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Women break the 'stained glass ceiling' to lead religious groups

Some landmark moments happened in July for women seeking leadership positions in religious organizations. From gaining the right to become bishops in the Church of England to leading the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, women reached new heights within faith communities.

The advancements were celebrated as signs of growing commitment to gender equality in religious groups, but they also highlighted how polarizing the issue of female leadership continues to be.

Although women have been ordained in the Church of England since 1994, The New York Times reported that traditionalists resisted their ascension into the office of bishop on theological grounds. The Church of England's vote mid-month to allow women bishops represented an end to "years of deadlock and division."

"At times the issue became so divisive that there were fears that groups might break away if they lost the argument, either to align with the Roman Catholic Church or with evangelical African churches," the Times article said.

Anglicanism continues to be globally divided on the issue of women's ordination, which threatens the denomination's stability. Although the Church of England's decision met with wide support in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, where women could already hold the office, "some Anglican churches in developing countries do not even ordain women as priests," the Times reported.

Less controversial was CCCU's election of Shirley Hoogstra, its first woman president, although it still represented a big change for the male-dominated organization: "Approximately 9 of its 175 members institutions are currently led by women," Christianity Today reported.

Hoogstra formerly served as the vice president for student life at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Calvin's student newspaper, Chimes, reported that she was "the first woman to serve as a cabinet member" at the college.

CCCU is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports the work of Christian academic institutions. Many of its member schools were part of a recent study done on women leadership at evangelical nonprofits.

The study concluded that "when it comes to women in leadership positions, evangelical nonprofits lag behind their secular counterparts," Christianity Today reported.

"This isn't just about the people in top leadership positions — this is about those who are the top paid leaders, and it's true about the board," wrote one of the study's organizers, Amy Reynolds, for Patheos.

The Women in Leadership study found that of the 1,300 nonprofits analyzed, 16 percent of the top leaders, 21 percent of the boards and 23 percent of the highest paid employees are female. In the nonprofit world as a whole, women make up 43 percent of board members and 40 percent of CEOs.

A recent Religion News Service article on single moms who serve as ministers addressed the ongoing debate about women who divide their time between motherhood and leadership positions.

"There's nothing that points up the traditional conflicts that religious groups have put forward between ordination and womanhood than motherhood," said Ann D. Braude to RNS. "Traditionally, motherhood by Christians and others was viewed as a vocation, and you can only have one vocation: You could have the ministry or motherhood as a vocation, but not both."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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