A group of sociologists associated with Hartford Seminary has published the results of study of clergy women in the Presbyterian Church that revisits a study done in 1993-1994 to see what is now different in their career and career paths.
The conclusions of the most recent study are presented in 5-fold order:
"Observers and participants in this new situation embrace four or five different perspectives, and/or agendas, to explain and predict the future of clergy women: First, there are those who think that the increasing numbers of clergy women will force the church and the powers that have historically controlled the churches, to change and become more egalitarian. They argue that the numbers alone will overwhelm the situation and bring about true leadership equality in contemporary Protestantism. They quote scripture and insist that in Christ Jesus there is no longer male nor female and they await a new day. Unfortunately, there is no evidence from studies of occupational change that sheer numbers correct inequities and overwhelm past assumptions, or that the promise of the scriptures is any nearer to fulfillment than it was 2,000 years ago.
Second, there are those who look at the growing numbers of women in ordained ministry and predict a reactionary backlash. They associate clergy women with the liberal modern agenda and they see Protestant strength moving away from mainline liberal religion. Fundamentalist and conservative Christian bodies are growing and in many of those communities clergy women are not welcome. There is a growing pessimism about the capacity of the churches to embrace the leadership of women in truly equitable ways. Male clergy, they note, will not relinquish power easily; and clergy women, even if they are ordained, will eventually be co-opted and limited by hierarchical traditions deeply embedded in the history of ordained ministry. This analysis says that things are going to get worse before they get better.
Third, there are those who recognize that although clergy women seem to be 'taking over' the ordained ministry within mainline Protestantism, it will be a hollow victory. By the time substantial numbers of women gain access to ordained ministry, the occupation will have lost its prestige (if it hasn't already) and women will find themselves in a devalued vocation keeping dying denominational systems afloat. This is what has happened in other recently feminized secular occupations, and it will happen to clergy women.
Fourth, there are those who applaud the ways in which women have made great 'advances' in religious leadership, but suggest extreme caution. Change is exceedingly complex. Without a major retooling and rethinking of the assumptions and symbols surrounding ordained ministry, ecclesiastical cultures will continue to track women into second class leadership options. Women dare not be naive and overly optimistic about what it takes to redeem entrenched habits from the past.
Finally, fifth, it is possible to agree with this sobering and realistic judgment, but insist that the glass is half full rather than half empty. Looking closely at the wonderful ministries of clergy women during the past 25 years, we submit that women are expanding expectations and definitions of religious leadership for the whole church."
Read the full abstract here.
The slides describing the results of the study are here.