Ordaining a woman is more common today than it was in ancient practice, but some religions of antiquity observed the practice generations ago. According to Wikipedia, there were many notable female figures in the Bible such as Phoebe, Junia (considered an apostle by Paul), the female disciples of Jesus, and the women at the crucifixion who were the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ, as supporting evidence of the importance of women as leaders in the Early Church.
While ordination of women is embraced by many branches of Christianity, it is still a controversial and divisive topic.
Ordaining Women and Catholicism
In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote a treatise called Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that stood firmly against the ordination of women in the Catholic faith. In the National Catholic Reporter Jamie Manson wrote:
In just over 1,000 words, John Paul II attempted to definitively dash the hopes of Catholics who dared to believe that when it comes to celebrating the church's sacraments, God was fully capable of working through female bodies just as well as male bodies.
He used the now well-worn reasons: Jesus chose only men as his Apostles; the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan; the role and presence of women in the church, "although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable."
It was Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that Pope Francis invoked during his epic, impromptu airplane interview in July 2013, when he said, "With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed."
Manson goes on the question the Catholic Church’s system of hierarchy and states that in order to incorporate women into the priesthood, it would take humility and an admission that church leaders can’t control who God calls to serve in what way. His article closes with the following words.
The struggle over women's ordination isn't a culture war issue. It is a movement that shines light on the truth that the Roman Catholic church's denial of the full equality of women has global consequences. It seeks to dismantle the poverty, abuse and violence that are intricately tied to the systematic belief that women and men are not equal.
Women's ordination isn't simply about making women priests. It's about helping church leaders recognize that if they were to include women in their leadership as their equals, they could truly be a powerful force for economic and social justice for women and children throughout our world.
You can read the full article here.
Ordination of Women in Protestant Churches
Many Protestant Churches ordain women, but the practice has not been accepted across the board. According to Wikipedia, more than half of all Protestant denominations in the U.S.A. ordain women. However, some restrict the positions that can be held by a female.
“For instance, some ordain women for the military or hospital chaplaincy but prohibit them from serving in congregational roles. Over one-third of all seminary students…are female. The Protestant denominations that refuse to ordain women often do so on the basis of New Testament scriptures that they interpret as prohibiting women from fulfilling church roles that require ordination.”
Scripture like 1 Timothy 2:12 is central to this debate. The King James version of the bible translates it as such:
"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence"
According to Wikipedia, “It is a key passage in the debate between complementarianism, which argues that women should have different and complementary roles in the church and in society, and egalitarianism, which argues that there should be no institutional distinctions between men and women.”