General Synod Statements: Women in Ministry

Women can participate fully in the life and ministry of RCA churches. The issue of the inclusion of women first formally came before the church in 1918, when two overtures came to General Synod requesting changes to the Book of Church Order that would allow women to be ordained as elders and deacons. The overtures were denied, but the issue continued to surface every few years.

In 1958, General Synod adopted a statement upon recommendation of the Committee on Ordaining of Women:

Scripture nowhere excludes women from eligibility to the offices but always emphasizes their inclusion, prominence, and equal status with men in the Church of Jesus Christ. (MGS 1958: 328)

In 1979, the Judicial Business Committee stated that

First, [the General Synod] has repeatedly voted for amendments to the Constitution which would clearly and unequivocally declare all the offices of the church open to women.

Further, on each occasion when such action was requested by the classes, the General Synod has in 1973 (MGS, p. 37) and again in 1977 (MGS, p. 168) granted dispensations from the professorial certificate to women; thus, opening the way to examination for licensure and ordination.

And, it has in 1974 (MGS, p. 97) and in 1976 (MGS p. 115f) taken no action on overtures which would have amended the Book of Church Order, Chapter 1, Part I, Article 1, Sec. 3, in such a way as to limit the office of minister of the Word to men only. (MGS 1979: 68)

The 1980 General Synod approved an amendment to the Book of Church Order which clarified the legality of the ordination of women as ministers of the Word.

(a) Amend Part I, Article 1, Section 3 (BCO, p. 12) by substituting “men and women” for “persons.”

(b) Amend Part II, Article 2, Section 7 (BCO, p. 24) by adding the following:

If individual members of the classis find that their consciences, as illuminated by Scripture, would not permit them to participate in the licensure, ordination or installation of women as ministers of the Word, they shall not be required to participate in decisions or actions contrary to their consciences, but may not obstruct the classis in fulfilling its responsibility to arrange for the care, ordination, and installation of women candidates and ministers by means mutually agreed on by such women and the classis.

(c) Amend Part II, Article 10 (BCO, p. 40) by adding a new section:

Section 15. Ministers of the Word shall not be pressured in such a way as to lead either one who supports or one who opposes, on scriptural grounds, the ordination of women to church offices to offend against his or her conscience. Nor shall any church member be penalized for conscientious objection to, or support of, the ordination of women to church offices. Nor shall any minister of the Word or church member obstruct by unconstitutional means the election, ordination, or installation of a woman to church offices. (MGS 1980: 275)

In 1989, the minutes of the General Synod noted that it

continues to note with deepest regret the number of congregations in which women do not serve as deacons and elders. It is the hope of the commission that congregations will become increasingly open to affirming and utilizing the gifts of all their members. (MGS 1989: 253)

In 1991, the Commission on Theology presented a paper entitled “The Role and Authority of Women in Ministry” to the General Synod. The paper asserted that

In sum, the authority of women and men in ministry is given to them by the triune God, who is the author of the first creation and the finisher of the new creation which exists within and beyond human history. Those called by God are called to exercise their authority in a way which builds up and makes new and seeks goodness and delight, wholeness and harmony, equality and productivity. As God welcomes and persuades men and women into partnership, so must those who represent God. As God opposes all partnerships which misunderstand or abuse the servant authority made manifest by Jesus Christ, so must women and men who share in Christ’s ministry. (MGS 1991: 445)

Since the 1980s, the Commission for Women has studied the situation of women in ministry in the RCA. The commission reports to the General Synod every year, encouraging advocacy for women in office.

In 2012, General Synod voted to remove the "conscience clauses"—statements that spell out how people can and cannot conscientiously object to the ordination process of women—from the Book of Church Order. The required two-thirds of RCA classes voted in support of synod's action, and the 2013 General Synod ratified the removal of the "conscience clauses" from the Book of Church Order.