The recent flurry of headlines over the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic church may be good for news, but it’s also good for a question: what does women’s ordination really mean today, at a time when more and more Americans are moving away from belonging to Christian denominations?
In light of the fact that some American Christian denominations have ordained women for over a hundred years (Antoinette Brown was ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1852, and Julia Foote was ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church in 1894), some conservative pundits’ claim that women’s ordination will drive people away from the Catholic church bears examination.
As of today, among Protestant denominations, women are ordained in the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America. Women are also ordained in Buddhism as well as in Reform and Conservative Judaism.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, is not the only American religious denomination to deny women’s ordination: the Mormons, the Orthodox church, Orthodox Judaism, the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, Islam, and the Southern Baptist Convention have all-male clergy. Some signs of change may be afoot in at least one of those religions, with the first Orthodox female rabbirecently hired by an American synagogue, but the Mormon excommunication of Kate Kelly, an advocate for opening the Mormon priesthood for women, unfortunately mirrors a familiar pattern for American Catholic advocates of women’s ordination..[..]