"Stained-Glass Ceiling" For Women Clergy

Dec 24, 2015

Duke Chapel.
Credit public domain

A close-up look at American churches shows women clergy have hit a “stained-glass” ceiling.

Mark Chaves is a Duke University professor of Sociology, Religious Studies and Divinity.  And for nearly 20 years, he has been studying congregations of all faiths and denominations.  He directs the National Congregations Study.

Chaves says, one thing that has stood out – the number of women leading churches has not budged.

“There’s lots of women ministers out there.  Lots of female clergy out there.  But they are much more likely to be an assistant minister or in specialized kinds of roles as opposed to being the head pastor," said Chaves.

Chaves says only about 11% of congregations are led by women.  He's been looking at this issue since his first study in 1998.

“But I would have thought that the groups where there are more women, basically a mainline protestant groups, also black churches where there is an increase in women ministers, I would have thought those increases would be enough to move the needle in the national scene, but they’re not," said Chaves.

Chaves says several factors cause women clergy to hit a “stained-glass ceiling.”

“One is obviously that there are very large religious groups out there, very large denominations, that don’t ordain women," said Chaves.  It’s also still true in the denominations that do allow it, that there are still local churches out there that are reluctant to hire women, that still want a male minister.”

Meanwhile, American church leadership has become more ethnically diverse, especially in the Catholic church.  About 15 years ago, Hispanics led only 2% of Catholic parishes.  By 2012, it is up to 17%.