Despite the turmoil over women clergy in recent years, the professional leadership of Christian churches in America remains almost solidly male, according to a new study released yesterday.
The study by the National Council of Churches, the first in the field in 27 years, indicates that 76 Protestant denominations ordain women to the ministry. In these denominations, which have an estimated membership of 47.4 million people. only 4 per cent of the clergy are women.
Of this total of 10,470 women clery, 31.8 per cent are found in Pentacosial denominations; 29.9 per cent in three evangelical bodies with a paramilitary structure (the Salvation Army, Volunteers of America and the American Rescue Workers); 17.4 per cent in the 10 major Protestant bodies normally referred to as the main line denominations, and 20 per cent scattered across a wide range of Protestant denominations.
Among the main line churches, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), with 5.7 women clergy, and the United Church of Christ with 4 per cent, have the highest percentage of women. Both have ordained women for more than 90 years.
In contrast, amost 60 per cent of the ordained leaders of the Salvation Army are women.
The nation's largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention, which authorized ordaining women in 1964, has only 20 women among its 55,100 pastors, according to the study.
Constant H. Jacquet, Jr. who conducted the women clergy study for the National Council of Churches, observed in his report that "the major Protestant denominations with the largest proposition of membership supply a disproportionately smaller number of women clergy than other groups whose theology and tradition was, from the very beginning, supportive of equal status for women in their denominational structures."
Jacquet is not hopeful that* opportunities for women in the ministry will improve greatly.
"Unfortunately, due to declining birth rates, the slowdown in new church starts, the decline in member ship and the increased longevity of clergy, the situation in some major denominations regarding absorption of new seminary graduates (both men and women) into local churches and their advancement in the system is not promising," he found.
Enrollment of women in theological seminaries has increased 118.9 per since 1972, Jacquet reported, in contrast to a 20.2 per cent increase for men in the same period.
Jacquet, who directs research and planning for the interdenominational council, readily acknowledges that the formal stand of a denomination in favor of ordaining women does not guarantee a job for a woman in a local congregation.
"The successful placement of women in local churches will be dependent in large measure on the attitudes of local church selection committees which may or may not be influenced by a consicious or unconscious sexist bias," he said.
He commended the contributions made by women's caucuses in various denominations, and urged denominational officials at all levels "to work toward creating a climate of acceptance on equal terms of women and men in the pastoral role in the churches."