The Reformed Church in America has been ordaining women for more than 30 years. But there have always been ways for people who conscientiously object to female ministers to remove themselves from the process. On Monday night, the church’s governing body voted 143 to 69 to strike those policies.
A survey of female ministers shows about one in four experiences setbacks because of inappropriate use of those rules.
Reverend Stacey Midge heads the RCA’s Commission for Women. She believes the changes could cause some upheaval in the short term.
"In the long run however, I believe that we have more integrity as a denomination if we just say ‘we ordain women.' And if you can’t live within a system that ordains women, then there are a lot of denominations, and perhaps this isn’t the one for you," Midge said.
About half of seminary graduates are women. But women make up only 17 percent of active ministers.
The RCA has a large membership base in West Michigan. Hope College and the Western Theological Seminary graduate school are both based in Holland, Michigan.
The compromise was struck to maintain church unity when it first began ordaining women.
"This mean the institution no longer says, 'we’re going to provide caveats for women’s ordination. We’re going to provide an excuse for men to treat women as though they are less ordained than men.' What changes is this sort of systematic sexism that goes on," Midge said.
Midge says that "systematic sexism" depends greatly on where a woman is. She says many women on the east coast report they've experienced virtually no setbacks. It's harder for women serving in the Midwest and the Western United States, she said.
Two-thirds of regional governing bodies have to approve the change before the church adopts the new policy. That’s expected to take several months.