Even 30 years after Episcopalians first ordained women as priests, there are still U.S. [Episcopal] dioceses that don't recognize a woman's right to be a priest--and still oppose Jefferts Schori's investiture as presiding bishop.One of the challenges women in the priesthood face is that parishes expect them to live as out of balance, as tied to the parish, as the male priests of the past. It will take time to train parishes that their expectations of priests were never healthy for the clergy or the laity. Some thirty years after women entered the priesthood there are still some parishes learning that lesson.
Her response? People should get to know her before they make up their minds.
"I don't think my election is so much about my gender as it is about gifts that my brother and sister bishops saw in me," says Jefferts Schori, who formally took her seat as presiding bishop last November. "I think it says gender is not a necessary barrier." Still, she knows her being chosen presiding bishop represents a true victory for women in the Episcopal Church--and in the church universal.
But as Jefferts Schori moves fully into one of the country's most prestigious ecclesiastical posts, most of her sister clergy still fight an uphill battle. At a time when women occupy only a small percentage of chief executive posts in American business, women in religion face the same sparsely populated landscape.
But while one can find examples of women in the senior ranks in virtually every field of business, women remain barred from clergy posts across huge subsets of religion--including the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Orthodox Judaism and Islam. Those who oppose women in leadership roles point to thousands of years of tradition and infallible scripture as justification.
Consider how you would feel about a law that said you couldn't be president of your company because you're a woman, and you begin to have an idea of the plight of many women who might otherwise follow a divine calling.
"I give thanks for my Roman Catholic roots," she told the press after her election last summer, "but that's not where I am. As might be obvious." Standing before the crowd in her priestly collar, she had made her point. And the crowd laughed with her.
"The hope is that bringing [Jefferts Schori] on board will create a paradigmatic shift," says the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and a consultant to the national church. "Things are changing."
Guibord says she encounters women in her travels who rejoice to see a woman priest. "I always have women come up to me who want to touch me, who cry and say, 'You mean women can be priests?' When I travel and I wear my collar, I know that it gives women hope."
At the same time - putting on my labor economist hat - the fact that women are overrepresented in positions like assistant rector is more a reflection of preferences of women than it is discrimination by the church.