EVANGELICALS: BEYOND THE LABEL — Where Are the Women?

EVANGELICALS: BEYOND THE LABEL — Where Are the Women? February 13, 2005

Copyright 2005 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. Section: NEWS; Pg. 29
Length: 556 words
Byline: Cathleen Falsani

Chicago Sun-Times February 13, 2005 Sunday

Series: EVANGELICALS: BEYOND THE LABEL

 

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?

When Tony Danhelka decided to try to get some of Chicago’s influential evangelical pastors together, he says he didn’t intend for it to be a boys’ club.

“I wasn’t just looking for men,” Danhelka said. “But I didn’t find any women yet on this level.”

There aren’t any evangelical women today who have emerged in leadership positions — in Chicago or, for the most part, nationally — on a par with the likes of the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church or the Rev. James Meeks of Chicago’s Salem Baptist Church.

“We had them in the 1920s, but not now,” said Julie Ingersoll, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida who is author of the book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles.

Aimee Semple McPherson, an evangelist who founded Los Angeles’ pentecostal Foursquare Gospel Church back in the 1920s, is perhaps the best example of the kind of female evangelical powerhouse who’s missing today, Ingersoll said. In her day, McPherson was as well known as a Pat Robertson or Billy Graham. Today, even McPherson’s own Foursquare church has few women in leadership positions, Ingersoll said.

“There’s something about bureaucratization, and there’s something about Christianity itself that seems to prefer male leaders over female leaders,” she said. “I think it’s exacerbated in evangelicalism by the general conservativism, but it certainly isn’t peculiar to them.”

Mainline Protestant, more liberal denominations and many other religious groups similarly have few women in high-profile positions.

Just two women made it alone into Time magazine’s recent list of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” — Joyce Meyer, a televangelist from Missouri, and Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. (Two others made the list with their husbands: philanthropist Roberta Ahmanson and Beverly LaHaye, the wife of best-selling “Left Behind” author Tim LaHaye and founder of the conservative Concerned Women for America.)

It isn’t necessarily a matter of evangelical men keeping evangelical women down, said Edith Blumhofer, a history professor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. Opposition to women’s ordination and other leadership “is not just the churches, not just the pastors, but the people within the churches — women as well as men,” Blumhofer said.

“Historically, Moody Bible Institute has been opposed to the ordination of women and is one of the great Chicago [evangelical] institutions,” Blumhofer said, “not to say that there weren’t an awful lot of women among its graduates who took on public roles in a variety of ways. But they weren’t ordained clergy. Without women’s money and women’s volunteer time, where would it be? And somehow they’re socialized to accept a role behind the scenes, without being acknowledged.”

So who does Ingersoll think the most influential evangelical woman in the United States is?

“In terms of power, it may well be Edith Blumhofer,” Ingersoll said. “She’s very powerful in that she’s a recognized scholar, she’s got ties to the Pew Charitable Trust, so she’s got ties to funding for research and things like that. So, in terms of power, she’s certainly up there.”

 

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