Researcher: Most evangelicals assist girls in church management …

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There are several topics in the Protestant discourse that you can count on to stimulate heated debate. One of them is the role of women in the life of the Church.

Take last year's spit on Beth Moore speaking on Mother's Day in a church that reappeared months later with John MacArthur's viral "go home" line. Or the more recent discussion about the pushback of the author Aimee Byrd and the reformed general partners on social media.

Despite all the debates about gender and leadership roles, researchers have found fewer differences between people in pews for years. The results of a recent survey again show that most Protestant Protestants are in favor of women taking a more important position in the church.

In a survey I conducted in March with political scientists Paul Djupe and Hannah Smothers, 8 out of 10 self-identified evangelicals said they agree with women who teach Sunday school, conduct worship services, and preach during women's conferences or retreats.

Slightly less endorsed women preaching during the service, but 7 out of 10 were according to a study conducted in March 2020 by a team of political scientists.

This new study is based on an analysis of the 2011 survey data that I published last year. This showed that a significant majority of the major Christian traditions – including the Southern Baptists – would support women as pastors.

Some commentators pushed back, saying that the dates are for 2011 and that questions about role types for women in the Church are not explicit enough. The March 2020 survey should allow respondents to indicate what types of leadership roles they would like to take on women.

A strong majority of evangelicals, men and women, supported women's participation in each of the roles asked, although women were slightly more for everyone.

The most commonly supported role was for women to teach Sunday school, with 86.9 percent in favor. The debate over whether women can lead mixed Sunday school classes has been going on for years in certain evangelical traditions, including Baptist and Presbyterian denominations. It appears on websites like 9Marks, Reformation21 and Desiring God and often depends on whether the setting of Sunday school corresponds to a service or not.

Women who preached on Sunday morning received the least support with 72.8 percent. Even some churches where women are temporarily not allowed to serve as pastors and elders allow women to share as guest speakers or preachers on Sundays. A distinction is made between the “special teaching”, which they believe is limited to qualified male leaders, and the “general teaching”, which can be presented by any member of the Church, male or female.

It is also surprising how little this support for women in management positions is influenced by church visits. A natural assumption is that a more frequent visit to a Protestant church that only allows male pastors is a sign of support for the teaching of this tradition of faith, but it is not. In fact, in each of the four scenarios offered in the survey, there was no statistical difference in support for female leaders between evangelicals who never attend church services and those who say they go to church several times a week. Three quarters of the most pious evangelicals believe that women should have a place behind the pulpit.

This finding remains even when theology is taken into account. If the sample is limited to only those who believe that the Bible is literally true, three quarters of those who attend services several times a week will agree with women who preach during weekend service.

However, there is an interesting pattern when considering age. There is no clear relationship between older evangelicals and resistance to women who preach. For example, while 20 percent of evangelicals who are 65 or older disagree with preaching by women, this drops to just 10 percent among those aged 55-64. Another notable finding is that these youngest evangelicals (between 18 and 35) are just as likely to preach against women as they are to women in the oldest age group.

Image: Report on the state of the pastors / Barna Research

There is evidence that support for women in leadership positions has led some evangelical churches to hire pastors. Barna Research found that the proportion of female pastors was 9 percent in 2017, compared to 3 percent in 1992. However, the vast majority of evangelicals would feel comfortable if this number grew faster.

The results here do not match the results of the 2011 Faith Matters Survey, which found that 65 percent of Southern Baptists support women as ministers. And a Barna survey of pastors found that non-main traditions find significant support. Two thirds of the non-main pastors advocated women as deacons, and almost 40 percent supported the preaching of women.

Taken together, these results show that evangelical support for women who preach and lead is robust in terms of gender, church attendance, theological position, and age.

Ryan P. Burge is a lecturer in political science at Eastern Illinois University. His research appears on the Religion in Public website and he tweets at @ryanburge.


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