A Public Religion Research Institute survey last month found many Christians still opposed to allowing women and/or LGBT Christians to follow their calling or to exercise their spiritual gifts in the church.
Majorities of every major religious group favor ordaining women, including 73 percent of white mainline Protestants, 71 percent of minority Christians, 70 percent of Catholics, and 63 percent of white evangelical Protestants. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans also support ordaining women as clergy.
On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see overwhelming majority support here. Most people no longer seem eager to deprive the church of the gifts, talents and leadership of half of its members.
That Catholic response is particularly encouraging when you consider how long the males-only leadership of the Catholic church has rigorously enforced and relentlessly reinforced it’s males-only leadership rules. For all of that — the hierarchy’s best “arguments” and its endless repetitions and reassertions of its rules — seven out of 10 Catholic laypeople still think it’s a dumb and indefensible rule.
But on the other hand, these survey results are disappointing in that 27 percent of white mainline Protestants, 29 percent of minority Christians, 30 percent of Catholics, and 37 percent of white evangelical Protestants still cling to patriarchal rules stunting the church and its potential. Because, their argument says, penis.
That harms women who are called to lead. It harms the church as a whole, which is being deprived of that God-given leadership. And it harms the witness of the church in the rest of the world in at least two ways. First, to much of the world, the church’s male-only leadership bias is clearly and simply seen as exactly that — bias. Looking like a bunch of gender-discriminating bigots isn’t a winsome and compelling testimony to the world — except to other gender-discriminating bigots. And that’s the second kind of harmful witness that results here. When the church rejects the God-given leadership of half of its members, it reinforces evil in the world — reassuring oppressors who would deny rights, dignity and humanity to half of the world as well.
(Just to be clear: The church isn’t supposed to be reinforcing evil in the world and reassuring oppressors. That’s kind of the opposite of what the church is supposed to be doing.)
Another note on that 63-37 split among white evangelicals. That’s a lopsided difference of opinion, roughly 2-to-1, but since more than a third of white evangelicals still oppose women’s ordination, the matter is classified as “controversial” and always discussed gingerly, cautiously and ambiguously by mainstream evangelical publications like Christianity Today. Due to the opinions of that minority third of its readership, CT is always very careful not to seem like its taking sides or like its suggesting that all Christians ought to believe one way or the other. But when it comes to another subject with that same 2-to-1 split, Christianity Today likes to pretend that a third of its readership does not exist. While only two-thirds of white evangelicals agree with the official, 30-year-old “doctrine” of criminalizing abortion, CT presumes that all Christians, everywhere, share a single, identical opinion.
Same 2-to-1 split. Not the same response. When the one-third minority favors patriarchy, its views are accorded a disproportionate respect — treated as equivalent to the two-thirds majority. When the one-third minority challenges patriarchy, its views are disproportionately disrespected — treated as non-existent.
That’s … interesting.
From the same PRRI survey, more evidence that “Quench not the spirit” is still not white evangelicals’ favorite Bible verse:
Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans (69 percent) and Catholics (54 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian people to be ordained as clergy, compared to half (50 percent) of white mainline Protestants, 4-in-10 (41 percent) minority Christians, and less than 1-in-4 (24 percent) white evangelical Protestants. Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants say they oppose such a policy.
Yes, well, read literally, 1 Thessalonians 5:19 really means “Quench not the spirit among straight males.”
Just because that last part isn’t written out doesn’t mean it can’t be part of white evangelicals’ “literal” reading. That’s the wonderful thing about learning to read the Bible “literally” — discovering all the inerrant and authoritative claims written there in invisible ink.