Introduction/ Statement of the Issue:
Female discrimination in the clergy has been a feminist issue throughout history, as one key factor of feminism is the belief that males are privileged over women in society. Women have been excluded from holding positions of authority or even being represented in churches throughout history. Many churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, as well as all Eastern Orthodox Churches, believe that positions of influence and power are set aside for males. This emphasizes that there is still an issue with male superiority and privilege over women, especially in the clergy, and though it is changing slowly, some of these traditions of female exclusion may never be eradicated.
Purpose of the Research:
For our project on women in the clergy, we decided to meet with women who currently are, or have recently been part of the church. We decided to interview Nancy Bauer King, Rev. Mary Erickson, and Nancy Yancey because of their work in the church. We asked the same series of questions and analyzed each of their answers in order to form conclusions on their experiences as women of the clergy. We wanted to know if they experienced discrimination from their peers or professors during seminary, if it was more difficult for them to achieve the same grades as men in seminary, and if it was more difficult for them to attain jobs after seminary. We also asked the women questions, such as what made them go to seminary, even though it is widely known that it is controversial? Did they encounter any discrimination among their congregation due to their gender? Did they ever get denied a job because of their sex? Was their sexual orientation ever questioned because of their occupation? Did they see a decrease in males seeking counseling due to their sex? What was the biggest challenge they faced being a female in the clergy? What are some ways to change this discriminatory pattern? What advice would they give to young women wanting to join the clergy?
Reverend Mary Erickson is an associate rector at St. Martin in the Field in Dunwoody, Georgia. She graduated from Candler School of Theology in Spring of 2004 and considers herself blessed to have found a loving parish so close to home. However, she has faced particular challenges as a female clergy member. After her graduation, she saw many newly-ordained men find work much quicker than her and her fellow women graduates. She has also seen male parishioners refuse the sacrament of communion from her during worship. However, she holds strong to her commitment to serve others through the Church and has not taken such discrimination in a wholly demoralizing way. Rather, she hopes that by ordaining and including more women in the church hierarchy, that the global Christian community can change to be more accepting of all. She currently resides in Dunwoody, Georgia with her husband Steve, and is visited frequently by her 4 children and 3 grandchildren.
Nancy Yancey is a deacon at Christ Church in Norcross, Georgia. She felt a calling to join the clergy after years of working at Rainbow Village, a community for homeless families. This service-oriented work compelled her to become a vocational deacon, which is traditionally a clergy member with a outward service-driven job. This does not require going to seminary, although discernment and formation training is necessary. Mrs. Yancey says she never felt discriminated against during her training, and that she has been blessed by being welcomed into a very loving and respectful parish which has never discriminated against her based on her gender. However, she does find a challenge in being accepted by other faith groups which do not ordain women. Mrs. Yancey currently lives in Norcross with her husband, and is a loving mother of three.
Nancy Bauer King:
Nancy Bauer King was a minister in many Wisconsin churches from the late 1980's until just a few years ago. Her deep faith called her to enter seminary, where she says she was treated equally by her professors and classmates, despite some gender-specific language being thrown around. Upon graduating, however, she was immediately faced with the harsh realities of being a female minister. She (along with female peers) was assigned to small churches with very little influence in the larger church community, and was victim to numerous instances of discrimination within her parishes. Men in her congregation rallied for her relocation, and some even sent her death threats. Despite these horrific examples, though, she did see advantages of being a female minister. More women would approach her for counseling about women-specific issues, and some men even found her feminine presence more comforting in a counseling setting. She persevered in her work to help those she originally felt called to served, and made a step for the feminist cause.
Based on the experiences of Mrs. Nancy Bauer King, Rev. Mary Erickson, and Mrs. Nancy Yancey, and historical research on the issue, women’s role in the clergy is most definitely a feminist issue. Whether it is men getting jobs before women, or a man refusing to take communion from Rev. Erickson, it is apparent that discrimination exists towards women in the clergy. However, as Rev. Erickson noted when we interviewed her there is much room for change. More women are being included in the church hierarchy, and more decisions are being made towards benefitting all members of the church, both male and female. For example, the presiding bishop over the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is a woman, so society is slowly adapting to the feminist idea of female equality. With hope and more effort from both men and women, we believe these changes are attainable.
Completing this project has been such an amazing experience for our entire group. It was so much more meaningful because we got to go out and meet these women and actually listen to their stories and experiences. We realized that these issues of discrimination are a part of these women’s lives and have affected them greatly. It allowed us to gain a respect for the strength that these women bestow in order to endure such discrimination while in the clergy, but not give up hope for change. If all women throughout the world would be as strong and brave as the three women we interviewed, maybe the feminist issues of discrimination throughout the world would eventually be eradicated. These women and this project inspired our group to stand up for what is right, for both men and women, and to never falter in the stance against discrimination.