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Women clergy shaping religion in US

Women clergy shaping religion in US

Joshua Bolding in The Deseret News reports on the effect on churches of the growing number of women clergy:

According to data gathered in 2009 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 86 percent of women are affiliated with a religion, compared to 79 percent of men. Also, 44 percent of women say they attend religious services weekly, 10 percentage points higher than the number for American males.


However, McDuff suggests the decline in men’s church activity may be due to the national culture moving away from organized religion as a whole.

“Having a position in the church doesn’t have the same status that it might have had a few generation ago,” McDuff says. “That would be true not only for men in serving a church as a pastor or going into the clergy, but also just being involved in the church in any role. It’s not providing the same kind of social status because of the secularization of the wider culture. In the past, to be a business leader you had to play a role in a church and that has really broken down.”

Despite the decline in social status among clergy in America, women still face challenges leading in the religious arena. Although some mainline churches like the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have been ordaining women to the ministry for more than 50 years, rates of women in the ministry are leveling off. And a 2006 study of clergy in the Episcopal church shows male clergy receive $60,773 on average compared to just $45,656 for women.

Some have argued churches have a reluctance towards putting women in leadership roles in the church because they are concerned putting women at the pulpit leads men to further disaffiliate with the church. However Paula Nesbitt, a visiting associate Sociology professor at UC Berkeley, says the data doesn’t show this to be the case.

“The belief that women entering the clergy was causing men to disaffiliate with religion is just masking the changes in the occupation that were already underway,” Nesbitt says. “A majority of men coming back from war during the 1960s and 1970s were already not returning to church and numbers in seminaries were down before the feminization of the clergy.”

Regardless of the impact of female clergy on male church population, Lummis points out women clergy have an ability to attract those who may not usually be affiliated with religion. Social minorities like the gay and lesbian community, non-traditional families and ethnic populations discriminated against are some who are attracted to women’s congregations because they feel they are more open to others.

h/t to Neva Rae Fox, Public Affairs Officer, The Episcopal Church


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Lois Keen

So, status as the main reason for being associated with a church. And lack of status as the reason to not include church in one’s life. I remember a young, married priest with a child, a long time ago, in the 1980’s, telling me that fewer men were going to become priests because it was becoming a woman’s profession. And the focus of the comments is a search for whether or not women are, for the exact same position, paid the same as men.


Bill Dilworth

Rob, I’m sure that what you say is true. I was just wondering how the salary of two rectors (for example) in similar parishes and with similar years of service, one male and one female, compare.

Rob Huttmeyer

@ Bill

In regards to your question about seniority and position, those questions might not really answer anything. If part of the problem is sexism, then the ability to reach the more senior position will be difficult and therefore a lower average salary. In other words, if there are less women in senior positions that information could be interpreted as saying that the reason women are earning less is because the are not in senior positions. It can also be interpreted to say that bias is preventing women from being in those senior positions.

Bill Dilworth

Thanks, Ann. The numbers on married vs. single priests in the study really surprised me, but they probably shouldn’t have.

Ann Fontaine

See the link on the study for more info on details.

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