The majority of Americans who attend church and are involved in Christian discipleship are women. The majority of Americans most likely to engage in daily devotions, to pray and to read the Bible are women.
Yet some of us are surprised by leadership statistics about the majority of church members and church activists.
What does it mean, for example, that the majority of Sunday School leaders as well as members are women? How much and what kind of leadership support and training are actually available to them, given the fact that the majority of church volunteers are women? How do we view unpaid leadership?
This matters because the majority of church leadership positions in America—both paid and unpaid—are filled by women. In many instances the fray over the single position of “senior pastor” has distracted us from the overall picture of leadership in the Christian community. Are we even aware of our support, affirmation and development—or lack thereof—of the majority of our leaders?
If, as statistics reveal, the majority of Christians who talk about their faith with others are women, do we know or care about what they are saying? Do we consider the influence of such evangelism “leadership”?
If we are surprised to learn that the majority of people who give money to their church are women, is it because we look more at the dollar amount given rather than percentage of giving? If we are more impressed by single large sums, we will be certain to miss the level of influence of women’s financial leadership, especially while women in America, for a variety of reasons, earn less money than men.
The majority of our fellow Christians report the same major problems as non-Christians. Stress and burnout afflict women, whether they are members of the Christian community or not. What does this tell us about ourselves? Are we willing to consider our own implication in these issues?
It is, of course, easier to blame external forces for our internal problems.
Twenty-five years ago, in stunning essays on the lives of Marilyn Monroe and former porn-star Linda Lovelace, Gloria Steinem challenged the feminist community to critique itself for failures as well as successes in responding to the challenges of women’s experiences.
Steinem offered as an example her own journey from self-righteousness and smug contentment to heart-breaking compassion and empathy for women who, like Jesus’ conversationalist in John 4:27, were caught in a cultural web of rejection and survival tactics.
Often the very community that claims to offer help, hope and healing is most ignorant and impotent about its opportunities. Steinem asked, “Where were we?” She did not lay blame on others.
Many of us in the Christian community are more eager to point fingers beyond ourselves. We say, “See what they are doing to women” rather than ask “where are we?”
Thus, Steinem’s question to the feminist community 25 years ago remains appropriate for the Christian community today.
“Where are wewhen women need us?”
Where are we, for example, when women in our Christian community are no less likely than other women to experience domestic abuse, depression, divorce and eating disorders?
Let’s not blame Madison Avenue or Hollywood or Washington, D.C., for our own failure to live the Gospel in our own community of faith. Let’s not blame our broader culture for our own failure to offer a redemptive influence within and beyond the Christian community.
For example, we patronize and sponsor businesses, school activities, community organizations and church events that use adolescent females’ physiques to advertise, attract attention and promote Jesus’ name and Christian themes.
Do we see any relation to the level of eating disorders, physical assault, emotional and spiritual abuse, and divorce among Christians?
It’s time we connect the dots of stress and burnout to our own potential failures. We must provide adequate support and assistance to women who fulfill the majority of our church and community leadership responsibilities.
Where are we for such a significant portion of the population?
Carol Ann Vaughn is director of the Christian Women’s Leadership Center at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
For further reading:
Ten Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage by J. Lee Grady
The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church by Marva J. Dawn
The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World by Helen Fisher