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Arts & Life

Reformed Church in America considers striking “conscience clauses” when ordaining women

The Reformed Church in America has been ordaining women for more than thirty years. On Monday the church’s governing body will consider dropping rules that outline ways people can conscientiously object during the process of ordaining women ministers.

The compromise, once struck to maintain unity within the church, may be causing more division now.

The Reformed Church in America has a large membership base in Michigan. The RCA has some administrative offices in Grand Rapids. Hope College in Holland is affiliated with the RCA, as is the Western Theological Seminary.

Christina Tazelaar is a writer and editor with RCA Today magazine. She says the proposed rule change comes in response to a survey of women ministers in the church.

 "Women reported better support, fewer obstacles to their ministry than they experienced thirty years ago when were first ordaining women,” Tazelaar said of the survey, “But at the same time 24 percent reported that when they were being ordained they experienced some obstacle or setback as a result of inappropriate uses of the conscience clauses."

"People can choose not to participate in the ordination process or the examination of a candidate for ministry for example, but they can’t obstruct the process unduly,” Tazelaar said.

By the numbers

  • 241,000 members in the US and Canada; 65,000 in Michigan
  • Approximately two-thirds of RCA membership is women
  • 1,556 active ordained ministers; 271 are women (about 17% of active ministers)
  • Seminaries turn out equal number males and females
  • 100 women ministers answer the survey

The survey commissioned by a committee of the General Synod says “parts of the RCA disagree about a women’s role in the leadership and offices of the church.” Yet, it goes on to say “some women reported no sense at all that they had been held back or discriminated against during their candidacy or ministry.”

"Increasingly, women are able to respond freely to God’s call to fully participate in the life and ministry of the church, and the commission celebrates that growing reality. However, a significant portion of women clergy still experiences instances of exclusion, inequality, and pain. Women are still required to defend their calling and their ordination in the assemblies of the RCA, including on the floor of General Synod, in a way that their male colleagues are not."

The commission reports the clauses show an “institutionalize lack of support at best” and are a “deterrent from ministry at worst.”

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