, but he was still convinced that the bible should be taken literally when dealing with the issue of women in pastoral roles.  As for the young teen he seemed to be a little shaken with what my wife and I were saying.  My only assumption was that he may have been open to what we were saying, which may have caused him to now question what he was being taught.  To the naked eye it may seem like there are only a few denominations in which women are discriminated against, but if we take a closer look we can see that women still face hurdles even in denominations that accept them as pastors.  Even more interesting over the recent years is the concern with sexuality when in comes to ordination, the question being should homosexuals be afforded the opportunity to become pastors as well?  In the pages to come I will show how sexuality affects the opportunity for ordination.

Historical and Statistical Layout of Women

Women have been faced with challenges from the beginning of time.  “Prior to formal religious thought, one starts at the very beginning, with the question of whether a person or society even believes that women are fully human. Ancient society did not consider women fully human.”[1]  There lies the struggle for an uphill battle, women through out history would have to struggle to be viewed as equal to their male counterpart.  Let’s first take a look at some important dates for women in the Methodist tradition.[2]


  • 1817  Bishop Richard Allen allows black evangelist Jarena Lee to exhort and to hold prayer meetings in her home, although he denies her a preaching license.
  • 1866 Helenor M. Davison is ordained deacon by the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, probably making her the first ordained woman in the Methodist tradition.
  • 1869  Margaret Newton Van Cott is the first woman in the Methodist Episcopal Church to receive a local preacher’s license.  Lydia Sexton (United Brethren) is appointed chaplain of the Kansas State Prison at the age of 70, the first woman in the United States to hold such a position.
  • 1884  The African Methodist Episcopal Church approves the licensing of women as local preachers, but limits them to evangelistic work.
    The Methodist Protestant Church rules Anna Howard Shaw’s ordination out of order.
  • 1920  The Methodist Episcopal Church grants women the right to become licensed as local preachers.
  • 1956  The Methodist Church grants full clergy rights to women. Maud Keister Jensen is the first to receive such rights.
  • 1968  The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren unite to form The United Methodist Church.  Full clergy rights for women are affirmed by the new United Methodist Church.
  • 1980  Marjorie Matthews is the first woman to be elected bishop of The United Methodist Church.
  • In 2000 the AME Church elected its first female bishop, Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Next we can take a statistical look at the Gender Composition with in various Religious Traditions.

 Table 1 Gender Composition of Religious Traditions

(From Click to enlarge)

Let’s focus in on AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church which falls under the religious tradition of Historically Black Churches.  If we take a closer look at this tradition we can see a clear view in the lack of equality when it comes to leadership.  In 1884, 67 years after women were allowed to exhort and hold prayer meetings women are given the license to preach but are still only limited to evangelize.  It wasn’t until 116 years, later in the year 2000 that the AME Church appointed Vashti McKenzie as Bishop which is the highest position in the denomination.   What I find more interesting is that if we refer back to Table 1, we see that women make up 60% of the Historical Black Church membership.

Also if we look in the United Methodist tradition there has been a slow creep in the total number of clergywomen over time, despite the ordination of the first woman in 1866 and the granting of full rights to women in 1920.[1] In 1977 women only made up 2% of United Methodist Clergy.[2]  In 2003 studies showed that women were still only making up 18.5% of clergy in the United Methodist Church.[3]  One could assume that the reason for this may be that women simply aren’t seeking ordination.  Studies in 2006 show this to be untrue as “53 percent of ordination-track students at United Methodist seminaries” are women.[4] It is apparent that women are still not being afforded the opportunities that men are.

Verbal Discussions Against Women

Even though the numbers may seem to speak for themselves ideas about women in ministry are still made clear and apparent.  Barbara Finlay notes in her research that women have experienced outburst by males during service.  A minister described that a young man “A women can’t tell me anything”, there after leaving the service.[5]  Statements against women in ministry also include: “The responsibility of pastor is too strenuous for women.  The pastor is on call 24 hours but there are certainly times when women are incapacitated i.e. during pregnancy, during times of menstrual cycle.  However, I feel a women can be an ‘evangelist.’  Deacons must do ‘dirty work’ –  How can you expect a women to do such?  She loses her femininity and it diminishes her womanhood.”[6]  Another woman even reported that “the bishops and cabinets (of the United Methodist Church) refuse to appoint a black or a woman to some churches in some towns on the grounds that ‘they wouldn’t be accepted.’  They were allowing the churches to discriminate in negotiating appointments.”[7]



[2] Women With A Mission pg 8



[5] Facing The Stain Glass Ceiling: Gender In a Protestant Seminary pg 90

[6] The Black Church In the African American Experience

[7] The Web of Women’s Leadership: Recasting Congregational Ministry pg 89

[1] Women: To Preach or Not to Preach pg2