Ordination of women

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Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected in 2006 as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church and also the first female primate in the Anglican Communion.[1]

The ordination of women to ministerial or priestly office is a regular practice among some major religious groups of the present time, as it was of several religions of antiquity.

It remains a controversial issue in certain religions or denominations where the ordination, the process by which a person is consecrated and set apart for the administration of various religious rites, or where the role that an ordained person fulfills, has traditionally been restricted to men. That traditional restriction might have been due to cultural prohibition or theological doctrine, or both.

In some cases women have been permitted to be ordained, but not to hold higher positions, such as (until July 2014) that of bishop in the Church of England.[2] Where laws prohibit sex discrimination in employment, exceptions are often made for religious organisations.


Sumer and Akkad[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Religions of the ancient Near East.
Cylinder seal (c. 2100 BCE) depicting goddesses conducting mortal males through a religious rite

Ancient Egypt[edit]

Sarcophagus of the Egyptian priestess Iset-en-kheb, 25th26th dynasty (7th–6th century BC)

In Ancient Egyptian religion, God's Wife of Amun was the highest ranking priestess; this title was held by a daughter of the High Priest of Amun, during the reign of Hatshepsut, while the capital of Egypt was in Thebes during the second millennium BC (circa 2160 BC).

Later, Divine Adoratrice of Amun was a title created for the chief priestess of Amun. During the first millennium BC, when the holder of this office exercised her largest measure of influence, her position was an important appointment facilitating the transfer of power from one pharaoh to the next, when his daughter was adopted to fill it by the incumbent office holder. The Divine Adoratrice ruled over the extensive temple duties and domains, controlling a significant part of the ancient Egyptian economy.

Ancient Egyptian priestesses:

Ancient Greece[edit]

Female figure carrying a torch and piglet to celebrate rites of Demeter and Persephone (from Attica, 140–130 BCE)

In ancient Greek religion, some important observances, such as the Thesmophoria, were made by women. Priestesses played a major role in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Gerarai were priestesses of Dionysus who presided over festivals and rituals associated with the god. A body of priestesses might also maintain the cult at a particular holy site, such as the Peleiades at the oracle of Dodona. The Arrephoroi were young girls ages seven to twelve who worked as servants of Athena Polias on the Athenian Acropolis and were charged with conducting unique rituals.

At several sites women priestesses served as oracles , the most famous of which is the Oracle of Delphi. The priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was the Pythia, credited throughout the Greco-Roman world for her prophecies, which gave her a prominence unusual for a woman in male-dominated ancient Greece. The Phrygian Sibyl presided over an oracle of Apollo in Anatolian Phrygia. The inspired speech of divining women, however, was interpreted by male priests; a woman might be a mantic (mantis) who became the mouthpiece of a deity through possession, but the "prophecy of interpretation" required specialized knowledge and was considered a rational process suited only to a male '"prophet" (prophētēs).[11][12]

Ancient Rome[edit]

See also Women in ancient Rome: Religious life
The Virgo Vestalis Maxima, the highest-ranking of the Vestal Virgins

The Latin word sacerdos, "priest," is the same for both the grammatical genders. In Roman state religion, the priesthood of the Vestals was responsible for the continuance and security of Rome as embodied by the sacred fire that they could not allow to go out. The Vestals were a college of six sacerdotes (plural) devoted to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, both the focus of a private home (domus) and the state hearth that was the center of communal religion. Freed of the usual social obligations to marry and rear children, the Vestals took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.[13] They retained their religious authority until the Christian emperor Gratian confiscated their revenues[14] and his successor Theodosius I closed the Temple of Vesta permanently.[15]

The Romans also had at least two priesthoods that were each held jointly by a married couple, the rex and regina sacrorum, and the flamen and flaminica Dialis. The regina sacrorum ("queen of the sacred rites") and the flaminica Dialis (high priestess of Jupiter) each had her own distinct duties and presided over public sacrifices, the regina on the first day of every month, and the flaminica every nundinal cycle (the Roman equivalent of a week). The highly public nature of these sacrifices, like the role of the Vestals, indicates that women's religious activities in ancient Rome were not restricted to the private or domestic sphere.[16] So essential was the gender complement to these priesthoods that if the wife died, the husband had to give up his office. This is true of the flaminate, and probably true of the rex and regina.[16]

The title sacerdos was often specified in relation to a deity or temple,[16][17] such as a sacerdos Cereris or Cerealis, "priestess of Ceres", an office never held by men.[18] Female sacerdotes played a leading role in the sanctuaries of Ceres and Proserpina in Rome and throughout Italy that observed so-called "Greek rite" (ritus graecus). This form of worship had spread from Sicily under Greek influence, and the Aventine cult of Ceres in Rome was headed by male priests.[19] Only women celebrated the rites of the Bona Dea ("Good Goddess"), for whom sacerdotes are recorded.[20]

Latin dedication to the goddess Isis Augusta by Lucretia Fida, a sacerdos (priest), from Roman Iberia[21]

From the Mid Republic onward, religious diversity became increasingly characteristic of the city of Rome. Many religions that were not part of Rome's earliest state religion offered leadership roles as priests for women, among them the imported cult of Isis and of the Magna Mater ("Great Mother", or Cybele). An epitaph preserves the title sacerdos maxima for a woman who held the highest priesthood of the Magna Mater's temple near the current site of St. Peter's Basilica.[22] Inscriptions for the Imperial era record priestesses of Juno Populona and of deified women of the Imperial household.[16]

Under some circumstances, when cults such as mystery religions were introduced to Romans, it was preferred that they be maintained by women. Although it was Roman practice to incorporate other religions instead of trying to eradicate them,[23] the secrecy of some mystery cults was regarded with suspicion. In 189 BCE, the senate attempted to suppress the Bacchanals, claiming the secret rites corrupted morality and were a hotbed of political conspiracy. One provision of the senatorial decree was that only women should serve as priests of the Dionysian religion, perhaps to guard against the politicizing of the cult,[24] since even Roman women who were citizens lacked the right to vote or hold political office. Priestesses of Liber, the Roman god identified with Dionysus, are mentioned by the 1st-century BC scholar Varro, as well as indicated by epigraphic evidence.[16]

Other religious titles for Roman women include magistra, a high priestess, female expert or teacher; and ministra, a female assistant, particularly one in service to a deity. A magistra or ministra would have been responsible for the regular maintenance of a cult. Epitaphs provide the main evidence for these priesthoods, and the woman is often not identified in terms of her marital status.[16][17]


Gargi Vachaknavi is one of the earliest known woman sage from the Vedic period. Gargi composed several hymns that questioned the origin of all existence.[25][26] She is mentioned in the Sixth and the Eighth Brahmana of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where the brahmayajna, a philosophic congress organized by King Janaka of Videha is described, she challenged the sage Yajnavalkya with perturbing questions on the atman (soul).[27]

Bhairavi Brahmani is a guru of Sri Ramakrishna. She initiated Ramakrishna into Tantra. Under her guidance, Ramakrishna went through sixty four major tantric sadhanas which were completed in 1863.[28]

In 2014 an all-female akhada (group of sadhus) was formed; it is believed to be the first such group in India.[29]

Ramakrishna Sarada Mission is the modern 21st century monastic order for women. The order was conducted under the guidance of the Ramakrishna monks until 1959, at which time it became entirely independent. It currently has centers in various parts of India, and also in Sydney, Australia.

There are two types of Hindu priests, purohits and pujaris. Both women and men are ordained as purohits and pujaris.[30][31] Chanda Vyas, born in Kenya, was Britain's first female Hindu priest.[32]

Furthermore, both men and women are Hindu gurus.[33] Shakti Durga, formerly known as Kim Fraser, was Australia's first female guru.[34]


Ani Pema Chodron, an American woman who was ordained as a bhikkhuni (a fully ordained Buddhist nun) in a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in 1981. Pema Chödrön was the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.[35][36]

The tradition of the ordained monastic community in Buddhism (the sangha) began with the Buddha, who established an order of monks.[37] According to the scriptures,[38] later, after an initial reluctance, he also established an order of nuns. Fully ordained Buddhist nuns are called bhikkhunis.[39][40] Mahapajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of Buddha, was the first bhikkhuni.[41]

Prajñādhara is the twenty-seventh Indian Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and is believed to have been a woman.[42]

In the Mahayana tradition during the 13th century, the Japanese Mugai Nyodai became the first female abbess and thus the first ordained female Zen master.[43]

However, the bhikkhuni ordination once existing in the countries where Theravada is more widespread died out around the 10th century, and novice ordination has also disappeared in those countries. Therefore, women who wish to live as nuns in those countries must do so by taking eight or ten precepts. Neither laywomen nor formally ordained, these women do not receive the recognition, education, financial support or status enjoyed by Buddhist men in their countries. These "precept-holders" live in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Thailand. In particular, the governing council of Burmese Buddhism has ruled that there can be no valid ordination of women in modern times, though some Burmese monks disagree. Japan is a special case as, although it has neither the bhikkhuni nor novice ordinations, the precept-holding nuns who live there do enjoy a higher status and better education than their precept-holder sisters elsewhere, and can even become Zen priests.[44] In Tibet there is currently no bhikkhuni ordination, but the Dalai Lama has authorized followers of the Tibetan tradition to be ordained as nuns in traditions that have such ordination.

The bhikkhuni ordination of Buddhist nuns has always been practiced in East Asia.[45] In 1996, through the efforts of Sakyadhita, an International Buddhist Women Association, ten Sri Lankan women were ordained as bhikkhunis in Sarnath, India.[46] Also, bhikkhuni ordination of Buddhist nuns began again in Sri Lanka in 1998 after a lapse of 900 years.[47] In 2003 Ayya Sudhamma became the first American-born woman to receive bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka.[40] Furthermore, on February 28, 2003, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, formerly known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, became the first Thai woman to receive bhikkhuni ordination as a Theravada nun (Theravada is a school of Buddhism).[48] Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was ordained in Sri Lanka.[49] Dhammananda Bhikkhuni's mother Venerable Voramai, also called Ta Tao Fa Tzu, had become the first fully ordained Thai woman in the Mahayana lineage in Taiwan in 1971.[50][51]

A 55-year-old Thai Buddhist 8-precept white-robed maechee nun, Varanggana Vanavichayen, became the first woman to receive the going-forth ceremony of a Theravada novice (and the gold robe) in Thailand, in 2002.[52] Since then, the Thai Senate has reviewed and revoked the secular law passed in 1928 banning women's full ordination in Buddhism as unconstitutional for being counter to laws protecting freedom of religion. However Thailand's two main Theravada Buddhist orders, the Mahanikaya and Dhammayutika Nikaya, have yet to officially accept fully ordained women into their ranks.

In 2009 in Australia four women received bhikkhuni ordination as Theravada nuns, the first time such ordination had occurred in Australia.[53]

In 1997 Dhamma Cetiya Vihara in Boston was founded by Ven. Gotami of Thailand, then a 10 precept nun; when she received full ordination in 2000, her dwelling became America's first Theravada Buddhist bhikkhuni vihara. In 1998 Sherry Chayat, born in Brooklyn, became the first American woman to receive transmission in the Rinzai school of Buddhism.[54][55][56] In 2006 Merle Kodo Boyd, born in Texas, became the first African-American woman ever to receive Dharma transmission in Zen Buddhism.[57] Also in 2006, for the first time in American history, a Buddhist ordination was held where an American woman (Sister Khanti-Khema) took the Samaneri (novice) vows with an American monk (Bhante Vimalaramsi) presiding. This was done for the Buddhist American Forest Tradition at the Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center in Missouri.[58] In 2010 the first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in America (Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont) was officially consecrated. It offers novice ordination and follows the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism. The abbot of the Vajra Dakini nunnery is Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, who is the first bhikkhuni in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been ordained in Taiwan in 2002.[59][60] She is also the first westerner, male or female, to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, having been installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery in 2004.[59] The Vajra Dakini Nunnery does not follow The Eight Garudhammas.[61] Also in 2010, in Northern California, 4 novice nuns were given the full bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai Theravada tradition, which included the double ordination ceremony. Bhante Gunaratana and other monks and nuns were in attendance. It was the first such ordination ever in the Western hemisphere.[62] The following month, more bhikkhuni ordinations were completed in Southern California, led by Walpola Piyananda and other monks and nuns. The bhikkhunis ordained in Southern California were Lakshapathiye Samadhi (born in Sri Lanka), Cariyapanna, Susila, Sammasati (all three born in Vietnam), and Uttamanyana (born in Myanmar).[63]


Traditional view: Christ ordains St Peter as head of the Church
First witness: Mary Magdalene sees the risen Christ

In the liturgical traditions of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism and Anglicanism, the term ordination refers more narrowly to the means by which a person is included in one of the orders of bishops, priests or deacons. This is distinguished from the process of consecration to religious orders, namely nuns and monks, which are open to women and men. Some Protestant denominations understand ordination more generally as the acceptance of a person for pastoral work.

Supporters of the admission of women to Christian priesthood have argued the existence of documented instances of ordained women in the Early Church, as deacons, priests or bishops.[64] In AD 494 Pope Gelasius I wrote a letter condemning female participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, a role he felt was reserved for men.[65]

The ordination of women has once again been a controversial issue in more recent years; while many Christian denominations have responded positively to modern views of gender equality, some traditionalists take a more conservative view and oppose the admission of women into the priesthood. For example, some Anglo-Catholics or Evangelicals, while theologically very different, may share opposition to female ordination.[66] Evangelical Christians who place emphasis on the infallibility of the Bible base their opposition to women's ordination partly upon the writings of the Apostle Paul, such as Ephesians 5:23, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which appears to demand male leadership in the Church.[67] Traditionalist Roman and orthodox Catholics may allude to Jesus Christ's choice of disciples as evidence of his intention for an exclusively male Apostolic Succession, as laid down by early Christian writers such as Tertullian and reiterated in the 1976 Vatican Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.[68]

Supporters of women's ordination may point to the role of notable female figures in the Bible such as Phoebe, Junia (considered an apostle by Paul) and others in Romans 16:1, the female disciples of Jesus, and the women at the crucifixion who were the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, as supporting evidence of the importance of women as leaders in the Early Church. They may also rely on exegetical interpretations of scriptural language related to gender.[67][69][70]


In 1917 the Church of England licensed women as lay readers called bishop's messengers, many of whom ran churches, but did not go as far as to ordain them.

Within Anglicanism the majority of provinces ordain women as deacons and priests.[71]

The first three women priests ordained in the Anglican Communion were in the Anglican Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao: Li Tim-Oi in 1944 and Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett in 1971.

On July 29, 1974, Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, and Edward R. Welles of the US Episcopal Church, with Bishop Antonio Ramos of Costa Rica, ordained eleven women as priests in a ceremony that was widely considered "irregular" because the women lacked "recommendation from the standing committee," a canonical prerequisite for ordination. The "Philadelphia Eleven", as they became known, were Merrill Bittner, Alison Cheek, Alla Bozarth (Campell), Emily C. Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne R. Hiatt (d. 2002), Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard (d. 1981), Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Welles Swanson (d. 2006), and Nancy Hatch Wittig.[72] Initially opposed by the House of Bishops, the ordinations received approval from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in September 1976. This General Convention approved the ordination of women to both the priesthood and the episcopate.

Reacting to the action of the General Convention, clergy and laypersons opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood met in convention at the Congress of St. Louis and attempted to formed a rival Anglican church in the US and Canada. Despite the plans for a united North American church, the result was division into several Continuing Anglican churches, which now make up part of the Continuing Anglican movement.

The first woman to become a bishop in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris, who was elected a suffragan bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 1988 and ordained on February 11, 1989. The majority of Anglican provinces now permit the ordination of women as bishops,[71][73] and as of 2014, women have served or are serving as bishops in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, South India and in the extra provincial Episcopal Church of Cuba.

On June 18, 2006, the Episcopal Church became the first Anglican province to elect a woman, the Most Rev Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, as Primate (leader of an Anglican province), called the "Presiding Bishop" in the United States.[74]

Community of Christ[edit]

The Community of Christ adopted the practice of women's ordination in 1984,[75] which was one of the reasons for the schism between the Community of Christ and the newly formed Restoration Branches movement, which was largely composed of members of the Community of Christ church (then known as the RLDS church) who refused to accept this development and other doctrinal changes taking place during this same period. For example, the Community of Christ also changed the name of one of its priesthood offices from evangelist-patriarch to evangelist, and its associated sacrament, the patriarchal blessing, to the evangelist's blessing. In 1998, Gail E. Mengel and Linda L. Booth became the first two women apostles in the Community of Christ.[76] At the 2007 World Conference of the church, Becky L. Savage was ordained as the first woman to serve in the First Presidency.[77][78] In 2013, Linda L. Booth became the first woman elected to serve as president of the Council of Twelve.[79]

Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

Jehovah's Witnesses consider qualified public baptism to represent the baptizand's ordination, following which he or she is immediately considered an ordained minister. In 1941, the Supreme Court of Vermont recognized the validity of this ordination for a female Jehovah's Witness minister.[80] The majority of Witnesses actively preaching from door to door are female.[81][needs update] Women are commonly appointed as full-time ministers, either to evangelize as "pioneers" or missionaries, or to serve at their branch offices.[82]

Nevertheless, Witness deacons ("ministerial servants") and elders must be male, and only a baptized adult male may perform a Jehovah's Witness baptism, funeral, or wedding.[83] Within the congregation, a female Witness minister may only lead prayer and teaching when there is a special need, and must do so wearing a head covering.[84][85][86]

Latter-day Saints[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not ordain women.[87] Some (most notably former LDS members D. Michael Quinn and Margaret Toscano) have argued that the church ordained women in the past and that therefore the church currently has the power to ordain women and should do so;[88][89] however, there are no known records of any women having been ordained to the priesthood.[90] Women do hold a prominent place in the church, including their work in the Relief Society which is one of the largest and most long-lasting women's organizations in the world.[91] Women thus serve, as do men, in unpaid positions involving teaching, administration, missionary service, humanitarian efforts, and other capacities.[92] Women often offer prayers and deliver sermons during Sunday services. Ordain Women, an activist group of Mormon women founded by Kate Kelly (feminist) in March 2013, supports extending priesthood ordinations to women.[93]

Liberal Catholic[edit]

Of all the churches in the Liberal Catholic movement, only the original church, the Liberal Catholic Church under Bishop Graham Wale, does not ordain women. The position held by the Liberal Catholic Church is that the Church, even if it wanted to ordain women, does not have the authority to do so and that it is not possible for a woman to become a priest even if she went through the ordination ceremony. The reasoning behind this belief is that the female body does not effectively channel the masculine energies of Christ, the true minister of all the sacraments. The priest has to be able to channel Christ's energies to validly confect the sacrament; therefore priests must be male. When discussing the sacrament of Holy Orders in his book Science of the Sacraments, Second Presiding Bishop Leadbeater confirmed that women could not be ordained; he noted that Christ left no indication that women can become priests and that only Christ can change this arrangement.


The Orthodox Church follows a line of reasoning similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to the ordination of priests and does not allow women's ordination.[94]

Evangelos Theodorou argued that female deacons were actually ordained in antiquity.[95] K. K. Fitzgerald has followed and amplified Theodorou's research. Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote:[96][verification needed]

The order of deaconesses seems definitely to have been considered an "ordained" ministry during early centuries in at any rate the Christian East. ... Some Orthodox writers regard deaconesses as having been a "lay" ministry. There are strong reasons for rejecting this view. In the Byzantine rite the liturgical office for the laying-on of hands for the deaconess is exactly parallel to that for the deacon; and so on the principle lex orandi, lex credendi—the Church's worshipping practice is a sure indication of its faith—it follows that the deaconesses receives, as does the deacon, a genuine sacramental ordination: not just a χειροθεσια (chirothesia) but a χειροτονια (chirotonia). However, the ordination of women in the Catholic Church does exist. Although it is not widespread, it is official by the Roman Catholic Church.

On October 8, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece voted to permit the appointment of monastic deaconesses, that is, women to minister and assist at the liturgy within their own monasteries, but it made clear that the rite was a χειροτονία (appointment), not a χειροθεσία (ordination).[97][98][99][100] There is a strong monastic tradition, pursued by both men and women in the Orthodox Church, where monks and nuns lead identical spiritual lives. Unlike Western-rite Catholic religious life, which has myriad traditions, both contemplative and active (see Benedictine monks, Franciscan friars, Jesuits), that of Orthodoxy has remained exclusively ascetic and monastic.


A key theological doctrine for Reformed and most other Protestants is the priesthood of all believers—a doctrine considered by them so important that it has been dubbed by some as "a clarion truth of Scripture".[101]

This doctrine restores true dignity and true integrity to all believers since it teaches that all believers are priests and that as priests, they are to serve God—no matter what legitimate vocation they pursue. Thus, there is no vocation that is more 'sacred' than any other. Because Christ is Lord over all areas of life, and because His word applies to all areas of life, nowhere does His Word even remotely suggest that the ministry is 'sacred' while all other vocations are 'secular.' Scripture knows no sacred-secular distinction. All of life belongs to God. All of life is sacred. All believers are priests."

— David Hagopian. Trading Places: The Priesthood of All Believers.[101]

Most Protestant denominations require pastors, ministers, deacons, and elders to be formally ordained. The early Protestant reformer Martin Bucer, for instance, cited Ephesians 4[Eph. 4:11–13] and other Pauline letters in support of this.[102] While the process of ordination varies among the denominations and the specific church office to be held, it may require preparatory training such as seminary or Bible college, election by the congregation or appointment by a higher authority, and expectations of a lifestyle that requires a higher standard. For example, the Good News Translation of James 3:1 says, "My friends, not many of you should become teachers. As you know, we teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others.[103]

Traditionally, these roles were male preserves, but over the last century an increasing number of denominations have begun ordaining women. The Church of England appointed female lay readers during the First World War. Later the United Church of Canada in 1936 and the American United Methodist Church in 1956 also began to ordain women.[104][105]

A female Quaker preacher and her congregation.

Meanwhile, women's ministry has been part of Methodist tradition in Britain for over 200 years. In the late 18th century in England, John Wesley allowed for female office-bearers and preachers.[106]

The Salvation Army has allowed the ordination of women since its beginning, although it was a hotly disputed topic between William and Catherine Booth.[107] The fourth, thirteenth, and nineteenth Generals of the Salvation Army were women.[108]

In 1918, Alma Bridwell White, head of the Pillar of Fire Church, became the first female bishop.

Today, over half of all American Protestant denominations ordain women,[109] but some restrict the official positions a woman can hold. For instance, some ordain women for the military or hospital chaplaincy but prohibit them from serving in congregational roles. Over one-third of all seminary students (and in some seminaries nearly half) are female.[110][111]

The Protestant denominations that refuse to ordain women often do so on the basis of New Testament scriptures that they interpret as prohibiting women from fulfilling church roles that require ordination[112] An especially important consideration here is the way 1 Timothy 2:12 is translated and interpreted in the New Testament.[112] Debate on how to best interpret the I Timothy verse is intense and ongoing. Important arguments to do with context and the Greek words used throw considerable doubt on the literalistic interpretation of some.[113]

Roman Catholic[edit]

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, as emphasised by Pope John Paul II in the apostolic letter "Ordinatio sacerdotalis", is "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."[114] This teaching is embodied in the current canon law (specifically canon law 1024[115]) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by the canonical statement: "Only a baptized man (in Latin, vir) validly receives sacred ordination."[116] Insofar as priestly and episcopal ordination are concerned, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law; it belongs to the deposit of faith and is unchangeable.[117][118][119]

In 2007, the Holy See issued a decree saying that the attempted ordination of women would result in automatic excommunication for the women and bishops ordaining them.[120] In 2010, the Holy See stated that the ordination of women is a "grave delict".[121]


John Wijngaards, Robert W. Hovda, Robert J. Karris and Damien Casey have written in favor of ordaining women.[122] There are advocacy groups supporting women's ordination despite the Church's teaching [123] including Women's Ordination Worldwide, Catholic Women's Ordination,[124] Roman Catholic Womenpriests,[125] Women's Ordination Conference,[126] and others.

Some of these organizations cite the alleged ordination of Ludmila Javorová in Czechoslovakia in 1970 by Bishop Felix Davídek (1921–88), himself clandestinely consecrated due to the shortage of priests caused by communist persecution.[127] The Church's teaching is that if such an ordination had been attempted, it would be invalid since only a baptized male may receive Holy Orders.

Seventh-day Adventist[edit]

Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church has no written policy forbidding the ordination of women, it has traditionally ordained only men. From its formation, Adventists traditionally held to the view that no precedent for the practice of ordaining women can be found in Scripture or in the writings of Ellen G. White and the early Seventh-day Adventist Church. In recent years the ordination of women has been the subject of heated debate, especially in North America and Europe. In the Adventist church, candidates for ordination are chosen by local conferences (which usually administer about 50-150 local congregations) and approved by unions (which serve about 6-12 conferences). The world headquarters—the General Conference—says that the GC has the right to set the worldwide qualifications for ordination, including gender requirements. GC leaders have never taken the position that ordination of women is contrary to the Bible, but they have insisted that no one ordain women until it is acceptable to all parts of the world church.[128]

In 1990 the General Conference in world session voted not to establish a worldwide policy permitting the ordination of women, but they did not vote a policy forbidding such either.[129] In 1995 GC delegates voted not to authorize each of the 13 world divisions to establish ordination policies specific to its part of the world.[129] In 2011, the North American Division, without GC approval, voted to permit women to serve as conference presidents. In early 2012, the GC responded to the NAD action with an analysis of church history and policy, demonstrating that divisions do not have the authority to establish policy different from GC policy.[130] The NAD immediately rescinded their action. But in their analysis the GC reminded the world membership that the “final responsibility and authority” for deciding who is ordained resides at the union level. This led to decisions by several unions to approve ordinations without regard to gender.

On April 23, 2012, the North German Union voted to ordain women as ministers,[131] but by late 2013 had not yet ordained a woman. On July 29, 2012, the Columbia Union Conference voted to "authorize ordination without respect to gender."[132] On August 19, 2012 the Pacific Union Conference also voted to ordain without regard to gender.[133] Both unions began immediately approving ordinations of women.[134] By mid-2013, about 25 women had been ordained to the ministry in the Pacific Union Conference, plus several in the Columbia Union. On May 12, 2013, the Danish Union voted to treat men and women ministers the same, and to suspend all ordinations until after the topic is considered at the next GC session in 2015. On May 30, 2013 the Netherlands Union voted to ordain female pastors, recognizing them as equal to their male colleagues.[135] On Sept. 1, 2013, a woman was ordained in the Netherlands Union.[136]

In 2012-2013 the General Conference assembled several committees to study the issue and make a recommendation to be voted at the 2015 world General Conference session.[137]

On October 27, 2013, Sandra Roberts became the first woman to lead a Seventh-day Adventist conference when she was elected president of the Southeastern California Conference.[138] However, world president, Ted N. C. Wilson, cautioned that the world Seventh-day Adventist church would not recognize her election because presidents of conferences must be ordained pastors and the world church has never authorized the ordination of women.[138]

As Protestant Christians who accept the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice, Seventh-day Adventists on both sides of the issue employ the same Bible texts and arguments used by other Protestants (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:12 and Gal. 3:28), but the fact that the most prominent and authoritative co-founder of the church—Ellen White—was a woman, also affects the discussion.


American imam Amina Wadud
Main articles: Women as imams and Women in Islam

Although Muslims do not formally ordain religious leaders, the imam serves as a spiritual leader and religious authority. There is a current controversy among Muslims on the circumstances in which women may act as imams—that is, lead a congregation in salat (prayer). Three of the four Sunni schools, as well as many Shia, agree that a woman may lead a congregation consisting of women alone in prayer, although the Maliki school does not allow this. According to all currently existing traditional schools of Islam, a woman cannot lead a mixed gender congregation in salat (prayer). Some schools make exceptions for Tarawih (optional Ramadan prayers) or for a congregation consisting only of close relatives. Certain medieval scholars—including Al-Tabari (838–932), Abu Thawr (764–854), Al-Muzani (791–878), and Ibn Arabi (1165–1240)—considered the practice permissible at least for optional (nafila) prayers; however, their views are not accepted by any major surviving group. Islamic feminists have begun to protest this.

Women's mosques, called nusi, and female imams have existed since the 19th century in China and continue today.[139]

In 1994, Amina Wadud, (an Islamic studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, born in the United States), became the first woman in South Africa to deliver the jum'ah khutbah (Friday sermon), which she did at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa.[140]

In 2004 20-year-old Maryam Mirza delivered the second half of the Eid al-Fitr khutbah at the Etobicoke mosque in Toronto, Canada, run by the United Muslim Association.[141]

In 2004, in Canada, Yasmin Shadeer led the night 'Isha prayer for a mixed-gender (men as well as women praying and hearing the sermon) congregation.[142] This is the first recorded occasion in modern times where a woman led a congregation in prayer in a mosque.[142]

On March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud gave a sermon and led Friday prayers for a Muslim congregation consisting of men as well as women, with no curtain dividing the men and women.[143] Another woman, Suheyla El-Attar, sounded the call to prayer while not wearing a headscarf at that same event.[143] This was done in the Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York after mosques refused to host the event.[143] This was the first known time that a woman had led a mixed-gender Muslim congregation in prayer in American history.[143]

In April 2005, Raheel Raza, born in Pakistan, led Toronto's first woman-led mixed-gender Friday prayer service, delivering the sermon and leading the prayers of the mixed-gender congregation organized by the Muslim Canadian Congress to celebrate Earth Day in the backyard of the downtown Toronto home of activist Tarek Fatah.[144]

On July 1, 2005, Pamela Taylor, a Muslim convert since 1986, became the first woman to lead Friday prayers in a Canadian mosque, and did so for a congregation of both men and women.[145] Pamela Taylor is an American convert to Islam and co-chair of the New York-based Progressive Muslim Union.[145] In addition to leading the prayers, Taylor also gave a sermon on the importance of equality among people regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and disability.[145]

In October 2005, Amina Wadud led a mixed gender Muslim congregational prayer in Barcelona.[146]

In 2008, Pamela Taylor gave the Friday khutbah and led the mixed-gender prayers in Toronto at the UMA mosque at the invitation of the Muslim Canadian Congress on Canada Day.[147]

On 17 October 2008, Amina Wadud became the first woman to lead a mixed-gender Muslim congregation in prayer in the United Kingdom when she performed the Friday prayers at Oxford's Wolfson College.[148]

In 2010, Raheel Raza became the first Muslim-born woman to lead a mixed-gender British congregation through Friday prayers.[149]

In 2014, Afra Jalabi, a Syrian Canadian journalist and peace advocate delivered Eid ul-Adha khutbah at Noor cultural centre in Toronto, Canada.


Rabbi Regina Jonas, the world's first female rabbi, ordained in 1935.[150]
Main article: Female rabbis

Only men can become rabbis in Orthodox Judaism (although there has been one female Hasidic rebbe, Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, also known as the Maiden of Ludmir, active in the 19th century[151]); however all other types of Judaism allow and have female rabbis.[152] In 1935 Regina Jonas was ordained privately by a German rabbi and became the world's first female rabbi.[150] Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi in Reform Judaism in 1972,[153] Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first female rabbi in Reconstructionist Judaism in 1974,[154] Lynn Gottlieb became the first female rabbi in Jewish Renewal in 1981,[155] Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism in 1985,[156] and Tamara Kolton became the very first rabbi of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female rabbi) in Humanistic Judaism in 1999.[157] Women in these types of Judaism are routinely granted semicha (meaning ordination) on an equal basis with men.

Only men can become cantors (also called hazzans) in Orthodox Judaism, but all other types of Judaism allow and have female cantors.[158] In 1955 Betty Robbins, born in Greece, became the world's first female cantor when she was appointed cantor of the Reform congregation of Temple Avodah in Oceanside, New York, in July.[159] Barbara Ostfeld-Horowitz became the first female cantor to be ordained in Reform Judaism in 1975.[160] Erica Lippitz and Marla Rosenfeld Barugel became the first female cantors in Conservative Judaism in 1987.[160] However, the Cantors Assembly, a professional organization of cantors associated with Conservative Judaism, did not allow women to join until 1990.[161] In 2001 Deborah Davis became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Humanistic Judaism, although Humanistic Judaism has since stopped graduating cantors.[162] Sharon Hordes became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Reconstructionist Judaism in 2002.[163] Avitall Gerstetter, who lives in Germany, became the first female cantor in Jewish Renewal (and the first female cantor in Germany) in 2002. Susan Wehle became the first American female cantor in Jewish Renewal in 2006; however, she died in 2009.[164] The first American women to be ordained as cantors in Jewish Renewal after Susan Wehle's ordination were Michal Rubin and Abbe Lyons, both ordained on January 10, 2010.[165]

Ryukyuan religion[edit]

The indigenous religion of the Ryukyuan Islands in Japan is led by female priests; this makes it the only known official mainstream religion of a society led by women.[166]


Shinto priest and priestess.

In Shintoism, Saiin (斎院, saiin?) were unmarried female relatives of the Japanese emperor who served as high priestesses at Ise Grand Shrine from the late 7th century until the 14th century. Ise Grand Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami. Saiin priestesses were usually elected from royalty (内親王, naishinnō) such as princesses (女王, joō). In principle, Saiin remained unmarried, but there were exceptions. Some Saiin became consorts of the Emperor, called Nyōgo in Japanese. According to the Man'yōshū (The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves), the first Saiō to serve at Ise Grand Shrine was Princess Oku, daughter of Emperor Temmu, during the Asuka period of Japanese history.

The ordination of women as Shinto priests arose again after the abolition of State Shinto in the aftermath of World War II.[167] See also Miko.


Sikhism does not have priests, which were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh, as the guru had seen that institution become corrupt in society during his time. Instead, he appointed the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, as his successor as Guru instead of a possibly fallible human. Due to the faith's belief in complete equality, women can participate in any religious function, perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.[168] A Sikh woman has the right to become a Granthi, Ragi, and one of the Panj Piare (5 beloved) and both men and women are considered capable of reaching the highest levels of spirituality.[169]


Taoists ordain both men and women as priests.[170] In 2009 Wu Chengzhen became the first female fangzhang (principal abbot) in Taoism's 1,800-year history after being enthroned at Changchun Temple in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, in China.[171] Fangzhang is the highest position in a Taoist temple.[171]


There are many different Wiccan traditions. All ordain women as priests (most also ordain men), and some were created by women.[172][173][174]


Yeye Siju Osunyemi being initiated as a priestess of the deity Oshun in the Osun Shrine in Osogbo, Nigeria.

The Yoruba people of western Nigeria practice an indigenous religion with a religious hierarchy of priests and priestesses that dates to 800-1000 CE. Ifá Oracle priests and priestesses bear the titles Babalawo and Iyanifa respectively.[175] Priests and priestesses of the varied Orisha, when not already bearing the higher ranked oracular titles mentioned above, are referred to as babalorisa when male and iyalorisa when female.[176] Initiates are also given an Orisa or Ifá name that signifies under which deity they are initiated; for example a priestess of Oshun may be named Osunyemi and a priest of Ifá may be named Ifáyemi.


Zoroastrian priests in India are required to be male.[177] However, women have been ordained in Iran and North America as mobedyars, meaning women mobeds (Zoroastrian priests).[178][179][180] In 2011 the Tehran Mobeds Anjuman (Anjoman-e-Mobedan) announced that for the first time in the history of Iran and of the Zoroastrian communities worldwide, women had joined the group of mobeds (priests) in Iran as mobedyars (women priests); the women hold official certificates and can perform the lower-rung religious functions and can initiate people into the religion.[178]

Timeline of women in religion[edit]

This is a timeline of women in religion including important events in the history of women's ordination:[181]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]