Family Values? Not so much.

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review offers statistical confirmation of something that mothers have known for a long time.  Having children does them no good in the work world.

According to Amanda K. Baumle at the University of Houston, who analyzed the 2000 Census “Having children tends to result in higher wages for men, whether they’re straight or gay, married or partnered…Most mothers make less than childless women.” And “Only lesbians get a salary bump from having kids.”  What is her explanation?  Baumle theorizes that, “In employers’ stereotypical view, lesbians maintain a work trajectory after having children that is more like that of a childless woman or a man.  Meanwhile, employers’ perception of straight women’s competence drops when they have children.”  (HBR vol. 88.9: 26)

I am sure she is right.  What is more distressing is to know that this trend is not just characteristic of business practice, it is characteristic of the church’s practice as well.  Have a baby and you will hear bishops and Commissions on Ministry castigate ordained mothers for working their responsibilities for the nurture and care of their children into their work schedules or they will privately shake their heads and argue that for mothers who are ordained, their ministries are just a hobby.  And, it doesn’t amount to harmless prejudice.  Judgments of this kind come with very real strictures on the positions available to women and the support their bishops will give them.  There might be as many or more women in seminaries around the country, but the stained glass ceiling is still firmly in place as far as ordained mothers are concerned.

What’s wrong with this attitude?  Put it this way — the church may lionize the American family, but it doesn’t make room for mothers to have a ministry (apart from the tea and crumpets circuit) and, as a result, it models behavior that is no different from the world in which the church supposedly witnesses to the importance of the family.

Is it little wonder that “The Boys in Black,” aka “The Girls Have Cooties Club,” still reign supreme in many parts of the church?  Hardly.

You can change structures and formal cultures all you want, but when prejudices of this kind exclude a group — in this case, ordained mothers — from active service, the informal dynamics will always trump the formal changes.  Moms will be ordained, but they won’t find jobs or the jobs they are given are perceived as soft assignments — religious education, family ministry, pastoral care.  I have even heard rectors (senior pastors) introduce the male staff with whom they work by their titles, only to introduce the ordained women on their staff by their first names.

In such circumstances the formal changes in the rules surrounding the ordination of women actually dampen the pressure for real change, giving the impression that the problems have been fixed and giving ecclesiastical leaders a means of excusing themselves by allowing them to point to trends in ordination to excuse the situation (or at least absolve themselves of the dealing with the deeper issues).

I wrote a book almost fifteen years ago on the struggles that women face in ordained life called A Still Small Voice that distinguished between formal and informal cultures and in that book I argued that informal cultures are infinitely more powerful than the formal structures.  That was true then, it’s true now.  I expected the book to be out of print and irrelevant by now.

Sadly, it is neither out of print, nor irrelevant. Commissions on Ministry persist in asking women who have small children how they expect to be able to manage the demands of family and the demands of ministry.  They never ask that question of men who have small children.  Women get asked by the church hierarchy to work for free because, “Your husband makes a lot of money and you don’t need to be paid.”

Meanwhile, in the offices of dioceses, presbyteries, annual conferences and other places where groups of men sit and determine who should be ordained, they lament that the church is the last place where family values are protected and upheld.  But is it, if we fail to model an appreciation for the importance of nurturing our children?

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.