Search this Site

(Enter your email address)


 Subscribe in a reader

You can also subscribe to follow the comments.

Join us on Facebook


New Series - Women as Ordained Priests or Not

Whether or not to ordain women into priestly leadership has been one of the most significant organizational questions facing churches over the last century. In some ways, the movement by now is a mature one in which many churches have already answered the question and drawn lines in the sand. But in other ways, just like in the romantic relationship between the sexes, the balance of role division and mutual respect remains elusive and dynamic.

Though the majority of New Church organizations now make no distinction between the sexes with regard to ordination into the priesthood, several continue to distinguish the role as a uniquely masculine function.

The essays published over the next several weeks give special attention to the General Church of the New Jerusalem as one of the organizations which retains an exclusively male priesthood. It is our hope that the topics of appropriate spiritual leadership and role division between the sexes are universal to all worship groups. Presumably the attention given to the General Church as a case study will have relevance and interest even to those in other traditions and organizations.

Certainly these topics are likely to hit readers at a gut level and raise deep emotional responses. Please join the conversation and add your perspectives. But use this as an opportunity to exercise and develop your ability to listen. Allow for the possibility that other people are sincere and well intentioned. You can remind yourself of our comment guidelines. Enjoy the series!

Looking for even more on the topic? We've compiled a collection of additional papers and studies.

Entries in the Series:

1. The 21st-Century Debate on Women in the Priesthood Part I: Dangerous Feelings by Alaina Mobaso.

2. The 21st-Century Debate on Women in the Priesthood Part II: “Side-Notes” and Tradition by Alaina Mobaso.

3. Women in the Ministry by Joel Glenn.

4. A Home for Love by Ronnie Schnarr.

5. A Dialog about the Ordination of Women in the General Church by Kristin Coffin and Brian Smith. PART: 1 2 3 4 5

Reader Comments (42)

I'm grateful that you are opening this discussion. I remember when the General Church officially closed this discussion and how profoundly alienated from my home church I felt. I've never really been able to feel that the General Church is my church since then, though I love the teachings of the New Church deeply. Refusing to listen to dissenting voices is deeply damaging to the integrity of any organization.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterManderly

I am looking forward to the forthcoming series of essays on the mentioned topic, and I will keep in mind several things as I read, consider and reflect upon both the essays and the comments that will be made. Amongst the several things that will be kept in mind are the following three:

1. I am governed by the principles I assume (AC 129).

2. My consideration of what others have to say is in keeping with the state or character of my mind (DP 14.2).

3. The expression of feelings is sometimes helpful to a person (AC 2693).

A fourth thing that will be borne in mind is that, though what a person thinks is not unimportant, how s/he lives is more important (AC 3241.3)

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAC 1937

On Monday, May 7th, 2012, I sent a letter to the Council of the Clergy via the council's secretary, Jim Cooper.

I'm really looking forward to hearing a response.

Here's what I sent:

To the Council of the Clergy:

I want to thank you for your efforts to apply New Church teachings to our organization.

I am particularly grateful to be part of a church whose teachings honor the equality of men and women. Like no other body of work I know, the Writings emphasize the harmony of the genders. With their strong emphasis on the power of love and wisdom in action, they show how each of us, men and women alike, are made in the image of God.

I can only imagine that each of you on this council has put considerable thought into how these teachings apply to this important question: should women and men serve together in the priesthood?

In looking to answer this question, all eyes and hearts turn toward the Word. To my delight, it seems that we as a church are refusing to take a scalpel and tweezers to various sentences written there; instead, we are looking at the whole body of teachings together to form the basis of this very important decision.

How will a final decision be made? It has recently come to my attention that in order for priesthood ordination to be open to men and women equally, there must be a vote among the Council of the Clergy. If 51% agree, the change will be adopted.

I do not write this letter to provoke discussion. It is my understanding that the various viewpoints have already been aired. Instead, I request that an anonymous vote be taken and then submitted to Bishop Kline.

I write this letter because I believe that the courage and integrity required to make such a decision DOES exist on this council.


Sasha Silverman

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman

Sasha, this is so interesting. I had no idea it was as simple as a 51% vote.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBronwen

Sasha, thank you for doing this. How did you discover that a majority vote would be enough?

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Coffin

It is my understanding that it is decidedly not that simple, (though perhaps that could be part of the process).
a) the GC counsel of clergy has no legislative process or authority, apart from nominating the bishop and voting to remove support from him. The counsel struggles even to make decisions about its own business because it really has not formal process for deciding anything.
b) There remains a strong bias against voting on anything related to doctrine based on teachings against trusting the edicts of counsels over the teachings in the Word.
c) There is also a historical practice of delaying the teaching of any kind of novel doctrinal thinking until a very significant majority support the position (much more than 51%).
The bishop is the man who decides whether to ordain women or not, and he is expected to take counsel from the clergy. If a straw poll were taken, and it showed 51% of the clergy in support of ordaining women, most any bishop would take this very seriously if his thinking remained in the minority position. But still, it would not bind his decision.
So, asking the clergy to take a straw vote may be part of the discussion, attention paid to this issue, but it is inaccurate to suggest that the clergy determines positions for the church.

I'm not sure who started the "51% vote" idea, but I think to avoid frustration, he/she should get fuller information before suggesting that its "that simple."


May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Smith

What I wrote in the letter came directly from a recent one-on-one conversation with the Bishop.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman

I agree with Brian that this isn't how the clergy works. I am confident that a majority of the GC Clergy would not support women in the clergy, but we don't have a political process for this kind of thing and don't vote on doctrinal issues.

The entire identity of the General Church revolves around the concept of the Writings as the Word of God. Something is right or wrong if the Writings identify it that way, and this is the basis for making decisions on doctrinal issues.

There are plenty of doctrinal issues where it is doubtful what if any position the Writings teach. But women in the clergy is a topic that has been addressed in numerous doctrinal papers that draw on many passages to show what the Word teaches. Virtually all of them have been in agreement that the Writings oppose women in the clergy. The few papers that have questioned that stance have mostly been content to ask questions about the topic, and none have systematically addressed the passages that bear on the subject.

In short, the only relevant question is "What do the Heavenly Doctrines teach?" Asking for the opinion of the clergy outside of this question is counter to the way that the General Church works and what it is about.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Simons

Thanks Jeremy. Currently, there is not complete agreement about whether the Heavenly Doctrines allow for women in the ministry. Because of this, I believe it is crucial to clarify the process for evaluating whether the current situation should stand. So may I ask, what exactly would have to happen for women to be offered the opportunity for ordination?

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman


I'm sure that there are plenty of ways that it could happen. Who knows what all the factors are that change peoples opinions. But I would see it this way:

First of all, someone would need to produce a paper that demonstrated that the passages usually used to show that the Heavenly Doctrines oppose women in the clergy have been misinterpreted. It's actually sort of amazing that no one has produced a paper like this considering how many people have strong feelings about the topic. No one has written a credible, scholarly, well researched paper on this topic that both accepts the divine authority of the Writings and explains how a feminine clergy is consistent with the teachings.

Second, many ministers would need to come to the conclusion that this paper represented a better doctrinal understanding than the previous papers on the topic. I would think that this would need to be a pretty large majority.

Third, the Bishop would need to agree with this himself.

But again, who can say what causes people to change their minds? The clergy and Bishop are people like anyone else and we are all subject to the social forces that lead people to have one opinion or another. We also believe that it is important for people to be free to think what they want to think and express their beliefs.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Simons


Thanks for taking the time to explain your understanding of the process, and for encouraging the free expression of beliefs.

I understand that in the past, the process has involved circulating research papers, with the assumption that the discussion generated would suffice for adopting or rejecting the proposed change. However, with so many members of the council, a truly fair group decision seems impossible without an actual vote (unless each person has an equal amount of time to speak, which is very unlikely to happen). Although I have never had the privilege of witnessing such a discussion, I imagine that the voices of the most outspoken members would take over and other voices would not carry equal weight, rendering it impossible to arrive at a fully representative conclusion.

With this in mind, if a research paper (one such as you suggested) were submitted to the council, how would its doctrinal merit be determined?

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman


The council of the clergy is not designed to be a decision-making body. We don't specifically determine the merits of doctrinal studies that are made. Some are more well received than others, but our only real position is that the Writings are true.

I'm not saying that a paper that presented a compelling rationale for women in the clergy would necessarily have any effect at all. What would have an effect would be a dramatic change in the opinion of the clergy as a whole on this topic. As I see it the only way that could happen would be through a number of well done doctrinal papers, but I'm sure that other possibilities exist.

One thing that may help is to view the council of the clergy less as a kind of congress or supreme court and more like a professional organization like the American Medical Association or a Bar Association. These groups don't vote on the effectiveness of medical procedures or particular legal arguments. Rather they present research and arguments about topics relevant to their field, and these presentations and discussions are an important part of establishing what is valid and accepted. They also discredit outmoded and ineffective practices.

The thing that I want to stress is that although the clergy is in no way immune to politics and emotional arguments, the way that it works is through the study of the Heavenly Doctrines. Without credible studies that demonstrate that the Writings teach something different than what we traditionally thought, the clergy is unlikely to start pushing for a change in policy.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Simons

I appreciate the careful and polite tone of all comments. I also appreciate the persistence of Sasha. She is right, this issue is just not going to go away and it does involve everyone of us.

Today I read on a news site the following innocent-looking statement: "My feelings about this are constantly evolving," Obama told reporters at a press conference.

The issue here is allowing gay marriages. Another hot topic :) But I was struck by how Obama simply confesses that he consults his own feelings and thoughts. Then I asked myself why I was struck by that... isn't it normal for a person to do that?

Well, I realized I was struck by it because in the General Church the attitude is as Jeremy details it above: "The entire identity of the General Church revolves around the concept of the Writings as the Word of God. Something is right or wrong if the Writings identify it that way." The de-railing effect that happens then is that the Writings can be and are interpreted differently.

And this is why I like Sasha asking these persistent questions. If the book don't give answers, then where do we find them? This is frustrating. Don't you just wish that we could ask the Lord directly? You know, a one on one, open communication? Lord, please tell us, is it OK to allow both men and women to be priests? Yes or no?

I don't know what he would answer... Maybe he'd say: figure it out yourselves! And maybe that answer would point us back to the world we live in, all people, all religions, the planet herself, and the tiny community that is the General Church in the midst of all that.

No man is an island unto himself.

If I consult my own feelings about this, I feel it is a little odd and disturbing that this organization, in this year 2012, is gender-exclusive.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Muires

I'm do not resonate with the call for a 'doctrinal paper' to defend women in the priesthood/clergy/ministry. As I see the paper(s) written on this topic in defense of current position they highlight the only passages that may even remotely be interpreted to oppress women in this way. And yet, when I read scripture (Bible & Writings) I see an overwhelming message of all people to follow the Lord and love their neighbor (which to me includes sharing knowledge/care/love of the Lord with your neighbor).

When I zoom out and look at the overall message of scripture t seems to be one of freedom from enslavement, and freedom from worship of false Gods, and then changing the value system, that all people are of worth no matter their monetary or political position...and the focus on the two greatest commandments.

My grandfather once said to me that he didn't like red letter bibles because they emphasized what Jesus said over what he did. And what he did was just as important. When I look at the descriptions of Jesus' actions I see such a strong defense of women working together for the good cause of sharing a knowledge of Jesus (in fact if women hadn't done this in biblical times, the disciples may never have known of His Resurrection).

My final appeal to you (and others), is if you really truly believe that women are divided out into a separate level, why don't you (and others) preach like this? Why don't you tell women from a young age after you share about the great commission "but this doesn't apply to you". I think more clarity from a young age from the pulpit would be really useful in clarifying this position. I can think of countless Sundays in which the message I hear from teh pulpit, from scripture is calling me to serve the Lord. And yet NO mention is made that this just is a call for men, not for women. To me, it seems that this position on women being so different from men, so different from men that they can't work for the church in this way, only seems to come up as an intellectual notion after college age years, that one would not feel in integrity preaching on this topic (for, to me, it is so painfully far from the Lord's core message).

For me, the doctrinal paper to defend women in the priesthood is every sermon I hear on sunday, every podcast I listen to, and (most importantly) every line of scripture calling me (and all people) to know the Lord, follow Him, and love your neighbor by sharing these healing truths.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBronwen Henry

Amen, Bronwen.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Muires

Bronwen, you inspire me with your passion for this issue, and your passion for sharing the healing truths you've discovered. Through posts such as these, you minister to me and others.The fact that you and many other women feel oppressed by the politics of very same church whose teachings deeply inspire you, underscores the pressing need for change.

Stephen, thank you for hearing us, and for validating our persistence on this issue. I had many of the same thoughts while reading the news about Obama's willingness to express his evolving opinion. The United States regards the Constitution as a document that in some ways, "speaks for itself." Still, we've needed legislatures and judicial bodies to vote on its constitutionality for areas where there is disagreement on interpretation. The strong resistance to voting on how to interpret a central body of teachings seems to be a recipe for unhealthy abuses of power.

Jeremy, your analogy to the American Medical Association is an interesting one, and helpful. However, one very healthy thing about that organization is that It does not discriminate based on gender. Requirement for membership is based on competency alone. If the Council of the Clergy were based on competency alone, and did not deny a voice to half of the population, I would unlikely be writing this today.

I do not mean to discredit or demean anyone who holds an opinion different from mine. I appreciate each person's passion for searching out the truth. My main purpose in engaging in this dialogue is to help facilitate a more fair process of making this important decision. And I sincerely believe that when all voices are allowed to be heard equally, in an environment of safety and mutual respect, the decision will become clear.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman

If you wonder about the clergy's resistance to voting on doctrine, it comes from a number of warnings in True Christian Religion about the unfortunate things that religious councils tend to decide. Instead the advice is to trust only the Word:

"If anyone says that this was decreed by the unanimous vote of the Council, in which so many bishops and distinguished scholars took part, how can one trust Councils, when Roman-Catholic Councils also unanimously arrived at the conclusions that the Pope is the vicar of Christ, that saints are to be invoked, images and bones venerated, the Holy Eucharist divided, that purgatory and indulgences and more besides exist? How can one trust councils, when that of Dort, also unanimously, voted in favour of predestination, a detestable heresy, and exalted it as the supreme object of religious veneration? Do not, reader, put your trust in Councils, but in the Holy Word. Approach the Lord and you will be enlightened. For He is the Word, that is to say, the very Divine truth in it." True Christian Religion 634

This advice is repeated in TCR 176, 177 and 489. When particular ideas are current and trendy there can be considerable social pressure for the assembled clergy to come out in favor. The advice is to ask what the Word teaches, not what councils decide.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Simons

I love this quote! Even if the council of the clergy unanimously voted against women in the ministry, it would have no weight, because councils can be gravely mistaken. This quote captures the essential component missing in this "voting" conversation: the importance of personal freedom and responsibility. I completely agree that religious councils should not have the final say about what the Word teaches on any doctrinal issue. Instead, each woman should be free to determine this for herself and each man for himself. If a woman feels called to minister, and her reading of the Word supports this choice, can you think of any reason why a clergy's opinion should stand in her way?

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman

Here is the response to my original letter. This is from Jim Cooper, secretary of the Council of the Clergy:


Thanks for your letter. This is a topic that generates a lot of heated debate, but your letter is unusually pleasant to read! I wish it were as simple as having me circulate the letter and then taking a vote. Let me try to explain. Perhaps you can share this with the person who told you that it could be decided by a simple vote.

It may be hard to believe, but the Council of the Clergy has no administrative role other than nominating (or removing support for) the Executive Bishop. It is true that the Council gives the bishop a lot of counsel, and often does it through a voice vote or a show of hands, but ultimately the bishop makes the final decision after taking counsel.

When there is an occasion to vote about something, we never go by simple majority (unless it’s something trivial like voting to extend a session into time set aside for a coffee break). We seek to have something we call “essential unanimity” which is understood as being about 90% in favour. If it’s less than that, we say that “doubt gives cause for delay” and the proposal fails.
Further, because of passages that say things like, “put not your faith in councils” when talking about matters of doctrine, the Council of the Clergy does not determine doctrinal matters by voting. We study it, we present papers, we discuss it with each other and our congregations, and hopefully come to a common understanding.

You may be interested to know that the Bishop has repeatedly invited any minister who is interested in the subject of ordaining women to do a study and present it to the clergy so that we can talk about it and give the Bishop counsel and guidance. But so far no one has prepared a study and submitted it to the clergy for consideration. It won’t happen this year because the agenda for this year’s Council of the Clergy meetings is already set and the papers to be considered have already been submitted for copying and distribution. Our primary task in June is to nominate a new Executive Bishop.

Our system is very slow moving. It even frustrates the ministers! Some of us are working on improving the system but that too will take time. In the meantime, what needs to happen is for a minister who feels strongly about the subject to prepare a study on the subject and offer it to the clergy. For my part, I will include your request in my report to the Council so that they will know that such studies are needed and wanted.


Jim Cooper

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha Silverman

Your prior quote brings up a lot of questions for me. I wonder if Brian, Jeremy (or others!) can help shed light on this:

a) Are women actually banned from GC clergy?
b) If no one every voted against it and no one can vote for it then is it up to a local congregation whether they choose to hire a female gc minister or not?
c) Does the Academy of the New Church Theological School have a vote on if women are accepted or not? How is this decision made?
d) Why would the ANCTS have a problem educating women? Wouldn't it just be the ordaining bit at the end that would be up to the bishop decision? Theoretically the ANCTS could accept women, and bishop could not ordain women....
e) How does one join the GC Council of clergy? Is there a vote on membership? (Like you have to be baptised, ordained, member etc.)?
f) If the decision is ultimately up to the bishop (not based on any voting schemes) then the bishop's opinion is super important (sorry, this is so obvious to everyone else, I'm catching up here). I find myself wanting to know the position for each potential bishop in the running. Would this information be available to the membership? (Just putting broad questions out to the general public here. :) ).

Oi. So many questions.

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBronwen Henry
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.