Women in Church Leadership
Women and the Word
Naming the Gaps

Women and The Word: Bridging the Gap Conference 6/13/09

What came through to the audience in Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's scholarly presentation was that:

  1. Women in the Church are always forced to think twice about whether they are, in fact, being spoken to or not.
  2. Male-dominated language then breeds the male-dominated hierarchy; so that women who work in the Church get relegated to “tending to the people”, rather than genuine leadership
  3. It is a good consciousness-raising experience for men to be put in the position of wondering whether they are being spoken to with the inclusive use of: wo(man), s(he) and fe(male).
  4. Women who work in the Church do not have the same freedom to advocate for change that women in academia do, because in the University, there is tenure, but in the Church, there is no tenure, or job security.
  5. If you are working against domination within the institution, you cannot be employed by it.

This is very different from the “Discipleship of Equals” proclaimed and practiced by Jesus in his own ministry. Jesus was not ordained, and did not ordain the Apostles. Rather, he was first among equals in a ministry aimed at establishing not “The Kingdom of God”, but the “Commonweal of God”. (An alternative translation of the Greek term Basileia.) He saw himself as the prophetic voice of Divine Wisdom calling forth this commonweal, not as the ruling “Lord”.

But as the early Church developed, this notion of equal standing within a common striving for justice was replaced by an interpretation that was “Lord-centered” (Kyriocentric). This evoked male-dominated notions of: Lord, slave master, Father, Husband, of elite, propertied man. Women's equal role in Jesus' ministry was edited out. Now, we need to re-construct that history to restorewomen to their rightful place.

So, in naming the gaps between Jesus' practice and the current situation of women in the Church, the conference participants noted that members of the hierarchy feel they have “divine justification” for their power. It is obvious that there is no longer anything near a “discipleship of equals”. Women must participate in bringing change. The Church cannot continue Jesus' mission of bringing justice to the world, if there is not justice within the Church itself.

Naming the Gaps Set One



Discipleship of Equals

Women subordinate

Community of trust

Community of fear

Ministry and authority based on service

Ministry and authority based on power

Management of dissidents:
Group decision-making

Management of dissidents:



Jesus first among equals

Concern over who will “wash the liturgical dishes?”

Women are equal

Even sympathetic priests and bishops are intimidated

“Mission” Leadership

“Official structure” leadership

Basileia Heirarchical

Ministry based on who has gifts Not always true today

Network of relationship

Big parishes miss relationship and networking

Eucharist and Gospel stories interpreted by owned/priest

Eucharist/Gospel stories only interpreted by many

Naming the Gaps Set Two





Community Fluid/Flexible


Little fear of dissent/trust






Discipleship of Equals

Women subordinate to men in Church and Society


Canon law restrictive

Jesus accessible


Married clergy

Mandatory celibacy power

Followers of Jesus


Women leaders

Women on fringe

“Home” churches

Only ordained males for sacraments

Women’s stories

Women’s stories deleted

Authority based on ministry and service

Authority based on Power