This Infographic Explains Why Women Should Leave the Christian Church

The Barna Group (The “Gallup” of the Christian world) just released a survey they did with Christian women to see how they feel about church and their role in it. I’ve highlighted a few of the more disappointing findings… (click to enlarge):

Barna Group president David Kinnaman is someone who does a lot of good work in informing Christians what they look like to non-Christians. But I was disappointed in the way he framed the findings, presumably so Christian church leaders (i.e. Men) would listen:

Kinnaman also cautions that the research “should not be equated to customer service research, where church leaders try to keep their most committed constituents — women — happy. Instead, the study should be an invitation to better understand how both women and men work together to form a more Christ-like community.”

More bluntly: “I’m not saying you should try to make sure women are treated equally in your church… That would be ridiculous! Just do a better job of making sure women know their place and are content about it.”

*MAN HIGH FIVE*

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/nopaniers Chucky

    Wow. Way to negatively spin. This blog reads more like a political campaign than someone’s real opinion.

    Women are just as likely to report being leaders as men in the church. From the report: “A common stereotype is that women are not as likely as men to be
    leaders. But the research shows Christian women are equally likely as
    Christian men to consider themselves to be leaders. One out of every
    three Christian women use the term “leader” to describe themselves—the
    same proportion as among men.”

    That’s a common stereotype, which you appear to be playing to here, despite the fact that the actual survey says the opposite. Imagine if we had the same results as this survey for leadership in business or politics. Sadly we don’t.

     “Most express a great deal of satisfaction with the church they attend
    when it comes to leadership opportunities. Three quarters say they are
    making the most of their gifts and potential (73%) and a similar
    proportion feel they are doing meaningful ministry (72%). More than half
    say they have substantial influence in their church (59%) and a slight
    majority expect their influence to increase (55%).”

    You seem to think being a servant is bad. Helping the poor, giving to charity, encouraging others. Terrible things. Apparently you don’t have much of an understanding Christian culture, where serving those who are in need is honoured among both men and women. It’s one thing Christians generally strive for. I would like to see atheists joining us in that not putting us down for it!

    • pureone

      It says “Lead and serve” in the intro to those glorious stats, not lead alone. What does “Gifts and potential” mean? “Doing meaningful ministry” means they are doing nothing at all to serve others, despite how you tried to spin it. And lead how?  How about the other half, instead of the third, who consider themselves “followers” and how half again of those do nothing- except pray-which has not been shown to do anything. 

      • amycas

         I was particularly perturbed when I saw that about half of the women who consider themselves “servants” are doing nothing but praying, or it’s their main form of service.

    • Leigha7

      Less than a quarter of the women said they served by helping the needy, less than 20% said they gave money, and less than 10% said they volunteered at a non-profit. The 46% who “help” others by praying are literally doing nothing to help (assuming they are only praying and not doing any of the other things). Putting your hands together and wishing really hard for God to feed the hungry feeds precisely zero people. If they really want to help, they should give time and money, not just thoughts.

  • gski

    The question, “Do men support women in leadership?” What does it say that at each level the priest is more supportive than her husband? Statistically it’s a tie, but I expect the husbands to be much more supportive. Do the husbands feel threatened?

  • jdm8

    Those figures are a lot better than expected, though it should be better. It’s unfortunate that there are still church organizations that don’t allow women in positions of authority.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I’m more interested in, and pleased by, the fact that 62% said all roles were open to them. You focused on the 2% and 3% who said they weren’t allowed to teach men, but ignored this particular factoid. Why is that? It would be more useful to see this study repeated in 10 years to see a trend, rather than just a snapshot of a particular time.

    • NeedingMoreFacts

      I totally agree with you.  My thoughts exactly.  If this had anything to do with something Hemant agreed with in the first place, anything remotely close to 50% would be enough proof to support a finding.  The type of behavior you’re vilifying (and should be vilified) can be represented in every segment of human association.  I would also argue that this was *probably* a survey done among women in the church – if any female at any time was denied a leadership position (whether it was based on their gender – or an actual denial based on experience or someone else being more qualified for the position), then they may feel inclined to answer in a way not  actually posed on the survey form.

      Question: Have you ever been denied a leadership position in the church you attend?
      1) No
      2) Yes

      …?

      If women don’t want to stay in a church that under-utilizes them specifically based on their gender, then they don’t have to stay.  My past church did this, and I left it.  You act as if there is no choice in this matter.  Obviously, there *are* other churches that support women in leadership roles – based on this same infographic.

      • Leigha7

        The problem is, women who attend a church that undervalues women are also fairly likely to have husbands who do so as well. If a woman is married to a man who expects her to submit to him, she DOESN’T have the option to just leave the church because she feels underutilized. What church they attend is his decision, and she’s expected to just go along with it.

        I mean, yes, one always has a choice, but in this case the choice would likely have to be divorce. Plus, there are a lot of complicated psychological issues at play. It can be incredibly difficult for a woman who has been taught (especially if from childhood) that she should be submissive and obedient to decide she doesn’t want to and declare herself independent. More likely, she would feel guilty for her “sinful” thoughts and ask God to make her more submissive.

  • CelticWhisper

    What a depressing article.  Not Hemant’s fault, of course, but the churches’.  Just another example of christianity playing divide-and-conquer with people who are, at the end of the day, equals.

    “Female people and male people have different sin-bits, so let’s drive a wedge between them so we can feed off the subsequent resentment.”  “Awesome idea!  C’mon, it’s Saturday, let’s go get drunk and make imbeciles of ourselves at the bar so we can repent and feel self-righteous tomorrow morning!”

    I would argue, though, that this is not a reason for female people to leave the christian church.  It’s a reason for EVERYONE, or at least everyone who sees men and women as pure equals, to leave said church.  Preferably waving a big ol’ flag emblazoned with a one-finger-salute graphic over their heads.

    Kinda makes me want to come home from work and discuss plans for the weekend with my girlfriend as equals.  Oh, wait, we already do everything as fair equals.  We’re not christians – we don’t need a special occasion to practice gender egalitarianism.

  • Julietdefarge

    Frankly, I think these women are interpreting “leadership” very loosely.  No way are 4.68% of Christian women leaders of non-profits, even small local ones.  Similarly, it’s impossible that 6.48& of Christian women have leadership positions in schools.  Perhaps they are confusing “setting a good moral example” or some such with leadership.

  • ruth

    I think the only way to get valuable information out of this survey is to have men do a similar survey.  Also, although it is couched as “leader vs. servant,” I think that those are not mutually exclusive terms for many Christians.  Some of the data is puzzling and would need followup.  

    That said,  I would leave the church as a woman just because of what the bible says about women.  :)  

     And praying for people is an excuse for not actually doing anything for someone.   

  • Agnostic

    I am rather surprised that so many want to serve in leadership roles and some even felt held back and underutilized. In most social organizations, those who come forward to serve are few. Most prefer to sit back and enjoy the hard work of others.

  • onamission5

    I would have been interested in seeing in this survey some definition of “leadership” as it relates to men and women. For example, at my former AoG church, men could move up through the administrative ranks all the way to usher and pastor, whereas the opportunities for female leadership pretty much stopped at secretary or sunday school teacher. There were ample opportunities, sure, they just came to an end about halfway up the ladder. Every now and then, the wife of a pastor could get up in front of the church and talk about her mission work, but never alone. Pastor’s wives could do counseling, but again, not without their husbands. Always the Important Work was done with her husband, because that’s what god wants.

    Would women at that AoG have self reported that they were unsatisfied with this arrangement? I don’t know that they would, given that leadership was forever telling them that their role was to give glory to god through serving their male family members, and complaint was prideful.

  • Tainda

    I was baptized RLDS and went to church (temple, whatevah lol) with my grandparents.  They left the church after our local temple allowed a female deacon.  That just blows me away lol  I do believe my grandma goes to a Baptist church now.

  • Surfactant

    In what universe is 42% a majority?

    • amycas

       perhaps they meant plurality?

    • Leigha7

      That’s the number for complete support. The total for complete (41/42) + highly (22/26) = 63% of husbands and 68% of pastors, which is a majority.

  • Merusso

    It’s so ugly that ,you doing a lot for the glory of the god, but he does not understand it , so bad….woman maybe will be good christian , but not better: you should keep her only on Leash, like muslims do , or be single with dog!

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The title here confuses me. What does it mean to “leave the Christian church”? Does that mean leave a particular Christian church, or to leave Christianity entirely?

    While I love to see women (or anybody) leave Christianity behind, I think it’s far more likely that the social situation this survey reflects will simply encourage Christian women to change to more modern churches. Certainly, churches pick and choose what parts of the Bible they pay attention to, and what they ignore, so there’s nothing stopping a completely Christian church from being completely egalitarian with respect to gender. While leaving Christianity completely certainly benefits the human race the most, liberalizing and modernizing the religion is beneficial, as well.

    The core concepts of Christianity are based on probably less than 1% of what is found in either the OT or NT. It’s about sin and redemption, faith and grace. Utter batshit, of course, but gender neutral batshit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tammy-Crumb/748773669 Tammy Crumb

      Gender neutral batshit, eh?  I would point to the whole concept Promise Keepers operates under, and say that is an excellent example of how all Christian sects treat women.  Per Promise Keepers (club for Jesus loving Men only), women are meant for the home and hearth, to cook, breed and serve their husbands.  Also, there are several references in the bible (and no, I don’t know exactly what they are but heard them from the mouths of Christian sheep) that condemn woman as evil, or lesser in one way or another while showing men as superior.  I wouldn’t call that gender neutral at all.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        I don’t care about the Promise Keepers. I don’t care about any particular sect. I’m talking about Christianity in general, and yes, I think there’s a strong case to be made that its batshit core is gender neutral. Fundamentally, almost nothing from the bible is essential to Christianity. All it comes down to is believing that every human is a sinner, born in sin, and able to be saved only by faith in Jesus, who died for their sins. That’s it, and it’s totally gender neutral. All the patriarchal baggage you see in most individual sects is the product of the passage of their dogma through the beliefs of individual cultures over the centuries. It isn’t core to Christianity itself, which is why it is perfectly possible for totally egalitarian Christian churches to exist, and for those churches to attract women who want to remain Christian (crazy, I know, but that’s the way it is) but don’t want the patriarchal crap.

      • Joey

        Ephesians 5:22-33English Standard Version (ESV)
        Wives and Husbands22  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.Horrifying stuff, right. I read all of it, like ALL of it. Pretty rancid. This will never work. (It’s a) Good thing we realize life is meaningless, emotions are betraying (and useless), and that truth is subjective…oh yeah, forgot about that again. Dang! I guess he egalitarianism, complementarianism, feminism and chauvinism all have something in common, they’re all subjectively true. I feel at ease now. I hate when I wonder into the area of objective morality like those Bible thumping, narrow minded, fundamentalist. Good and evil, wrong and right, how hypocritical I can be to entertain such absurd terms? Good thing I know that these are terms that we’ve created due to our “emotions”. How weak of such an evolved animal?  Every man is a law unto himself, it’s the least we can do to occupy ourselves in this time consuming, arbitrary yet emotional deceiving life. Man or woman, we’re nothing more than a piece of meaningless cosmic lint. When we think of ourselves as more than this, or begin to act as if we have design or purpose. Let’s not go there. Rejoice in your nothingness and do your best to ignore emotions or desire to give to way in on social matters…they don’t matter because we’re nothing more than matter. There I go weighing in on social matters and emotions, what a hypocrite.

  • TheAmazingAgnostic

    This article is somewhat confusing. Which church(es) would you like women to leave?

    The data provided by this info-graphic isn’t exactly shocking or negative. It is my personal belief that gender equality in Christian culture is a good thing because it will allow one of the last forms of “acceptable” sexism (religiously motivated sexism) to disappear from the greater culture for good. Also, more women in leadership positions in churches may change the patriarchal nature of organized religion.

    Unfortunately, there is still quite a bit of talk amongst Evangelicals about women “submitting” to their husbands and the idea of female pastors is still controversial in certain denominations, unthinkable in others.

    Even still, I think that you may be cherry-picking out of this piece to prove your point; only a small percentage of women said that their churches do not allow them to serve any leadership roles. 

  • Merusso

    Selfish christians!! I support anyone’s right to their opinion, but not when they try to force others to live according to their religious beliefs, and that’s my opinion.what does mean member of the church?charlatan jesus create only one house of hell without any membership for all who want to come & pray, glorify heaven.What the bible says about women? Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts churchmates!!

    • Ken

      Troll or sarcasm?  Can’t really tell.

  • Jackie

    If leadership roles are open to women in churches, then why are only one-quarter of women in  pastoral leadership roles?

    It’s one thing to feel like an achiever in one’s caste and quite another to truly have leadership responsibilities. How many of these women are holding positions of financial authority or positions with real decision-making authority? How many women in churches make the final call on spending decisions or have responsibilities associated with hiring and firing personnel?

    Another key to remember is that mainline Protestant churches are much more evolved in recognizing equality in gender roles. Evangelical churches and Catholic churches still often place women in more subservient positions. An interesting question about the pool of respondents would be to find out their denominational makeup.

    Servanthood to one’s Christian brothers and sisters is a noble idea. However, it’s one thing to serve others out of humility of heart and quite another to be a servant because you are placed in a submissive role with no truly consequential responsibilities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

    I’d be curious about the relation between satisfaction and the generational cohort of the women. I suspect the younger women are a lot less happy. However, at N=603, it’s kind of a small sample to begin with; it might be too small to avoid sampling noise overwhelming the signal.

  • Coyotenose

    Sooo approximately 18% of Christian women believe they are in leadership roles in their churches. Anything about that number seem odd? Like maybe many of them are mildly delusional, or don’t grasp the question?

    • http://twitter.com/ftsor ftsor

      Exactly. I’d really like to see those who described themselves as “leaders” then give a list of things they do that they consider “leading”. And teaching Sunday school doesn’t count.

    • Pseudonym

      Or maybe they’re right. This isn’t a survey of just protestant fundamentalist churches, you know. There are plenty of churches where women can be elders (in the Presbyterian sense), or deacons, or even full clergy.

      The survey itself notes that 84% of women feel their church is either “totally open” or “mostly open” to women in leadership positions. That is, by any reckoning, the overwhelming majority.

      Only 3% say their church does not allow them to “teach men”. That is, by any reckoning, a very tiny minority.

      Scaled up by the Christian population of the US, it is of course still far too high. Still, the overall picture looks pretty damn good to me.

      If I were a Christian woman with leadership potential in a church which wasn’t letting me fulfil that potential, I wouldn’t look at these numbers and say “I should leave Christianity”. I’d look at these numbers and say “there is no shortage of churches which will take me”.

      It’d be interesting to compare these figures with those of corporations, or community groups. Hell, modify the questions appropriately and send it around Skepchick or A+ and see how they feel about the state of women in positions of leadership in atheist groups.

  • Ken

    Object lesson in why men don’t understand women better.  They have an instruction manual that says “submit,” and they whine about it.  Where are those good ol’ God-fearin’ heifers that know their place?  And where are the women with spines? ;)  Seriously, ;)

  • CaliGrrl

    While it is interesting to see how women feel about their role in
    their church I like to look at the facts.

     

    Today in the U.S., about 79.5% of adults
    (247 million) identify themselves as Christian.  In comparison, the next largest religions in
    America are Judaism and Islam.

     

    Women are simply NOT allowed in leadership roles in any capacity in
    the top three largest Christian denominations
    in the United States.

     

    According to the 2012 Yearbook of American and
    Canadian Churches the largest denominations in order are:

    1.     
    The Catholic
    Church more than 68.5 million
    registered members or 22% of the total population of the U.S.; 

    2.     
    The Southern
    Baptist Convention with more than 16 million
    members who worship in more than 45,000 churches in the United States; which officially does not permit women to serve as senior
    pastors and

    3.     
    The Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with more than 6 million members.

     

    Protestant
    Christianity became fractured into over 1,500 individual denominations, as
    individuals and groups began to interpret the Bible in their own unique ways.  Women’s participation varies with the denominations.

     

    The Faith Communities Today 2010 national survey
    of a fully representative, multi-faith sample of 11,000 American congregations
    found that 12% of all congregations in the United States had a female as their
    senior or sole ordained leader. For Oldline Protestant congregations this jumps
    to 24%, and for Evangelical congregations it drops to 9%.

     

    Women only make up about a third of all seminary students,
    according to data from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

     

    Twice as many men as women completed the Masters in Divinity
    degree, the most popular of the programs, in 2005, according to ATS figures.

     

    In summary regardless of how Christian women feel about church and
    their role in it, their role is limited at best and non-existent at worst.

     

    • Erp

       Few points.  First the United Methodists with 7.8 million plus are the third largest denomination in the US  not the LDS (and the UMC counts only active members the LDS counts everyone not yet dead or officially left) and the UMC do ordain women as priests and bishops.    The US Religious Landscape Survey which asked people about affiliation rather than trusting the denominations figures found the largest to be Catholic at 23.9%, Southern Baptist at 6.7%, UMC at 5.1%,  Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) at 2.0%, National Baptist Convention at 1.8%, and LDS at 1.6%.  I know the ELCA ordains women and so does the National Baptist Convention (since 1895).  BTW given the per cent of self identified for  LDS their actual total is closer to 3.6 million and for UMC 11.5 million.

      Of those who don’t grant full equality to women some do allow some leaderships roles (even if it is only over other women or only roles not restricted to priests [think of a nun who is principal of a Catholic high school]).    Admittedly the Southern Baptists are going backwards in this (they use to allow women ministers but no longer and those churches who want them went independent or joined other conventions). 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’d love to know what  Rachel Held Evens think s of it.

  • http://www.EmergingLife.org J.R. Miller

    Noticed the completely dismissive comment about mothers who lead in the home. Your snarky comment, “how many people are you really “leading” here?”” shows a disdain for mothers in one of their most important (if not most important) roles in life… leading their kids to become followers of Christ!  Maybe you feel your mother was not an important leader in your life, but I personally value the role my wife, and all moms, play in raising their sons and daughters.  I don’t see that as a small, unimportant, or in any way insignificant job for women.  

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      Of course mothers are important, and taking care of children is too! But being in charge of children isn’t exactly leadership. Indeed, many men feel that it is beneath them, but will tell their wives what an important job they have. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being a stay-at-home mom or being the main parent involved in childcare. The whole issue is that it is seen traditionally as a woman’s job and women are often not seen as capable of doing much more. There is nothing wrong with a woman who has chosen this route, but there is everything wrong with a culture that tells women this is what they must do and that they’ll be less successful at anything else. 

      • http://www.EmergingLife.org J.R. Miller

        My wife has been a great partner in my ministry and a strong leader over the past 16 years.  I see no need, like the author of this post, to diminish her leadership in the home so that we can raise-up her role in other areas.  

        And the fact that you don’t see a mom as a leader is what is wrong with the culture.

        • Leigha7

          Parents (plural) are leaders. Kids should be taught by both parents, regardless of the gender of said parents, if they are both in the picture. Neither one is more important than the other. That’s where I take issue with calling the home a leadership position. If you are a parent, of COURSE you’re in a leadership position over your children. If you’re an adult who is not a parent, there should be no leadership in your home (none of this “men lead, women submit” nonsense; women are not children). So saying that mothers are leaders is irrelevant, because so are fathers, in precisely the same way.

          • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

            yes, both moms and dads are leaders in the home… no argument on that. And NO, being a mom is NEVER irrelevant!!! How sad and pathetic that you don’t value moms as leaders in God’s Kingdom.

            I have a very high regard for my wife and the HARD work she does as a mom and have 0 respect for anyone who thinks he job is not worthy of honor in our world!!

            • Leigha7

              I never once said being a mom was irrelevant (re-read what I wrote, it says SAYING that is irrelevant) or that I don’t value moms as leaders. I said that, in the home, mothers and fathers are both leaders, and in exactly the same way. To say women are leaders in the home is essentially meaningless, because every adult with children, regardless of gender, is a leader at home (unless they’re the sort of parents who let the kids be in charge, I suppose).

              In a church setting, men are often leaders in a community sense. They are ministers, elders, advisors, counselors, organizers, and all sorts of other things that involve how the church runs as well as being role models to the congregation. Women do none of these things in many churches, because they simply are not allowed to. In the church I went to as a kid, the most active roles women could have were teaching children’s church and buying donuts. Only men were actually allowed to have any sort of real leadership role.

          • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

            The sad part is that both Leigha7 & julie both miss the point about leadership. Leadership, for a Christian, is sacrifice, service, and love. What you all are arguing for is wordly-leadership where there is a battle over power, control, and domination.. that is the system in place in most Western churches where the “pastor” is the dominator of the people. The goal is not to have women become control-freak, power hungry leaders like men, the goal is to have BOTH men and women be leaders by modeling holiness, giving, sacrifice, maturity in Christ, and service to others.

            My comment will probably not get approved if I post a link, but go to my blog linked from my profile and you will see 2 recent posts on “The Woman’s Place in Church” & “Women and the Pastoral Gift” that help define my viewpoint.

  • Rcreative1

    We atheists need our own Barna Group to do a similar survey. How many male atheists support women in leadership? The prominent female bloggers in the community receive enough rape and death threats to make me wonder how our community would stack up against Christians, many of whom believe their god told them to be sexist. What is our excuse?

  • alex440

    It’s like pursuing Arabs to become a democratic community. You are trying to impose over a population a set of values not natural to it. It is primitivistic and leading to a dead-end because it is not a dialogue, but essentially a monologue, arousing nothing but antagonism.


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