When Going to Church Leads to Worse Outcomes for Teen Girls

by | Mar 28, 2022 | Uncategorized | 43 comments

How Evangelicalism Affects Teen Girls' Self Esteem
Merchandise is Here!

On almost every measure, church attendance is good for you.

Researchers have consistently found that religiosity is positively correlated with better mental health, better health overall, better relationships, and even longevity.

BUT–and there’s a very big but coming–not all religiosity is the same.

When researchers say “religiosity“, they mean every person who says they actively practice a religion. 

When researchers say “Christian“, they tend to mean every person who claims to be a Christian on a form. 

When researchers say “church-goers“, they tend to mean every person who goes to a Christian church of any denomination. 

When those of us in the evangelical tradition hear those words, though, we tend to picture people who go to evangelical churches, even though those words encompass so much more. Those who are active in an evangelical church are actually a small part of those who would call themselves “church-goers”, “Christian”, or “religious”. “Christian” and “Church-goers”, for instance, encompasses Catholics and mainline Protestants, and not just evangelicals. And those other groups are very large.

So today I’d like to take you through some of what we’re doing as we’re writing our mother-daughter book about the impacts of growing up in an evangelical church.

Our mother-daughter book (very tentatively called She Deserves Better) is due in at the publishers on Friday.

You have absolutely no idea how much that date has been circled on my calendar, dancing through my dreams, basically defining a new stage of my life.

Since September of 2019 we have been working non-stop writing these books. We have not come up for air. Though I’ve had one big vacation in that time (our cruise three weeks before COVID), even on that cruise I had to write for two hours a day.

We’ve written four books in that time; we’ve conducted three huge surveys; we’ve launched four books (because 31 Days to Great Sex launched over that time period as well!) and one big course (our Orgasm Course). And as much as I think these books are important, I find writing books much more challenging than blog posts or social media. I am just so looking forward to getting back to being able to CHOOSE what I do every day, instead of having looming deadlines.

Keith and I are also under contract for a marriage book, which will likely involve the most complicated survey we’ve done to date, but we’ve delayed that for a year because I need a break.

This week, then, is our final stretch.

We still have the editing process, but this is our final writing stretch. I’m going over to Rebecca’s everyday and we’re just going to slog through.

But let me tell you about something that we wrote in the introduction last week, that explains much of what we found in our surveys.

And to begin, let me give you another glimpse into how we wrote the surveys, and why doing this to academic standards matters.

In survey development, there’s something called “previously validated question sets”.

What this means is that, if you’re going to measure something (self-esteem in our case), it’s best to use question sets that have already been used before in other studies and have been validated to actually measure self-esteem accurately and well.

If question sets have been found to work, then don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the same question sets.

We did that for marital satisfaction for our other surveys, and we used a question set about sexual satisfaction that was validated for use in other conservatively religious populations.

And by “we”, I mostly mean Joanna, my co-author, and Rebecca. They’re the ones who know this stuff. I just get to take credit for it.

Anyway, we used a large question set that measures self-esteem, so that we could measure how certain common evangelical teachings aimed at teen girls impacted their self-esteem in high school and impacted them today.

Here’s why this is really cool: Because other studies have also used the same question sets, we now have a variety of outcomes we can infer.

Let’s say there was another study using the same self-esteem scale in high school but looking at how self-esteem in high school was linked to job satisfaction, or income level, or chance of divorce. Or perhaps it was linked to mental health outcomes! Because we used the same scale, we can look at other peer reviewed studies that measured other things, and we can draw similar conclusions.

And what studies have found is that self-esteem is highly correlated with lots of good things, and low self-esteem is highly correlated with lots of bad things.

So when we find that certain beliefs when you’re a teen are correlated with drops in self-esteem, that tells us something about all kinds of different outcomes, beyond just the sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction ones that we measured ourselves.

And believe me–it ain’t pretty.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post:

We found that for some outcomes, not going to church is better than going to church.

Basically, when it comes to the effects on self-esteem that many of the beliefs have, the order is:

Order of Self-Esteem Outcomes By Believing Harmful Teachings about Modesty as Teens

  • BEST: Go to church, but don’t believe these things
  • NEXT: Don’t go to church, and don’t believe these things
  • WORST: Go to church, and believe these things (or don’t go to church and believe these things)

It isn’t true for every belief, but for many of them, such as the modesty messages we measured, it definitely is.

Now, this is only about self-esteem, and not about faith.

But let’s do a little math for a second. Remember when you learned averages back in grades 5 or 6? Averages mean that some things are pulling you up, and some things are pulling you down, and the average is where things even out.

Well, we know two things:

  • Religiosity is very beneficial for self-esteem  (AVERAGE)
  • Going to a church which teaches certain bad modesty messages is bad for self-esteem (PULLING THE AVERAGE DOWN)

Let’s put on our math caps for a second: if the average is beneficial, but these churches are pulling things down, then by definition there must be something else pulling things UP. 

This is what many in evangelicalism are refusing to see:

There are healthy churches, and healthy expressions of faith in Christ, that do not hurt. And there are A LOT of them. 

There have to be a lot to pull that average up! And that’s what we found as well. Going to church as a whole is good for teens; believing this stuff is not. So there are many, many churches which do not teach this stuff, which do not make this a main point of what they teach their teens, which do not hurt. 

When our family was attending churches that did teach this stuff, we felt like we didn’t have a choice.

I worried that other churches didn’t believe the Bible or didn’t know Jesus. But when I actually left the denominations that taught that, and started looking at other churches, I found health–and I also found Jesus.

I’m going to head over to Rebecca’s in a moment to finish up writing this book, but I just want you all to know that there is hope. There are churches that are healthy. There are places that do not heap burdens on you, but instead value you. And the more we realize that and stop thinking we all have to put up with toxicity, because it’s the only way to still have Jesus, the more these healthy places will grow.

** BONUS assignment:

I haven’t had time to respond to this, because of our writing deadline, but in the next two weeks or so, once we’re finished, I’d like to respond to this article by pastor Josh Howerton about how evangelicals do better on every measure. He claims he’s sharing “True Stats”, but I challenge you all to read that article, and leave some of your critiques in the comments here. I’m curious to see if some of you notice what Joanna and I did when we took a look! So take what you learned from this post, and what you’ve learned from other things I’ve said, and see if you can find some problems with what he’s arguing.

Finally, just as an example of how bad things can be, a Fixed It For You I posted last night on Instagram: 

Doug Wilson and complementarianism

Seriously, is it any wonder that some churches do harm? And while this is extreme, many churches do teach a form of this. And it has very, very bad outcomes for teen girls!

We can do better. And I do hope our books help put the church on a healthier trajectory, by teaching women especially that they have a choice, and they don’t have to put up with this kind of toxicity.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It’s time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Evangelicalism and Self-Esteem in Teen Girls

What do you think? See anything wrong with Josh Howerton’s article? How does church affect self-esteem? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Phil

    As someone who’s experience with the church growing up is of the worse – 1 top experience that sums that up is being groomed and molested by our youth minister – one thing that stood out to me regardless: my Mom took me to church. Thats what we did. Through all the garbage I still have fond memories of the good Ministries and good people in my home Church. For me it is an example of Gods message prevailing through the trash. I really like todays post and fun with math. What a time Sheila! Its been fun being along for the ride. I’ll def have a look at the article and come on back!

    • Codec

      Sorry that you had to go through that.

  2. Leah Lenagh

    In that article he’s making quite a few assumptions on each of those studies, translating them from “religious” to Christianity, for one thing. He also took quite a few liberties adding to the definition of women who are the happiest and least abused category it looks like. And of course there’s the classic “slandering” slant; it isn’t slander when it’s true!!!

  3. Katy Didd

    My biggest self-esteem booster was walking away from conservative (fundamentalist) evangelical teachings about patriarchy and sexuality. They made me feel ugly, worthless, and like I had to try so very very hard and sacrifice so much to get so little in return…I mean, like the bare minimum of human and marital dignity.

    As for the Josh H. article, I’ll be honest, I only skimmed it, but here’s what I took away:

    His caveat in the beginning: Caveats have become soundbytes, tropes, it seems, because they are given, but not meant. They are given, but then the nuances present are ignored and we’re back to black and white. Instead of acknowledging the widespread truth behind the caveat, they make it sound like it is some distant fringe, so that whenever someone challenges anything in the article, they can point at the caveat and say, “I did post a caveat. You must belong to one of those far away fringe groups and don’t belong with the rest of us.”

    The points: All the points are both true in the accusation and the rebuttal. Yes, it is true that so many christian are truly pro-life, but it is also true that they are pro-birth. It isn’t so cut and dry, and to black/white any of these issues is to ignore and erase the bad by waving the banner of “look at all the good we do.”

    It is both true that Christian marriages are awesome, and many are terribly broken and abusive. It is both true that Christian maintain a healthier sexual ethic and sex abuse is rampant in Christian circles. It is both true that purity culture kept more kids virgins longer, avoiding the risks of promiscuous behavior, and also did tremendous damage.

    We can’t sit smugly on statistics in our favor when there is still a large percentage being hurt. BOTH MATTER!!

    • Laura

      I agree that leaving behind toxic teachings brings peace. Not long after I got saved as a teenager in the 90s, I was attending a church where the pastor preached on submission for wives and that the husband was the king of his household. Since I had not grown up in the church, I was flabbergasted to hear these “outdated” teachings that I thought people stopped believing years ago. I talked to my friend about this and she told me that those teachings were in the Bible. I hadn’t read much of the Bible back then so I didn’t know and I thought if this is what the Bible teaches, then I didn’t want to have anything to do with that God. I thought He was a male chauvinist. I quit going to church for several years because I just could not bear to listen to sermons on how wives needed to “submit” to their husbands and once a woman got married her rights disappeared.

      After I left an abusive marriage where I tried to hold to those “biblical” teachings on submission, I rededicated my life to the Lord and chose to focus on the positives of being in a relationship with Him. Thankfully, I went to several churches throughout the years that didn’t spend a lot of time talking about submission doctrine. Then I’ve been to churches where this teaching is propped up in women’s Bible studies and marriage ministries. Even though I’ve been single a long time, I’ve participated in marriage-focused events. I just didn’t get anything out of them. At this point in my life, I don’t have the desire to attend church and haven’t done so in over two years due to the pandemic.

      What I have found as a single woman in church is the negativity of being single. Married couples are more likely to get chosen for leadership, unless it’s for women’s or children/youth ministry and a woman’s marital status doesn’t matter. As a single woman, many people assume that I want to get married someday so they just LOVE to pray for God to bring me that husband. I admit that throughout my 30s, I desperately wanted to get remarried and fervently prayed for a husband. Then I’ve heard messages that a woman’s highest calling is marriage and motherhood. So, where does that leave single and/or childless women?

      After not being in church for over two years, I feel much more content in my singleness. Maybe someone here can relate?

      • Angharad

        I can totally relate! I was single into my mid 40s and for a good 20 years was made to feel like a ‘spare part’ in most churches I attended. Good for free babysitting (and I was rarely asked to do this – it was just assumed that I would!) but not much else.

        Now I’m married to a pastor, and we are both passionate about making sure church is a safe and welcoming space for singles!

  4. Laura

    I just read the article from TGC and am appalled. Here’s what disgusted me in myth #5: What I want to argue, though, is that our failures in this area are failures to live up to our theology, not failures inherent in our theology.

    I would like to know what the author means by “failures to live up to our theology, not failures in our theology.” Could he mean his literal interpretation of today’s Bible translations without consideration for the original texts which were in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic (not sure about that one?)? If he claims Christians are not living up to their theology, why is complementarianism still rampant in the mainstream American Evangelical churches? And then here’s this:

    “Contrary to the narrative, theologically conservative, gender-traditional, church-attending women are in the category of the happiest relationships with the least abuse in the country.”

    Could these women the author described just be in ignorant bliss? Or maybe, he’s just making this stuff up to try to persuade people to attend church? I think this article from TGC is total garbage. It looks like he just pulled random statistics from various sources to fit his narrative of how he wants the church to be.

    In short, I am just disgusted by the article and it just did not seem like it was thought through before publishing it. I cannot wait to read your commentary on it Sheila.

    Again, thank you and your team for your hard work.

    • Nathan

      > > I would like to know what the author means by
      > > “failures to live up to our theology, not failures
      > > in our theology.”

      Maybe, without him even knowing it, he really means “failures in our INTERPRETATION of God’s theology”.

      • Amy

        I don’t think that’s what he means. One of the big problems in evangelicalism is that we have ivory tower theologians who never actually work with real people in real situations. These theologians interpret from on high what they think the Bible says which is then labelled the absolute, inerrant truth. When these edicts are actually implemented with real people in real situations and result in bad outcomes, evangelicals like to then say, well you just did it wrong. Evangelicalism can’t seem to get to the place where the revered, all-wise theologians can humble themselves enough to admit that perhaps their interpretation was incorrect.

      • Katy Didd

        Problem is they don’t believe they have an interpretation of the Bible. They believe thry have true, Holy Spirit guided revelation and understanding of the Bible.

        I have family who absolutely belueve this and dismiss any and all other exegesis, even ones historically and vast majority agreed upon, and even refuted by historical analysis of the origins of the beliefs.

    • Jane Eyre

      “Are you abused?” is a different survey question, yielding different results, than:
      “Does your spouse ever hit you?”
      “Are you physically afraid of your spouse?”
      “Do you ever have sex against your will?”

      • Jane Eyre

        Continuing my thought: this applies to all areas of marital and sexual satisfaction. While subjective views of marital satisfaction matter (you’re happy even if it isn’t other people’s cup of tea), objective measures should also be used. I would ask questions about frequency of orgasm, quality of foreplay, both parties feeling like their career and educational goals are being met and given weight in the marriage, both parties feeling heard and respected.

        A not small number of people explicitly told me that my life goals didn’t matter – I married a good man to STFU. I didn’t grow up that way and am irate that people still think that being married is the end-all-be-all of life, especially when said marriage torpedoes your own hard-won achievements and goals.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          You’re totally speaking my language. 🙂 Evangelical women’s subjective rating of their marriage/sex life differs from the objective factors far more than other women’s subjective ratings, likely because evangelicalism makes marriage a key function of identity for women.

  5. Amy

    My initial reaction to the linked article is that he is just cherry-picking to support his position without looking at the complete picture.

    What I thought of in regard to his first point is that while it’s nice that churches have started Pregnancy Resource Centers, what about Domestic Violence (DV) Centers and Child Advocacy Centers (CAC)? Pro-life should be about more than just birth and adoption. Shouldn’t combatting abuse fall under the banner of pro-life? I used to work with DV Centers and CACs in my state. These organizations were either completely secular or sponsored through Catholic Charities. Many of them, particularly the DV Centers, either had no relationship with their local churches or the local churches were all but actively against their work. I remember one tragic story where the DV Center had a church sponsored thrift store in their community that was known as the best place to obtain used, working small kitchen appliances. However, the DV Center didn’t like sending their clients there due to the poor treatment they received by the volunteers including them making statements like “you’re going to hell for divorcing your husband.”

    Picking out one very specific statistic to support an entire broad category to support your position isn’t just bad data analysis; it’s manipulation to promote an agenda.

    • Meghan

      Also if you’re going to truly be pro-life you have to address the underlying reasons why women seek abortions to begin with. Some can’t afford the hospital bill to give birth, some can’t afford to add another child to their family, some are afraid (often rightly so) that it will hurt their career trajectory, some are in an abusive relationship, some don’t have enough support and are afraid to raise a child without any help at all.

      It’s very well and good to foster and adopt. Lots of kids need loving homes! But what happens to the kids who aren’t put up for adoption? Do we care that a mom is skipping meals so she can afford to give food to her kid? Do we care about a mom who gets a 5 figure hospital bill she can never hope to repay? Do we care about a mom who can’t afford to take unpaid maternity leave, or perhaps knows her career would never recover if she took too much time off, and has to go back to work before she even stops bleeding?

      This is often what people mean when they say “Christians are just pro-birth.”

      • Jane Eyre

        Have to disagree. A LOT of us do care about those issues! “You’re not pro-life” is a diabolical smear to justify abortion. It is not a sincere plea for assisting women in crisis pregnancy, because the people saying it would not want restrictions on abortion, ever. It is a means of focusing attention on the inadequacies of pro-lifers (which will always be inadequate, because we live in a fallen world and cannot solve every problem), rather than the evil of abortion and its root causes (which aren’t actually hospital bills).

        We walk a fine line between speaking Truth (the unborn child is a child of God and worthy of life, which is why abortion is evil) and giving non-judgemental, loving charity (of our own time and money) to those who are inclined to do evil because the world lies to them. The opinions of others on how we walk that line aren’t really something I concern myself with.

        • Bre

          Jane Eyre; Yep Yep! I agree. I’m an officer in my “secular” school’s pro-life club and I’m specifically in charge of promoting local resources and cataloging/promoting them them for if any women at our school get pregnant and need help; no one has come to us yet, but we have posters advertising our assistance. I personally don’t do as much volunteering as many of the other people because of…life stuff right now…but we’ve recently partnered with a woman and children’s transition house and I’m getting into helping with fundraising and applying to be a volunteer who spends time with the mom’s and kids. Honestly, most of the club members are the most loving and helpful people I’ve met even outside of the abortion issue; they’ve helped me so much with my mental health issues and have even loaned me money and helped me get groceries when I was broke.

          But I’m also realistic; there are a decent group of…nasty “pro lifers” who think that anyone who doesn’t believe and do exactly as they do, particularly in the political realm, isn’t a “real pro lifer” and on the road to hell. A few years ago, a picture of me at the march for life spread around the internet; I basically had a sign about my Autism and wanting all disabled children to have a chance to live. I liked the comments because people where sharing about their disabled kids and elderly relatives and it was so sweet…and then I was told that Jesus hates me and wants me to die because…I was too happy in the picture and was clearly only there for myself and not the babies…because I was smiling and linking my arm with my roommate….WTH?
          And the organization that oversees our club is getting attacked all the time by Christians for being willing to ally with all pro-lifers, including Atheists and LGBTQ+ people. These are the same critics/people who refuse to look at the data that shows that love, gentleness, practical support, and emotional/friendship support, not fire, brimstone, and yelling “you’re going to hell!” to people who may not even know Jesus yet, are the best ways to reach struggling people in the abortion realm…and then turn around and say that they are the ones who have the blessing of God when they literally help/save no one and just turn people away from Christ by their actions.

          Sorry…I just needed to vent a bit…it’s rough when you literally get death and rape threats and see your friends get punched in the face by people who disagree with you and then some other Christians turn around and are even meaner and petter. I mean, I’d almost rather be physically hit than deal with the spiritual character attacks, even when I know they aren’t true and that I’m a fragile human just trying to do what I can.

          • Angharad

            Hang in there, Bre! It’s tough being a truly pro-life pro-Lifer, because you get attacked from both sides, but what you do is so important.

      • Mara R

        I have also seen “Pro-Life”Christians blame women for being selfish and blame the evils of feminism for abortion, losing sight of everything you mention above. And also being blissfully unaware of all the women who don’t want to abort but are being coerced by baby-daddies or their own fathers who don’t want to help pay for the baby.

        So, yes, “Pro-Life” Christians can be very narrow-minded and completely ignorant of how to solve the problem. And at the same time eager to hand out blame on the women/teens who have found themselves in this predicament, perhaps some even from sexual abuse by an “upstanding” local preacher.

        • Mara R

          I should say, SOME, pro-life Christians. Some that I have actually ran into.

          But not the ones I know who opened a home for pregnant women after they saw the need, to help them get on their feet, get jobs, and get skills in managing their money, etc. They opened this home after a few years of running Crisis pregnancy center.

  6. Jane Eyre

    Is the “sex life” thing even measuring the same couples? Churchgoing Christians who are having sex are likely disproportionately married, and married people usually have better sex than unmarried couples. You should measure married religious versus married unreligious, so you aren’t just saying that married couples have better sex.

    You should also acknowledge the harm that comes from bad sex within marriage versus bad sex in a dating relationship: a woman can kick her selfish-in-bed boyfriend to the curb, but a Christian woman who waited until marriage is under incredible pressure to stay in the marriage and “work on it.” There is no discussion about how bad it is for Christian women with husbands who don’t make their pleasure a priority.

    Also, if Christians have such awesome sex lives, those numbers should be like 95%.

  7. Megan S

    I have 3 daughters and my oldest is a teen. I want to do everything I can to protect them, even if it means changing churches. I only found modesty messages as harmful, and a lot of “this stuff”. Maybe you will elaborate more in the book you’re writing with your daughters. For now, Sheila can you give me more harmful messages the church preaches to teens besides “this stuff”?

  8. Mara R

    There’s no place to leave a comment over there at TGC.

    They are not at all interested in any discussion on this.

    They just want to tell you what and expect you to just believe them. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, what you’ve been through, or what you know (like how to actually study the Bible and it’s languages or do surveys and properly read the results).

    As Amy said above, they just want to give edicts from on high. Whoever it hurts… well, it’s the fault of the hurting. It is never the fault of the men who set themselves up as authorities and love the best seats in the house.

    • Laura

      I so wanted to give TGC my two pennies and much more.

  9. Mara R

    From TGC post (also quoted in someone’s comment above): “What I want to argue, though, is that our failures in this area are failures to live up to our theology, not failures inherent in our theology.”

    I have always thought that it was funny how important Democracy and equality is to men for themselves with each other. Like the (U.S.) founding fathers who rejected the rule of kings. Who wanted to be citizens of their country, not subjects of a king.
    And I’m sure that these complementarian men appreciate their freedom and citizenship in the U.S.A (and whatever other countries that have a representational government).
    But what they want done to and for themselves, they want to take away from women and make women subjects of their husbands.

    Yes, the failure IS in their theology. Because their theology leaves out large portions of the Bible. They especially leave out very important portions written in Red (in some Bibles), the Words of Jesus. They don’t have the basic Golden Rule or the 2nd of the Two Greatest Commandments as the foundation, or as even an integral part of their theology.

    They build their theology on the foundation of the traditions of men. So their Theology is inherently flawed, and as such, doesn’t bring life.

    But I know, I’m preaching (or ranting) to the choir.

  10. Meredith

    Every time I feel a glimmer of doubt about my and my husband’s decision to keep our kids away from church, yet another scandal or story of horrible teaching comes out, and I feel confirmed in our decision. The toxicity in the American church is too great to be worth the tiny chance they’ll get something good out of it. Sure, my kids will encounter toxic stuff out in the world. But at least the secular toxic people won’t be proclaiming themselves to be preaching the word of God.

    • A2bbethany

      That’s not very good logic….as a Christian, my job is teach my daughter how to live. And that includes the importance of fellowship with other believeers. I’m not going to make her think being a hermit christian is good or healthy, because it’s not. Keeping good fellowship and friends with other Christians is important. Teaching her to recognize healthy vs unhealthy groups is also an important life skill.
      I’m also going to teach her to be ok with questioning everything and getting her own answers. That includes any beliefs taught at church.
      I’m confident that she will not be niave and if she decides to switch to a different church for healthier fellowship? That’s her choice to make.

      Now thankfully based on several different ways of measuring, our church is very Jesus oriented. Definitely not perfect, but they are determined to keep it Jesus focused and not arguing over doctrines.

      I also don’t believe in sheltering children, rather explaining and answering any questions they have. I resented my parents for “sheltering” us, because it’s only harmed us later…..badly.

      • Meredith

        Since the majority of Christians in this country mix their religion with nationalism, white supremacy, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, fundamentalism, and hatred of LGBTQ people, I have no desire to have fellowship with them, nor do I think it would be at all healthy for my children to be around them. All those things are things I will happily and confidently “shelter” my kids from. We will have appropriate discussions as they grow so that they learn to recognize and stand up to those evils, but I will not expose my kids to an environment where those things are taught as “godly.”

        • Laura


          This is how I feel these days. I don’t have children so I don’t have to worry about how toxic church environments will affect them. I have to be concerned for my mental health and I live with my mother who is over 65 and has some underlying health conditions, so attending large gatherings is not something I want to do now. COVID may be less, but I just don’t want to take my chances. The way a lot of Christians in my hometown handled COVID just turned me off from wanting to fellowship with them.

        • Angharad

          “By their fruits you shall know them”. If the majority of ‘Christians’ are defined by misogyny, racism etc, maybe it’s time to start questioning if we are using the word ‘Christian’ accurately. We are all works in progress and will never be perfected in this life, but if a ‘Christian’ is defined by their evil acts, I would question if they ARE a Christian.

          • Meredith

            Then we get into the gnarly territory of who gets to define what “Christian” means. I know that the majority of evangelical Christians would say *I* am not a Christian because of some of my beliefs. But again, since that label has become practically synonymous with so many beliefs that I reject, I don’t know that I care to be a “Christian”.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Rebecca finally convinced me to start having these kinds of thoughts a few years ago! i was twisting myself in knots trying to figure out how people who believed such horrible things could still be Christians, and she kept saying, “But, Mom, they’re not!”

          • CMT

            Gonna push back a bit here. IMO in church circles it’s an ad hominem attack to say someone isn’t really a Christian. Absolutely we should call out wrongheaded beliefs and behavior that is counter to Christ. Absolutely we should distance ourselves from people or churches that persistently do harm. But unless we’re talking about, say, a serial predator using the church as a hunting ground, is it actually useful to try to figure out whether the person I disagree with is “in” or “out”?

      • Jane Eyre

        For what it’s worth, I found that it really helps to try our different churches, even within the same denomination, and it’s really worthwhile to consider your physical location. A theologically conservative church in a progressive area will usually be very hard core about Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, while also being supportive of women, singles, the disabled, people who had abortions, men who pressed their girlfriends to have an abortion, divorced people, etc.

  11. Angharad

    I hope your spam filter won’t eat my comment – I decided it was getting confusing being ‘Anon’ with all the other ‘Anons’ joining a recent discussion, so I picked out a new name for myself – it is still me! And hopefully unusual enough that no one else will use it!

    I’m not great on statistics, but two things struck me from reading the article – one was that he seems to have a very fluid definition of ‘Christian’ – is it someone who goes to church, prays, believes in God or who has made a commitment to Jesus? Because the definition of ‘Christian’ seems to morph throughout the article.

    The other is that I would be interested to see more detail on what is meant by the results he quotes. For example, ‘sexually satisfied’ could mean from the man’s point of view that the wife never says ‘no’ and from the wife’s point of view, that sex doesn’t hurt. The same with his claim about “theologically conservative, gender-traditional, church-attending women” having the happiest relationships. How is that defined? I can think of women in some very abusive relationships who would probably claim to be ‘happy’ because the life they have is all they know.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      These are definitely two of the big things we want to look at! In tracing the links back to the source, these are big problematic things definitely.

      and i like your new name too!

      • Angharad

        Thank you! It means ‘one who is greatly loved’, which I thought was appropriate as a reminder of how we are all ‘greatly loved’ by our Heavenly Father.

  12. Phil

    Ok I have to admit I couldnt stomach reading the entire thing. I stopped reading when I got to The first Highly religious notation in a graph – I about let out a large chuckle when I read that. I atarted skimming after that and then I was just done. Somebody please explain what highly religious is? How does one measure that? I didnt see the graph for that lol. Ok so I got to say Sheila – you baited us to look for it…I guess maybe your teaching us? It seemed to start out ok but then it deteriorated real fast with odd terms and descriptions. It reminds me of a saying something along the lines of if you cant beat em flood em with paper work..or in this case oddly descriptive and confusing graphs and data. Didnt seem worth my time to dissect it.

    • Phil

      Also what is a practicing christian? Does that mean they sit in a pew? Or do they actually have to do something? I really want to know what makes someone highly religious? Is that clergy?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Great questions! Some people define it on surveys as how often you attend church; whether you volunteer; whether you pray regularly or read Scripture regularly. I’d love to get deeper into the definitions in the studies that he quoted.

  13. Dave W

    That article by pastor Josh Howerton just made me mad. It is wrong on so many levels. Most of it i have heard before and have seen empirical evidence to the exact opposite. And he seems to equate “Christianity” with evangelicalism. That throws a majority of his brothers and sisters from other traditions under the bus.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, it really does! And the survey he cited had twice the number of Catholics as Protestants. Does he think Catholics are Christians (because The Gospel Coalition often talks as if they’re not). So basically, Catholics are doing well, and they’re riding that wave and claiming it’s theirs. Also, Protestants who believe in gender equality are doing great–but they’re constantly saying that we’re not really Christians either. But they’ll join with us when it raises their scores.


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