Presbyterian Church (USA). Report on the Official Relation of Women in the Church (1920)

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Report on the Official Relation of Women in the Church (1920)
Overture on Women Deacons (1921)
Petition to Remove Barriers to Women (1924)
Report of the Special Committee on the Status of Women in the church (1929)
Report of the Special Committee on the Ordination of Women (1955)

Report on the Official Relation of Women in the Church (1920)

The Special Committee on the Official Relation of Women in the Church presented its report, through its Chairman, Rev. S. Hall Young, D.D. The report was adopted and is as follows:

The constitution of your Committee was on this wise:

The General Assembly of 1919 received three overtures. The Presbytery of Columbia River asked that Women be made eligible to ordination both as ministers and ruling elders; the Presbytery of Saginaw overtured that they be ordained as ruling elders; and the Presbytery of Dallas asked that a committee be appointed to investigate the whole question of enlarged opportunities for women in the Church.

These overtures were referred to the Assembly’s Committee on Polity. A majority of the Committee recommended that the Assembly take no action; a minority report asked that a committee be appointed to take under consideration the whole matter of enlarging opportunities for women in the Church, and to report to the next Assembly. The minority ,report was adopted and the Committee appointed by the Moderator. In composing the Committee the Moderator selected one each from those voting for the majority and the Minority reports of the Committee on Polity.

At the first meeting of the Committee held September 23, 1919, the following sub-committees were appointed: Dr. Young, to obtain and tabulate the consensus of opinion of prominent men and women in the Church on this subject; Dr. Work, to examine the teachings of Scripture on the question; Dr. Barrett, to ascertain the deliverances and practice of other ecclesiastical bodies; Mr. Manson, to review the case of Mrs. Chapman which was before the last Assembly, and other similar cases; and Mr: Taggart, to report on the law and equity of the question:

It was decided that as far as possible public discussion of the question should be avoided until after the report of the Committee should be rendered; and that Presbyteries and Synods and their officers should not be consulted officially until the Assembly should decide whether or not it would send an overture or overtures on this subject to the Presbyteries.

On December 30, 1919, a meeting of the Committee was held at which all the members were present, with the exception of Dr. Work who was ill. However, he presented his report.

The facts and conclusions arrived at by your Committee at this meeting and from subsequent investigation and correspondence are as follows:

Personal letters were sent to over a hundred ministers and elders and to forty women asking their opinion on these three questions: (1) Should women be admitted to ordination as ruling elders? (2) Should they be received into the ministry? (3) Should they be made eligible to sit in the courts and councils of the Church on an equality with men?

The names of the men to whom this letter was sent were selected from those prominent in the Presbyterian Church and representing the different synods and the various theological seminaries. The women addressed were generally officers in missionary organizations, or of wide reputation in other lines of Christian work.

In addition requests for letters on the subject were inserted in various church papers; and the sub-committees corresponded concerning their special subjects.

Many letters have been received in reply, evincing a general, intelligent and growing interest in this question. These were distributed among the sub-committees, tabulated and discussed in Committee. After laying aside those letters which were indefinite or expressed no decided convictions, a hundred letters have been examined and compared, with these results:

I. From a Scriptural standpoint, the question was discussed keenly, pro and con, by professors in our theological seminaries and others, strong on the Old and New Testaments. After examining these arguments and after independent investigation your Committee is of the opinion that the Scriptures do not forbid either women elders or women preachers.

II. The sub-committee appointed to investigate the usages of other ecclesiastical bodies corresponded with the leading representatives of seven Protestant denominations, receiving courteous and informing replies in every case. In brief, this is the sum of these replies:

1. Three of these denominations, namely the Methodist Protestant, the Christian, and the Congregational, ordain women to the ministry. However but few women have availed themselves of the privilege.

2. The other four denominations interrogated, viz. the Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal do not have women preachers, nor does there seem to be any particular inclination in these Churches to accord them this office.

3. Where women preach their labors are generally limited to small fields.

4. In practically all of these seven churches women are admitted to every other official position in the Church except the ministry. They serve on official boards, are trustees, deaconesses, etc., and there is a growing tendency to admit them to official equality with men in the matter of counsel and oversight in the government and service of the Church.

5. If the experience of other denominations is to be considered in helping us to reach a decision, the evidence is favorable to women in the office of the eldership, but is, on the whole, unfavorable to women in the ministry.

III. The case of the appeal of Rev. Robert C. Hallock, D.D., against the Presbytery of Chemung for licensing Mrs. Wm. A. Chapman to preach. The Assembly sent the case back to the Synod of New York and it came before the Judicial Commission at the fall meeting of the Synod.

The appellant had three counts in his plea: first, that the licensing of a woman to preach was irregular; second, that it was unconstitutional; third, that it was unscriptural.

The Judicial Commission refused to pronounce upon any of these counts but the first, that the licensing was irregular. It found against the Presbytery and directed that the license of Mrs. Chapman be rescinded, reminding the Presbytery that the proper way to reach such a license would be by overture to the Assembly. The papers in the case were handed to this Committee by the Chairman and Clerk of the Synod’s Judicial Commission.

The fact that the Presbytery’s attorney moved that the Synod overture the General Assembly that women be granted the right of licensure and ordination; and that the motion was voted down, was taken by some of our Presbyterian papers to mean that the Synod of New York had gone on record as opposed to giving women the right to preach. The officers of the Synod’s Commission made it plain that this was not the case. The Synod did not act upon the merits of the question, but only upon the irregularity of such licensure under the present order of things, and the impropriety of the Synod’s sending up such an overture.

IV. As to the propriety and equity of ordaining women as ruling elders and ministers, the hundred letters which were carefully examined and tabulated by your Committee and considered as fairly representing sentiment in our Church, were most interesting and illuminating. Seventy of these were from ministers and elders of the Church, sixty-three ministers and seven elders, all men of weight and influence in the Church; thirty were from women of like prominence.

Of these seventy men, forty-two, or sixty per cent. favored the ordination of women to the eldership; thirty-four, or forty-eight and one-half per cent. advocated their right of ordination to both ministry and eldership; six thought they ought to have the right to a seat in the courts and councils of the Church, but without ordination; while but twentytwo, or thirty-one and one-half per cent. opposed any change in the present usage of the Church.

Of the thirty women whose letters were listed, eighteen favored granting women the right of ordination to both ministry and eldership, two advocated admission as commissioners to presbytery and assembly without ordination, while but seven opposed their advancement in any respect or degree in the Church.

One very significant item must be recorded here. Seven of these ladies who wrote to your Committee took the question to the missionary and other organizations of which they were officers, and a vote of sentiment was taken. In each case the majority was in favor of the ordination of women.

Among the arguments advanced by those opposed to any change in the present usage of the Church, in addition to the Scriptural, are these: That woman’s sphere is the home. That her family duties would interfere with her functions as minister and elder. That her ordination would result in lowering the dignity of the office. That it would afford an excuse for men to shirk their duties. That it would retard, and perhaps defeat the hoped for union of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. with other Presbyterian bodies; that it would keep men away from the Church; that it would lend countenance to and accelerate a dangerous feministic movement.

Some of the arguments urged by those who advocate the ordination of women to one or both these church offices, in addition to the argument from Scripture, are these: The ordination of women belongs to the spirit of the age, her civil equality is assured in our own and other nations - who deny her ecclesiastical equality? A considerable majority of the membership of the Presbyterian Church is composed of women and girls, and they do more missionary and other church work than the other sex; hence they are entitled to the honors as well as the labors of the Church. In many cases, especially on the frontiers, the organization of new churches is hindered and sometimes made impossible because of the lack of suitable material for elders among the men of the community, whereas there is abundance of good “elder-timber” among the Christian women. Women elders and ministers would in thousands of cases be able to do useful and necessary work for the children and the poor which is impossible for male officers. The call to minister in holy things is of God and is not limited to one sex; when this call is heard by a woman it is not seemly in man to say her nay.

Other arguments on both sides were advanced. It is proper to report that the ladies advocating the ordination of women to the ministry or eldership in each case disclaimed any wish to occupy the office themselves but claimed the right for their sisters.

Your Committee declines to express an opinion upon the merits of this important question. It is divided in sentiment, a majority having expressed themselves as conservative. But it is united in the opinion that the question is of sufficient moment and has excited such widespread interest as to demand discussion and settlement by the Church at large.

As the question of admitting women to the office of ruling elder has commanded the support of the larger number, and seems most urgently to call for the decision of the Church upon it, your Committee has decided to present only the one subject to the Assembly. The admission of women to presbytery, synod and Assembly without ordination would involve radical changes in our Constitution, while this right naturally follows ordination. Your Committee respectfully presents the following resolution and urges its adoption:

Resolved, That the Stated Clerk be directed to prepare and send to the Presbyteries for their action the following Overture:

“Shall the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. be so amended as to admit properly qualified and elected women to ordination as Ruling Elders, with all the rights and duties pertaining to this office.”

Respectfully submitted,

S. Hall Young, Chairman.

Notes: This 1920 report of the Committee on the Official Relation of Women in the Church is, like the rest of the statements in this section, from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. , which in 1958 merged with the United Presbyterian Church in North America to form the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. The United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. later merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has approximately 3,000,000 members. As the report says, the issue of women’s ordination was first broached in 1919 by three separate overtures, and in response a committee was selected to study the topic. The committee found sufficient support to seek a general vote on women being ordained as elders, but not as ministers. The vote was 139 for and 125 against, with 37 presbyteries not voting. Passage required a majority of all existing presbyteries, however, so the measure failed by 12 votes.

Overture on Women Deacons (1921)

Overture 1425. The Presbytery of Transylvania requests an overture sent down to the Presbyteries on "Women Deacons." The majority of the Committee on Polity recommend that the Assembly send down to the Presbyteries the following Overture-` `Shall the Form of Government, Chapter 13, section 2, be amended by adding-'With the exception that deacons may be either male or female.' "

Notes: The proposal to include women as deacons was approved 210 to 52 in a churchwide vote and was thus adopted.

Petition to Remove Barriers to Women (1924)

Petition 1. Asking the General Assembly to remove from Presbyterian rules and regulations the restrictions in connection with the participation of women in the affairs of the Church: and to authorize the organization of a Woman's Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

From various individuals and Women’s Missionary Societies.

Notes: This petition stems largely from the initiative of Louise Blinn, an advocate of sexual equality and president of the Women’s Missionary Society of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1923, the Women’s Boards of Home and Foreign Missions were absorbed into the male structures. Because only men could serve as commissioners to the General Assembly and its committees, the women had no say in these actions; many felt betrayed. The purpose of this petition was not only to provide women with access to all official positions, including ordained, but to also recreate a Women’s Missionary Society. Response to this petition was postponed until 1925, when it was finally rejected. Reasons for the rejection were sent in a personal letter from Clarence Macartney, chair of the General Council, to Louise Blinn. A similar petition in 1926 to remove barriers to the participation of women at all levels was also rejected. That same year, the report of a special committee to investigate "causes of unrest" in the church showed, among other things, that some church members "regarded as unjust the lack of representation of women in the church.”

Report of the Special Committee on the Status of Women in the church (1929)

A. Special Committee on Status of Women in the Church

At the meeting of the Council in Chicago in November, 1928, Mrs. Bennett and Miss Hodge, vice presidents of the Boards of National and Foreign Missions, and corresponding members of the Council, presented a paper entitled, “Causes of Unrest Among the Women of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.” This was a very thoughtful and disturbing paper and the Council gave it careful consideration. Instead of, at that time, taking any action or even giving general distribution to the paper the Council deemed it wise to call a Conference with fifteen representative women of the Church to study with them the whole question of the relation of women to the life and work of the Church together with the problems which at this time confront the women’s organizations in,the Church. A whole day was devoted to this conference in Chicago in November; 1928, and at its meeting in Philadelphia in March, 1929, the Council received a full report of this Conference and considered the recommendations of the committee of the Council which had arranged for the conference and had been charged with the duty of recommending to the Council any actions which it might be deemed wise to present to the Assembly.

This committee, which consisted of two members of the Council, and Mrs. Bennett and Miss Hodge, brought before the Council two important recommendations. The first recommendation had to do with a request from the women’s committees of the boards of Missions of the Church that the General Council should call a conference of the following three groups:

1. The women members of all the Boards.

2. An equal number of women who were associated with the present forms of church service, such as the Missionary Society, Women’s Association or Federation, the Ladies’ Aid Society.

3. Some women who, while church women, are quite outside of the organized service of the women of the Church.

This Conference would make a survey of the whole field of women’s service to the Church and of the types of women’s organizations in the Church best suited to present conditions. The Council voted to approve such a Conference to be held in St. Paul in May in connection with the biennial meetings of the women’s societies; the Conference to be limited to approximately one hundred women, one half consisting of women members of the boards of the Church, the other half representing, as far as possible, all sections and types of women in the membership of the Church. The expenses of the women from the Mission Boards to be met by the Boards, and the expenses of the women from the Church at large to be met out of the funds of the General Assembly.

In accordance with the request of the women’s committees this Conference is to report to the General Council and the General Council agreed to defer any action with regard to women’s organizations in the Church until it had received the report of this Conference. A committee consisting of Miss Hodge, Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Coy, Mrs. Waid and Mrs. Flemming was appointed to make arrangements for the Conference.

The other important recommendation of the Committee dealt with the official relations of women to the ecclesiastical organization of the Church. This matter had been carefully considered by the General Assemblies of 1919 and 1920 and a special committee was appointed by the General Assembly of 1919 which made a full report to the Assembly in 1920. This Committee reported:

“From a Scriptural standpoint the question was discussed keenly pro and con by professors in our theological seminaries and others strong on the Old and New Testaments. After examining these arguments and after independent investigation, your committee is of the opinion that the Scriptures do not forbid either women elders or women preachers.”

The Committee recommended, however, that it was desirable at that time to submit only a proposal in favor of the admission of women to the eldership. The report of the Committee in full was adopted by the General Assembly and the following overture was ordered sent down to the Presbyteries:

“Shall the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America be so amended as to admit properly qualified and elected women to ordination as ruling elders, with all the rights and duties pertaining to this office?”

This overture was voted upon by the Presbyteries and it was reported to the General Assembly of 1920 that 139 Presbyteries had voted for its adoption and 125 against it and that 37 Presbyteries had not voted. Of the Presbyteries which voted accordingly the majority favored the overture. However, as a majority vote of all existing Presbyteries (at that time 301) is required in favor of a given overture if the Form of Government is to be amended in accordance with its provision this overture failed of adoption but only by twelve votes.

The Committee of the Council laid before the Council the following three alternative proposals:

1. The re-submission to the Presbyteries of the, substance of the overture which was approved by the majority of the Presbyteries which voted in 1920-21.

2. A re-submission of this matter with an additional proposition providing for the licensure of women as evangelists wherever Presbyteries believe that it is desirable.

3. The removal from the Form of Government of any form of speech which is inconsistent with the recognition of the complete equality of men and women in the life and work of the Church. This could be effected very simply by amending the Form of Government.

a. making Chapter III, Section II, to read

“The ordinary and perpetual officers in the Church, who may be of either sex, are Bishops or Pastors; the representatives of the people, usually styled Ruling Elders; and Deacons.” Or in similar language.

b. making Chapter XIII, Section II, read

“Every congregation shall elect persons to the office of ruling elder, and to the office of deacon, or either of them, in the mode most approved and in use in that congregation. In all cases the persons elected must be members in full communion in the church in which they are to exercise their office.”

c. and by making a few (minor) verbal changes elsewhere, as for example in Chapter XII, Section VII, and in Constitutional Rule No. 1.

The Committee unanimously recommended to the Council the approval of the third of these alternatives. After long discussion the General Council, by a vote of 13 to 6, adopted this recommendation of the Committee, and herewith recommends to the General Assembly that the Stated Clerk be instructed to send to the Presbyteries for their action the following overtures:

A. On the Election and Ordination of Women as Bishops or Pastors, and as Ruling Elders.

To the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.:

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. A., meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 23-29, 1929, adopted the following:

“Resolved, That the Stated Clerk be directed to prepare and send to the Presbyteries for their action the following Overture:

a. “Shall the Form of Government Chapter III, Section II, be amended by the addition of the following words: ‘These officers may be either men or women, and wherever this provision is applicable directly or impliedly, there the terms employed are to be interpreted in harmony therewith’, so that the Form of Government, Chapter III, Section II, shall read as follows:

“II. The ordinary and perpetual officers in the Church are Bishops or Pastors; the representatives of the people, usually styled Ruling Elders; and Deacons. These officers may be either men or women, and wherever this provision is applicable, directly or impliedly, there the terms employed are to be interpreted in harmony therewith.”

b. “Shall the Form of Government, Chapter XIII, Section II, be amended by the omission of the following words: ‘provided, that men shall be eligible to election to the office of ruling elder, and that men and women shall be eligible to election to the office of deacon’, so that it shall read as follows:

“II. Every congregation shall elect persons to the office of ruling elder, and to the office of deacon, or either of them, in the mode most approved and in use in that congregation. In all cases the persons elected must be members in full communion in the church in which they are to exercise their office.”

c. “Shall the personal pronouns, “he”, “his”, “him”, be followed by the personal pronouns, (“she”), (“her”), (“her”), respectively, in the sections of the Form of Government where forms of record or of personal address, or of commission, are, prescribed, namely, The Form of Government, Chapter XIV, Section VIII; Chapter XV, Section XIII; Chapter XXII, Section II.”

Pursuant to this action by the General Assembly, the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., are asked to express their approval or disapproval of this Overture as a whole including (a) (b) and (c) by giving a single direct affirmative or negative answer thereto.

B. On the Election and Ordination of Women as Ruling Elders.

To the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.:

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., meeting in St Paul, Minnesota, May 23-29, 1929, adopted the following:

“Resolved, That the Stated Clerk be directed to prepare and send to the Presbyteries for their action the following Overture:

“Shall the Form of Government, Chapter XIII, Section II, be amended by the omission of the following words: ‘provided, that men shall be eligible to election to the office of ruling elder, and that men and women shall be eligible to election to the office of deacon’, so that it shall read as follows:

“II. Every congregation shall elect persons to the office of ruling elder, and to the office of deacon, or either of them, in the mode most approved and in use in that congregation. In all cases the persons elected must be members in full communion in the church in which they are to exercise their office.”

Pursuant to this action by the General Assembly, the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. are asked to express their approval or disapproval of this Overture, by giving a direct affirmative or negative answer thereto.

C. On the Licensure of Local Evangelists.

To the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.:

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, May 23-29, 1929, adopted the following:

“Resolved, That the Stated Clerk be directed to prepare and send to the Presbyteries for their action the following Overture:

Shall Constitutional Rule No. 1 adopted in 1893 and entitled “Local Evangelists” be amended to read as follows:

It shall be lawful for presbytery, after proper examination as to piety, knowledge of the scriptures, and ability to teach, to license, as a local evangelist, any communicant member of the church, who, in the judgment of presbytery is qualified to teach the gospel publicly, and who is willing to engage in such service under the direction of presbytery. Such license shall be valid for but one year unless renewed, and such licensed local evangelist shall report to the presbytery at least once each year, and any license may be withdrawn at any time at the pleasure of the presbytery. Communicant members securing such licenses may be ordained to the gospel ministry, should they be eligible and desire to enter it, only when they shall have served at least four years as local evangelists, and shall have pursued and been examined upon what would be equivalent to a three years’ course of study in theology, homiletics, Church history, Church polity, and the English Bible, under the direction of presbytery. ”

Pursuant to this action by the General Assembly, the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., are asked to express their approval or disapproval of this Overture, by giving a direct affirmative or negative answer thereto.

The Secretary of the General Council was requested to add at this point in the report of the General Council to the General Assembly a note stating that certain members of the General Council voted in the negative upon the question of transmitting to the Presbyteries the overtures herewith submitted relating to the status of women in our Church, believing it to be for the best interests of the Church that the submission of this matter to the Presbyteries for their votes should be postponed for a one year period. The members of the General Council who desired to have their names associated with this note were Dr. Mark A. Matthews, Dr. John Timothy Stone, Dr. Henry C. Swearingen, Mr. Fred B. Shipp and Mr. S. Frank Shattuck.

Later, at the meeting of the General Council held at St. Paul, on May 22, 1929,

On motion of Dr. Stone, seconded by Dr. Thompson, the action of the Council at the March meeting recommending that the next General Assembly send down to the Presbyteries for their votes the overtures relating to the Status of Women in the Church, was reconsidered. The motion to postpone the sending down of the overtures relating to women for one year, namely, until the 1930 General Assembly, was lost by a vote of 19 to 2, the Chairman, Dr. Hugh K. Walker, being ineligible to vote and Dr. Swearingen being absent.

The Council then ordered that the Chairman in conference with the Stated Clerk, Dr. Speer and Dr. Matthews, arrange for a mutually agreeable time for the presentation to the General Assembly of the question of the submission to the Presbyteries of the Overtures on the Status of Women in the Church.

Notes: In 1927, Katherine Bennett and Margaret Hodge were asked by the General Council to study the specific causes of unrest among Presbyterian women and report back the following year. They did, and the Council heard a “very thoughtful and disturbing paper.” The result was another special committee which presented this report in 1929. The presbyteries then voted on three proposals - one to allow women as pastors, one as elders, and one as local evangelists - and approved two of them. As a result, starting in 1930 women could become elders or local evangelists. Approval of women as elders or local evangelists came in 1930. The issue then focused on the third area, women’s ordination as pastor or minister.

Report of the Special Committee on the Ordination of Women (1955)

Ordination of Women

The Special Committee on the Ordination of Women presented its Report through its Chairman, the Rev. C. Vin White. The order of the day having arrived, the time was extended ten minutes. The Report was received and approved, and its recommendation adopted, as follows:

In response to Overture 3, 1953, from the Presbytery of Rochester, the 165th General Assembly adopted the resolution that “no action" be taken “by this General Assembly, but that the Moderator of the General Assembly appoint a representative committee of seven persons, consisting of three ministers, and four ruling elders, two of whom shall be women.”

The Overture is as follows:

Overture 3 - On the Ordination of Women to the Gospel Ministry - from the Presbytery of Rochester.

The Christian faith has been history’s most potent force in elevating the position of women in our civilization and in using their special gifts. God has called a number of women to the Gospel Ministry and has set his seal to their ordination by other denominations with the fruit of salvation of souls and the prosperity of churches. Because of her home responsibilities, it is not often possible for a woman to accept the stringent demands of the parish ministry. Yet when a woman is led of God so to dedicate her life, it would be difficult to discover truly Christian grounds to deny her request for ordination.

The Church has never interpreted Paul's teaching as prohibiting women from serving the church as teachers of the Bible, as missionaries or as leaders in the promotion of missionary work.

Inasmuch as the Presbyterian Church has already approved the ordination of women as ruling elders, it has accepted as of permanent validity the teaching of Paul that, “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male or female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27) It has thus decided that Paul’s various strictures on the place of women in the Church were addressed to a contemporary situation.

Our age sees many other evidences of the leadership of women. A woman can be a teacher, a lawyer, a business executive, a diplomat, a doctor; yet in our Church she cannot be ordained to preach the Gospel! The whole emphasis of organized Christianity has been the extension rather than the limitation of the number of those called into the service of Christ. Let us follow the spirit of our Master and no longer discriminate against any person because of sex.

The Presbytery of Rochester, meeting in Calvary Presbyterian Church, Rochester, on February 17, 1953, therefore, respectfully overtures the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 28, 1953, to initiate such actions as may be necessary to permit the ordination of women to the Ministry of Jesus Christ.

The General Assembly instructed the Committee “to consider the whole subject and report to the 166th General Assembly.”

The Committee was constituted of the following:

Mr. D. Luther Evans, Columbus, Ohio
Mr. Edward B. Hodge, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Rev. Hugh T. Kerr, Jr., Princeton, N.J.
Rev. Frank L. McCormick, Fort Morgan, Colorado
Mrs. Frank A. Remde, Pasadena, California
Mrs. L. Irving Woolson, Birmingham, Michigan, Secretary
Rev. C. Vin White, Lincoln, Nebraska, Chairman
Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, Philadelphia, Penna., Advisor

After an initial all-day meeting at which time it was decided to study in detail the Biblical, theological and sociological issues of this subject, the Committee reported to the 166th General Assembly meeting in Detroit, Michigan, May, 1954, that: “Because of the time required to complete these studies now in progress, and because the Committee’s report should be substantiated by such findings, the Committee, therefore, respectfully requests General Assembly to continue the Committee for another year, thus permitting it to make its report to the 167th General Assembly meeting in 1955.” The request was granted.

The committee now feels that it has completed its study of these issues and it herewith submits the following report and recommendation:

Whereas, the previous actions of General Assembly since 1832, regarding the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America have been reviewed;

Whereas the “Statement Regarding the Position of Women in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” prepared for the General Department of the United Church Women of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, (October 1953) reveals that women in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America:

1. Are now ordained as deacons and ruling elders;

2. May be commissioned by a Presbytery as church workers and lay preachers;

3. Constitute one-third of the membership of the program boards, and also are included on the General Council and the Board of Pensions;

4. May be elected or appointed to any administrative or policy making bodies;

5. As ruling elders, may be elected to the Moderatorship of Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly;

Whereas material from the Commission on the Life and Work of Women in the Church, of the World Council of Churches, indicates clearly that the ordination of women is a live issue before many Churches throughout the world;

Whereas, there is an increasing cooperation between men and women in business, industry, government, professional life and the Church, whereby each makes room for the other to develop his or her special potentialities, and each recognizes the other as a partner on equal footing;

Whereas, the general trend throughout the world is toward increasing the opportunities for women to take leadership along with men;

Whereas, special studies have been prepared by and for the Committee regarding:

1. The Biblical view of women in society and the Church;

2. The doctrinal implications of the Reformed Faith as they pertain to the place of women in the Church and the ministry;

Whereas, the Bible teaches:

That “in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female”;

That neither sex is inferior to the other in access to God’s grace and gifts;

That women did serve as deaconesses and did hold other positions in the Apostolic Church;

Whereas, the Bible does not prescribe a permanent and specific social structure for the Church or society; and

Whereas, the Bible neither provides specific direction for nor prohibits the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry;

Whereas, the Reformed doctrinal view, as it pertains to the place of women in the Church, as well as the Reformed view of the ministry, set forth:

That it is proper to speak of equality of status for men and women both in terms of their creation and their redemption;

That it is proper to speak of equality of status for men and women in the Church and its ministry;

That there is no theological ground for denying ordination to women simply because they are women;

That structure in the Christian Church, is essentially functional in character;

That officers of the Church and the form of its organization were designed by Jesus Christ to serve the best interests of the Church, to fulfill His purpose for the Church;

That there is no theological barrier against the ordination of women if ordination would contribute to the edification and nurturing of the Church in its witness to the Lord of the Church;

Whereas, in the Presbyterian form of government, ordination to the ministry is the only way for a full-time church worker to participate fully and responsibly in Presbytery and in the other courts of the Church;

Whereas, the ministry of our Church is becoming more and more diversified, with increasing opportunities not only for pastors and preachers, but for teachers, missionaries, directors of religious education, chaplains, social workers, and other church vocations;

Whereas, the ordination of women would enable the Church to give status to women now serving the Church and would also encourage others to undertake the work of the ministry;

Therefore, the Committee recommends that the 167th General Assembly approve the following Overture and propose it to the Presbyteries for action:

Overture B, 1955,

Shall the Form of Government, Chapter IV, Section 1, “Of Bishops or Pastors, and Associate Pastors,” be amended by the addition of the following sentence, which would become the last sentence of the Section:

“Both men and women may be called to this office.”

Notes: In 1953, 24 years after women were first ordained as elders, the Presbytery of Rochester petitioned the General Assembly to allow women to be ordained as ministers. The assembly took no action, but instead appointed a committee to investigate the issue and report back the following year. The committee was still working on the report in 1954, so it was not, issued until 1955. The report, printed here, found no theological barrier to the ordinatin of women, and suggested that such action would in fact contribute to the growth of the church. In 1956 the assembly approved the report by a vote of 205 to 35, thus allowing the ordination of women.


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