She Deserves Better is officially launched, and we’re doing so well!
It’s selling really, really well (we woke up to #140 on Amazon, which is INCREDIBLE),
My mind is going in a million different directions this morning, and I’m elated, and I’m happy, and I’m actually surprised. We had no idea that the book was going to do this well–and, please, keep telling others about it! Get one for your youth pastor!
But a few things came out of a discussion on social media yesterday that I thought were worth highlighting.
I’ve talked a lot about how GIRLS deserve better–how the church has largely failed girls, and taught girls that to love God means they have to be small and take responsibility for boys’ and men’s sins against them. It’s not okay.
What we haven’t talked about is how this has affected the church.
The evangelical church is hemorrhaging women.
For as long as we’ve measured it, women have been more religious than men. This has been largely a cross-cultural phenomenon, too, with women in most societies being more religious than their male counterparts.
When Christianity began, it was often called “the religion of women and slaves”, in derision of course, because the marginalized flocked to Jesus.
And Christianity has continued to be a female-dominated religion if you look at numbers of adherents; faithfulness of those adherents; even who believes its tenets more. Though women have not had authority in the church, they have largely been the backbone of it.
That is now starting to change.
Women are leaving the church faster than men are.
While both men and women are leaving the church, and the evangelical church has been shrinking for years, women are leaving faster. As Lifeway reports,
In the mid-1980s, 38 percent of women and 25 percent of men attended church at least once a week in America—a 13-point gender gap, according to Pew Research analysis of General Social Survey data.
By 2012, that gap had shrunk by more than half, to 6 points. The change, however, did not come primarily from an increase in men attending church services. The gap shrank because women’s church attendance dropped.
While men experienced a 3-point drop in weekly church attendance, from 25 to 22 percent, women’s regular attendance fell by 10 points—down to 28 percent.
So women are no longer attending church and are leaving church faster than men are. But here’s the second point–which is actually a bombshell:
Irreligious young women outnumber irreligious young men
Again, I’m not sure if people will fully get how important this is. But for the first time since we have ever measured this, EVER, among our youngest adults (Generation Z), female “nones” outnumber male “nones.”
Females who claim no religious affiliation outnumber males without religious affiliation.
And remember–women have typically been the backbone of the church, but young women are leaving it in droves. They are leaving evangelicalism, but they are also leaving religion altogether. For those born after 1973, women and men are now equally like to attend church, or, as we go even younger, men are more likely to attend. It is only among the oldest adults that we see women attending more frequently. That’s new, and that’s an earthquake moment.
Ryan Burge in Christianity Today explains why this may be happening:
Some major voices influencing evangelical Christianity had specifically called out young men for their lack of responsibility and religious devotion. Mark Driscoll preached about biblical manhood, Owen Strachan said that “manhood is doing hard things for God’s glory and the good of others,” and Jordan Peterson’s rise to fame is based largely on his insistence on a “gospel of masculinity.”
These voices and other efforts to keep young men in the fold could have affected male church involvement in recent years—but they may have been a factor in deterring women’s attendance too. As one recent CT book review notes:
Evangelical women have long attended church at higher rates than evangelical men. But today that gap is narrowing, not because more men are coming but because more women are leaving. Such women are increasingly likely to “deconstruct” their faith or identify as “nones”—a rising population of the religiously disaffiliated.
As Lyman Stone wrote two years ago, “Making your church manlier won’t make it bigger.” It could be a factor in making it smaller.
Is this something to be sad about?
That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. When you look at what women have been taught in church for decades, and what we’ve taught our girls–I want women and girls free from that. It was toxic. Our research in She Deserves Better shows that outcomes in terms of marital and sexual satisfaction, self esteem, and likelihood of marrying an abuser would have been BETTER for girls if they had never gone to church at all than if they had internalized toxic teachings around modesty, consent, and making them small.
Toxicity hurts us.
At the same time, I really do want women and girls to meet Jesus. So many are leaving the church largely BECAUSE of this toxicity. If we can show them–this was never of Jesus; if we can leave toxic church spaces and breathe into healthy churches; if we can show there are alternatives to the toxic places, then maybe more people will find Christ.
Jesus said to welcome little children, and not to hinder them.
But we have been hindering girls and women for decades. For centuries.
The difference now is that society is actually doing much better. Women are finally being treated well (comparatively). They are encouraged to use their skills and giftings. They are told that they are worth more than their bodies. They can be supervisors, managers, CEOs. Women can fully participate in everything–except in church. And many women just can’t handle the horrible, horrible sexism in church because it’s so stark compared with the world in a way that it wasn’t when everything was sexist.
I think one reason She Deserves Better is selling beyond our expectations is because girls and women have had it.
We are so, so angry, or so, so tired, and the powers-that-be in evangelicalism aren’t listening. They won’t address the sexual abuse crisis. They won’t let women use their gifts. They continue to sexualize and objectify women and girls while excusing men’s behaviour because “that’s just how God made men.”
And we won’t have it anymore. We’re done. We deserve better.
Perhaps it is only with our anger that MUST be listened to that the church will start to change–because hear me on this: We will not win the women back who are leaving, and we will not keep the young women who are growing up in our pews, unless we actually stop the toxicity and look like Jesus.
That leads me to an interesting discussion on social media yesterday.
I was bringing up the stats about women leaving the church, and a woman said how tragic this was, and that it was largely happening because public schools were so ungodly.
In return, a commenter left a very thoughtful reply that I wanted to run in the post. She said:
I understand this is a sensitive and touchy subject. I teach at a public high school. I do not believe we mock God.
But I think there has been a change that has been hard – and emotionally so – for many Christians.
The difference is that Christianity is looked as on equal footing now when it was given preference and special privilege for so long. “When you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (so, for example, public schools no longer limit themselves to only teaching sexual rules and ethics approved by one faith, much like we wouldn’t want public schools to enforce any other religion on our children).
Months back, my priest recommended this book called _Canoeing the Mountains – Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory_. It does a pretty good job explaining that there has been a huge cultural shift in the US – for a lot of complicated and nuanced reasons. The author calls it the end of “Christendom,” and what it boils down to is this:
Christianity and church attendance used to be the default normal for an overwhelming majority of the population.
It’s what everyone did – if you didn’t go to church, you were weird, and had to defend/explain/justify it.
Now, with hugely declining church attendance and religious affiliation, Christianity and church attendance are just not the default anymore. The big shift, and I think this is really hard for many mainstream evangelicals to understand, is that it’s no longer enough to “disprove” someone’s reasons for NOT going to church, you have to actively make a compelling case for why they should go – not compelling to you, but to them.
It is true that many, MANY mainstream evangelical churches have taught unscriptural, toxic, harmful, abusive things for decades. Leaders have covered up abusers and silenced and guilted victims. Gaslighting and spiritual abuse are commonplace. We have failed to be honest about and address systematic injustice in the way God calls us to. And the Church (big C, universal) has overall done a poor job acknowledging and repenting of this. The church has not looked like Jesus, and has done a lot of very real and measurable harm to a lot of people (we have research data on this).
As one small example, in a recent post, a woman recounted hearing a pastor say that girls who, in HIS definition view, were dressed “immodestly” were hurting guys worse than a guy forcibly groping her private parts, which is assault. Many, not all, of the worst of these toxic teachings have been disproportionately directed at women.
I know it’s hard, almost impossible, to try to hear things like that from a neutral, outside perspective. But imagine living in a world where you didn’t just “go to church” without a reason because it’s a cultural default, but a world where you intentionally, carefully chose your faith, belief, and associations according to your values and beliefs.
Why would anyone choose to be a part of a church that treated women like that?
I love the church. I go every week with my family, including husband and 3 young children. I teach Sunday school and run the calendar for children’s church. I serve on vestry. I volunteer. I also have gone to a home Bible study for the past 13 years. I say this as someone with great love and pain for the Bride of Christ.
I also say this as someone with deep grief, anger, and frustration for what has happened within the church and people who fail to see it and weaponize their defensiveness. I left the denomination I grew up in for many of the same reasons I imagine the women in this survey might be seeing.
We won’t solve the problem until we’re honest about facing it.
I think she’s exactly right.
- “It’s no longer enough to “disprove” someone’s reasons for NOT going to church, you have to actively make a compelling case for why they should go – not compelling to you, but to them.”
- “We won’t solve the problem until we’re honest about facing it.”
With She Deserves Better, we’re trying to be honest and face it.
We’re calling the evangelical church to honesty, humility, and repentance. We’re calling for the church to care about women and girls and actually do something about it.
I’m not sure if the evangelical church, as it is right now, can. It is so invested in certain people having power, and in certain sins being excused, that to face the truth may mean its end, as we know it.
But I also believe that so many women want the real Jesus. As I keep saying, “You can’t take my Jesus from me.” And I think there is so much justifiable anger, that I think something new will be birthed. Maybe it will just be smaller denominations that are healthy having life breathed into them as people leave toxic spaces. Maybe it will be other forms of churches growing. Maybe it will be congregations leaving toxic denominations and becoming healthier. I don’t know.
But change is coming. The numbers bear it out. And the reception to She Deserves Better shows that there’s this undercurrent that is about to become a tidal wave.
I hope, and pray, that those in power will listen, and repent, and change–even if that seems so hard to picture.
What do you think? Do you know women who are leaving the church? Have you? Why? What do you think the future holds for the church? Let’s talk in the comments!
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
Love it! That’s pretty much it!
I say that at work all the time! I’m an RN by the way. 😉
That’s what American Evangelicalism has been saying to women for all the decades I’ve been in it. I’m out, now, and literally nothing they could do or say would bring me back. I don’t need the American Evangelical Church, it needs me (specifically, it needs my dollars and my unpaid labor). Other groups that actually serve the community, ALL members of the community, get my dollars and unpaid labor, now.
So interesting to read about women outnumbering men in the younger generation who don’t have a religious affiliation. Again and again, I hear that the reason we don’t have more men in church is because the church is too ‘feminine’ and women are too prominent. So…if men are leaving the church because it is too female-dominated, why are the women leaving too?!!!
I hope that someone does a proper survey to find out why people are leaving. It frustrates me that so few Christian organizations are capable of doing this. Recently, one charity did a survey to find out why men leave church – 28% of respondents gave ‘church being too feminine’ as a reason. So they announced that 28% of men leave church because it is too feminine. But here’s the thing – this survey was open to everyone, male, female, churchgoer, never-been-to-church, used-to-go-to-church…They can’t seem to tell the difference between someone saying ‘this is why I left church’ and someone saying ‘this is why I believe other people leave church’!!!
In a way though, it’s kind of encouraging that people who don’t really believe in Jesus are feeling more comfortable admitting to it – I can’t help feeling that smaller churches where everyone is genuinely longing to grow in their faith and be used by God are going to be far more effective for the kingdom than bigger churches full of ‘pew warmers’ who are only there because of tradition but who have no real interest. And it’s usually easier to reach people who say they have no faith than someone who has a nominal faith but no real belief, because the latter think they’ve already ‘arrived’ so they don’t need to hear the Gospel!
I love your last paragraph especially! I think this is so true. I think the smaller churches where there is genuine community and where people really long to know Jesus and to be His hands and feet–that’s so much healthier. I worry that bigger churches can become something that just needs to keep being fed, and the emphasis gets put into keeping people happy and in the pews rather than in growth and discipleship and depth.
And I agree–it’s easier to reach people who haven’t been “innoculated” against real faith!
As someone who runs around in a lot of deconstruction circles, here are my observations as to why people are leaving: trauma.
Because the church has absolutely traumatized them. And the only way for most of these people to heal is to escape. Some stay Christian but in a different denomination. Some deconvert altogether, but even they are healthier outside of church than they were in it.
Trauma from what? I can boil it down to two categories:
Toxic theology and toxic hierarchy.
+ Toxic Theology: God is the ultimate abuser and we are disgusting, worthless worms deserving of torture
+ Toxic hierarchies & oppression: of gender, race, sexualities, caste (economic), disabilities, etc.
They say the Christian church has a major Reformation about every 500 years, taking about 3 generations to complete. I believe it’s here. This is it. And Sheila’s work is part of it. Because women have had enough. And we deserve better.
One thing that keeps leaders from making changes is how they feel their congregations will react to those changes. If they think that most of the regular, non-leadership members would leave or freak out because addressing this goes against their doctrine then even leaders who may agree won’t make meaningful changes because they will lose members/money. I get that if ministry is your livelihood then this is scary. Those leaders may find themselves needing to change churches or get out of ministry. I would be curious to know how that journey looks for leaders who have confronted this in the context of a resistant congregation.
As you’ve mentioned before–churches that teach objectification and subjugation of women tend to attract people who agree with that and those who wish to abuse or take advantage of people who agree with this mindset. People may most likely clump together in even more extreme groups as they “flee” churches trying to become healthier for those with their preferred mindset. I guess the advantage to that is that they become even more apparent to people than they were before when they were just mixed in with other Christians who didn’t hold views that were as extreme.
Like so many others I am reading She Deserves Better now. I have two daughters in elementary school, and I have no clue what to do in terms of church. I was negatively impacted by many of the things you have uncovered through your research, and I’m afraid that they will be impacted negatively, too. We moved to a new community in 2020, and I have made no moves to find a church home while I think through everything. That was easy to do during those harsh quarantine years but now that’s over and it’s still just going on. One decision I’ve made is that none of my children will be active participants in church youth group. If/When we are able to find a healthy church in our community then they will attend the services with us, volunteer, and do special group service project or things like that. I do not want them getting together with a bunch of youth, youth pastors, young adults who like to hang around the youth and “relate” to them, etc. That was a significant part of my teen years and one of the main ways bad mindsets were normalized to me. Not “shopping” for a church that has a big, active, rockin’ youth group actually opens up a whole lot more churches to the family.
I am not a fan of the evangelical church and believe it is foundationally flawed, so I’m not surprised or particularly saddened by these statistics. However, God has used/is using many in the evangelical church to further His gospel, and I know that many have met Jesus in the evangelical church and have found refuge there. The concept of non-evangelical Christianity is foreign to many western Christians, and so as the evangelical church seems to implode I worry that those leaving and those seeking will struggle to find healthy Christian fellowship focused on Jesus.
I would tell people who are looking to not be timid to set up meetings with the leaders of a variety of Christian churches and have a discussion. My shift away from evangelicalism began about 16 years ago, and I have gone through two distinct periods where I’ve purposefully sought out denominations that I had been conditioned to look down on to both visit and research. Of particular use to me was Catholic radio, the Orthodox priest who let me drag two toddlers to a meeting with him and gave me a ton of information, and the Anglican church we attended for awhile. Our new community does not have as many options, and I’ve become more disillusioned at this point. I know how to live and move within the evangelical subculture because I was raised there, but at this point in my life I agree with you when you say it is foundationally flawed.
That last is a really good point. Maybe we need to start some house churches like Lydia. 😉
In general, people want to find the Truth. That’s why atheists who relentlessly seek to disprove God end up converting. That’s why people risk their lives for their faith.
If droves of people are leaving the church, it’s because they aren’t finding Truth there. If God is good all the time, then that which is untrue will not glorify God.
Is it true and good that 15 year old girls should be treated like “stumbling blocks,” or is it true and good that men are to not lust in their hearts? I think even people who grow up with the sexist Kool Aid know, on some level, how gross and wrong this is.
The wider culture doesn’t help, but so what? God didn’t ask us to grow His church only when we aren’t facing opposition from the culture around us – that is, in fact, the opposite of the very first experiences of Christians.
“If droves of people are leaving the church, it’s because they aren’t finding Truth there. ”
That’s a large part of my doubting- the “pew warmers” made such a bad name of “Christian” that I am surprised I am even fighting to try to relearn God. The ones that belittled women, the ones that gossiped, the liars, the back-stabbers. Every person sins, but some seem to relish opportunities to do so while calling themselves “good.”
The priest and the Levite passed right by the injured Jewish man, yet the Samaritan- an enemy of Jews- stopped, helped, and gave of his time, energy, and money. The “rules” prevented the priest and the Levite from helping, yet the Truth is what made the Samaritan merciful and the one Jesus identified as being in the right.
Women leaving the Evangelical Church seems two fold. On one hand it delivers the message “WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!” NO WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT! WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!” (Twisted Sister from my rock collection😂). On the other hand it leaves men as the dominant figures in Evangelical settings. That makes a bad situation for women worse in that scenario. So what do we need? Sounds like a 21st Century Reformation is what we need!
I really think so. I think it’s coming. I keep telling myself that the REformation was really messy for a few generations when it wasn’t clear what was going to grow out of it.
Men were always dominant in evangelical settings. Being outnumbered did not diminish their power at all.
Yes, exwifeofasexaddict. With fewer women to clean the church, make the coffee, fill the pews, and give their money, it’s the men in church who will suffer. Their salaries will be cut, they’ll have to pay someone to clean the church, and they’ll feel sorry for themselves as they sit alone.
Women have outnumbered men in churches since forever. It didn’t make the men treat women well then, and I don’t think the new situation will make it any worse for the women who are still there. I think it will give them that last nudge they need to walk out the door and never come back.
And we’ll be waiting for them, out in the fresh air of freedom.
I find it interesting that the 13-point gender gap has people paying attention, but a 47(48?) point orgasm gap is nothing to look into.
As a Christian, yes, I liked having God in schools. But I also get why others would not want that there. If, as parents, we are raising our children to truly know Christ, then it won’t matter if they are allowed to group-pray in the schools. We should raise our kids such that they can be a light in a dark place. Granted some people/places hold more animosity- my kid has had a couple teachers that made it very clear they held a grudge against Christians but not other religious choices. That is wrong (as is any teacher that shows preference to Christian students or animosity towards non-Christian students.) But do we stop to think *how* that person reached that conclusion of animosity towards Christians? (e.g. If my mom had been the only “Christian” example I had, I would be an atheist.)
If women are leaving in droves, my hope is that the fruit of such will be men:
1. Realize how much of the church work the women actually did.
2. Realize they have been coasting on the grunt work done by women.
3. They will step up and actually do the grunt work themselves.
4. They will then be too busy to try to defend misogyny and will hopefully change their minds on it, which could lead to…
5. Women may start to see churches as a safe place where they can equally share in the work- and the joys- of choosing Christ.
We REALLY need to do a month (quarter? year?) of “The Strike at Putney” even for women who are willing to stay at their church.
Here’s Sheila’s mom, Elizabeth, reading it.
(There’s a link to an online version in the bullet points neat rhe bottom.)
That could work 2
I’d suggest Lucy’s birth month of November, but too many US women would feel guilty not doing a big Thanksgiving meal.
Or…. What if women decided to include December too? If hubby and kids want special stuff those two months, well, if “the little woman” can manage it all, surely a big, strong man could. 🤔
Yes, I loved that when she first posted it. Perhaps if that had happened irl, so many women wouldn’t be exhausted mentally and physically beyond their limits.
At one church, I took occassional breaks from the MANY things I did.. I got told, “Great, enjoy your break!” at first, but then was lectured that I wouldn’t have needed the break if I had truly been serving the Lord in HIS strength…
They sure are full of something. I’m not convinced it was the Holy Spirit though.
I love this: If, as parents, we are raising our children to truly know Christ, then it won’t matter if they are allowed to group-pray in the schools. We should raise our kids such that they can be a light in a dark place.
More Christians in my hometown are homeschooling their children because they are afraid the public school is teaching bad things and they want to shelter their children from the world. The same goes for the workplace. Many businesses (unless they’re privately owned) don’t have prayer but that doesn’t mean they’re bad places. All of us can be lights in the world.
Agreed. I don’t want to bash homeschooling. I think a lot of people choose it for the right reasons. I’m not convinced that fear of what they may encounter in public schools should be that determinant though, but it’s a very personal choice. However at a previous church there were many homeschooling families and my kid and I simply never fit in with them. I felt judged by some, though not all, of them, like I was abandoning my child to heathenhood or something.
At least my kid knows consent matters! I think the public schools helped teach that.
Public schools should be a place where people can experience freedom from religion, not just freedom of religion. Studying religions is a part of learning, but it needs to stop there. Just because one religion is (currently) dominant in the US doesn’t mean it should be a part of public schools. I don’t think Evangelicals would be happy if Christianity was no longer the dominant religion and a different religion became a part of public schooling.
> > “When you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
This is very true, and has been discussed here before. This often manifests itself in people telling you that you’re anti-God if you want men and women to be equally valued. Or that God gave you gifts and talents, but doesn’t want you to use them.
As Phil says, this may result in a temporary situation that’s even worse for the smaller group of women remaining in those churches, but hopefully this should only be temporary, as even they start to leave. Also, just as hopefully, new churches can be founded, perhaps smaller ones, that really do value all people with equal worth.
The scattering of women from the church reminds me of the dispersal spoken of in the New Testament. While Jesus was living, the “Wayists”, followers of Christ, formed increasingly large groups, eating & resting together. After Christ’s death & resurrection, He commanded the disciples to “go into all the world & preach the gospel”. The “Wayists”, or Christians as they became known as, dispersed and spread the gospel throughout the world. People are still searching for God and if our churches are preventing people from finding God in the church, we need to disperse and teach about God in our own tiny little corner of the world outside the church.
What a beautiful, hopeful picture! That’s far better than what I’ve been picturing lately. I love it.
Total side point, but very interesting that the CT writer identifies Jordan Peterson as a “major voice influencing evangelical Christianity” when JP isn’t a Christian (unless he’s changed his views recently and I missed it).
Not necessarily a side point. I know many male Christians who almost deify Peterson, and who frequently share misogynistic videos and articles by him – and many of them are in church leadership. If a church leader is an enthusiastic supporter of a misogynistic creep, then I am not going to attend any church led by that person.
I suspect a lot of Christians like him because he talks about the Bible a lot, and either don’t notice or don’t care that he doesn’t actually believe any of it.
That’s mostly speculation though.
I think it’s probably more that what Peterson is saying agrees with what they think. And a lot of Christians don’t believe it’s possible to gain wisdom from secular sources. “If Peterson agrees with me then he must be really wise. Only Christians can be wise. Therefore, Peterson is a Christian”.
Last week on the Holy Post Podcast, Skye Jethani said this about Jordan Peterson, “coming from the guy who has been a Christian for like 30 seconds for market purposes.” Skye sums this up well about JP who likes to think he’s an expert on Christianity and says that social justice is unChristian. Yet, JP has become an influence among male Christians.
Yeah it’s really weird to me that so many evangelicals like Jordan Peterson now. He was extremely sick for over a year a little while ago (some kind of genetic disease that flared up to extreme levels of pain from what I understand). Before his illness, he was actually a voice that helped me deconstruct these exact evangelical beliefs because his lectures that he recorded were totally dispassionate and removed from Christianity. I even sent them to people who I was trying to argue against in evangelical circles. He wasn’t perfect, but I really appreciated the fact that he didn’t have the “walking on eggshells” reverence for the ideas in the Bible the way everyone in the church did. He attacked many of the ideas that were keeping me trapped in evangelicalism, and he absolutely worshiped his daughter and wife and talked about how strong and smart they are – attributes that I had never heard a father/husband be proud of in his female relatives. However, after he returned to public life and joined Daily Wire, I think his messaging changed a huge amount. It really isn’t what I remember, and it seems that his beliefs now are less academic and more evangelistic (for lack of a better word – he’s evangelising personal viewpoints instead of academically studying belief systems and psychology).
I think my ‘favourite’ Peterson video was the one where he supposedly ‘destroyed’ the gender pay gap argument by saying that women who worked part-time around childcare were obviously going to earn less than men who worked full time. And because part-time female workers earned less than full-time male workers, there was therefore no gender pay gap and if you ever encountered a woman who earned less than a man it was because she worked fewer hours or had less responsibility than the man…
The worrying thing was the number of men who believed that this video ‘scientifically proved’ there was no gender pay gap. Sigh.
Part of the reason young women are identifying more as “nones” may also be because they are more likely to be unmarried, childless, or both. And many evangelical churches are family-focused to the exclusion of others. This doesn’t effect single, childless men quite as much since they, being male, are still higher up in the traditional evangelical hierarchy.
I agree with your assessment. There is very little in the way of programs and groups for singles and couples without kids. I remember feeling weird when the only ‘married’ group that my wife and I could find was mostly those that had teenage or adult children.
This is a demographic that is sorely being forgotten by most churches. I think that the thinking is that these people will come back once they have children, but that is evidently not the case.
I have left church due to the patriarchal system. I attended Four Square which was started by Amy Semple McPherson, but locally where I attended it was all for men, by men. Due to deception and sexual sin that the church hid for my husband and when the whole mess came to light they pretended I didn’t exist. I’m out!
I have a story of hope to share.
My husband is a “soft” complementarian along the lines of Aimee Byrd. (I am not.) We have attended exclusively complementarian churches during our married life, where the sexism was so bad *especially from the pulpit* that even my husband noticed. Coincidentally, heavy-handed leadership at these same churches has soured our view of the church in general.
Long story short, I was visiting a new church for the first time, and it happened to be their anniversary Sunday. Various ministry leads were giving reports. When it came to the senior pastor’s turn, he shared that the entire leadership team had read “A Church Called Tov” this past year and were convicted to not just intentionally reach out to those traditionally marginalized within the church, but to actively put them into leadership positions. For that reason, they asked their children’s ministry director, a woman, if she would like to be ordained and accept a position of associate pastor, as a show of affirmation for her work and heart for the Gospel and as a show of affirmation for the worth of women in the church.
Friends, when I heard this I started bawling in the middle of the service. Probably looked like a right weirdie.
Brought my husband the next time. Then our kids. And while it’s too early to tell if we’ll end up here long term, the man who when we married told me he didn’t think he could ever sit under a lady pastor admitted that he actually likes her sermons better than the senior pastor’s.
Jesus is still at work in the church. Well, some of them, anyway.
Oh, what a great story! I’m so happy!
I’m going to send this to Laura Barringer (who co-authored A Church Called Tov). I was talking to her this morning and she’ll be thrilled.
I’m so glad. There ARE good churches out there because the Holy Spirit is always moving.
I gave my heart to Jesus back in the early eighties.
In the mid-eighties, I met, for the first time, a woman who had left the church due to abuse.
She said her husband tried to beat the fear of God into her with a folding chair.
I was naturally shocked. I also made the error of believing that her experience was isolated and rare. And I mourned for her because she had been driven away from God and the Church by the abuse and terrorism of another.
She was my first exposure to this problem and obviously not my last. Then strangely enough, I found myself in a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage. I didn’t deal with folding chairs but the cumulative years of Narcissistic abuse took its toll. That’s when I found out how horrible the church was at helping women in my situation.
So, no, we can’t be angry at women who leave the church. Not when the church’s track record for helping them has sucked this badly.
But I believe that we can be angry at those who have contributed to the piling on of abuse. Celebrities like John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll. James MacDonald or organizations like the SBC, CBMW, and TGC. I think we should be angry with them.
It’s a good thing that people are pushing back so hard on these. But it has taken way too long to get to this point.
And let’s not forget Focus on the Family. 🤮
For me, I didn’t push back because (a) I had no vocabulary to describe what I was feeling, (2) I was convinced the problem was me and my inner rebellion against God, and (iii) I thought I was the only having these kinds of troubles. Every other woman looked happy, but then again, so did I, because of course.
Yes, Focus on the Family. That bunch hurt you, me, and Sheila, Generation X.
I also didn’t know enough to push back in the 80s and 90s. Sent the Narc in training to Promise Keepers. Had no idea that they would take him deeper into the hierarchy and dominance heresy.
By the time Driscoll showed up, I was already mad at wolves peddling bad doctrine to Gen X and following generations.
But before? Clueless.
I would say there are several reasons that people are leaving the church.
These would include:
– the rise of secularism.
– the continued push of the LGBT+ lifestyle and mindset, not just tolerance and acceptance of the people but celebration of the lifestyle, especially in the church. For example, see the split of the United Methodist Church.
– the Church’s failure of engaging with skeptics both in and out of the church. I would say some of the toxic teachings that are vocalize here and elsewhere would fall into this category.
– failure of the Church to adequately address various scandals, often including cover ups like we have seen in the Catholic Church and recently the SBC. This last one is especially troubling to me since I am a life long Baptist and find the lack of accountability and decades of cover ups appalling.
Not a comprehensive list but some that I can think of that I have seen.
Not long after I got saved at the age of 17 in 1994 that I walked away from the church due to sexist messages that people said came from the Bible. Well, I was not raised that way so I thought it was just terrible that the God of the Bible was a male chauvinist who wanted to keep women oppressed. Here’s the thing: I did not read the Bible so I didn’t know God’s and Jesus’ character. Had I read the Bible and understood the context it was written, then I may not have walked away from the church. I did come back several years later but to a different church because I lived in a different state. There were still sexist messages but I never heard them from the pulpit. I heard them in our premarital classes that we were required to take if we wanted to get married by one of the pastors.
Over the years, I wrestled with my place as a woman and thought maybe I was rebellious. Why did God (it was not really Him who said that but Paul) say for wives to be submissive? Did He think we were naturally rebellious? I asked those questions in women’s Bible studies and no one could give me a logical answer because there was no reason given in the Bible on that matter. Some answers I got were: Men have such fragile egos that we have to be careful not to emasculate their “God-given” authority. If you believe men and women are equal, then you need to get alone with God and pray for Him to soften your heart. Men are naturally lazy so telling them that God gave them the authority to lead will motivate them to do so. As women, we already know how to lead and God just wants us to humble ourselves and not get in our man’s way.
I was never satisfied with these answers and I think many of these women who said this were trying to convince themselves that they were not really small but they only had to be for the sake of their husbands’ fragile egos. I’ve often heard that women should never correct their husbands in front of other people. Well, that goes both ways. Men should not correct their wives in front of others.
I’ve been divorced for over 20 years and single most of that time. I’ve been told if I was less independent and less opinionated I would have no problem finding a man. I’d rather be alone than force myself to fit into a churchy “biblical womanhood” box.
I feel that the church has marginalized singles because many sermons are always focused on married couples with families. Going to church on Mothers’ Day has always been hard for me since I am single and childless in my mid-40s. I can totally understand women leaving the church.
I’ve heard some parts of that, too. Mainly “You women (wink wink) are REALLY in charge, but you need to pretend to the men that THEY run things, due to their fragile egos”.
I completely agree-I’d rather be single than in a marriage I regret, and I’d probably leave the church if I didn’t believe it was God who delivered me from a bad marriage. I’m praying for wisdom not to get in another bad marriage, and I feel compassion for those who leave the church because I assume they’ve been hurt. ☹️ that you’ve been hurt, too ❤️.
So if men have such fragile egos, if they’re naturally lazy, and they can’t sexually control themselves around people who aren’t in a particular dress code, why are they supposed to be in charge? That’s stupid. It’s ludicrous. If you want a mission/vision/plan/kingdom to be successful, the last thing you do is intentionally put people in charge with serious character flaws. And it looks nothing like Jesus.
Laughed at “Men are naturally lazy so telling them that God gave them the authority to lead will motivate them to do so.” Um, since when does giving a lazy person authority motivate them to do anything? It doesn’t. It just makes lazy leaderahip.
Men can be better than this. And many of them are.
Jesus also left behind the oppressive religious power structures of his faith group.
The community church I attend is a collection of “religion refugees” – emigrants out of toxic structures, and immigrants into the radical love of Christ. We believe every human is formed in the image of God, uniquely, so that by understanding our fellow humans, we may begin to perceive God. We believe the Holy Spirit has been breathed into each of us, as Jesus breathed it into the disciples after his resurrection; and we believe that by listening to the Holy Spirit as it speaks, variously, through our lenses of identity and experience, we can begin to perceive the Word of God.
Most of all, we believe the wildfire good news of Jesus’ mission on earth – become our mission as believers – is that there are no gatekeepers between humans and God, and therefore nobody and nothing external can have power over us, not even death. We are accountable wholly and solely to God for our actions.
In all of this are profound responsibility and profound liberation.
This has certainly hit home in many ways. I grew up in a conservative church, never questioning the teachings. Fast-forward to age 52, and I’m not only questioning why men’s and women’s needs are handled differently, but also why bullying, porn use, spousal abuse, and molestation are being soft-pedaled. I’m not getting good answers, and have therefore been doing a LOT of searching my heart to determine where I fit in. It’s been a time of anguish, but also of growth. And of learning what God’s face looks like when He looks at me. I have to believe that I and all humanity are His youngest and most precious creations, and the commentary above fits exactly with my thinking. I believe He IS angry on my behalf, as He sees my children bullied without consequence, my spouse be given no reprimand for porn use, my daughter looked at sideways for the way she dresses (I wish she had the desire to dress more modestly, but I believe that’s part and parcel of the fallout from being molested), and angry about how molesters are treated witb kid gloves and the victim is overlooked in the push to “be forgiving, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you”.
I remain thankful that I have a close circle of true friends, as well as a skilled counselor to help keep my mind and focus clear while navigating the landmines around me.
Sheila and team, to say that your work is valued and appreciated is the understatement of the decade!
Hello! As a woman who has been harmed by the church’s message to women, I am inclined to believe that women are leaving as I have left after 30 years a faithful attender.
However, does Sheila back up her message with cited statistics? I have read many books before my deconstruction of opinions given as facts…I have learned to value real facts…
The links here take you to stats from the Pew Research Centre.
Our stats are based on large studies done with ethics approval from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and we are currently working on several peer reviewed papers with them.
I feel like being a woman – and especially being a single woman in my 30’s – means that if I send this article to any of the leaders in my church, then I’ve basically killed the chances of the article being taken seriously. It doesn’t matter that I spent over 13 years working as the only employee of the church for less than minimum wage. No amount of dedication will ever free me from being more than a third-class citizen (female and single on top of it, that’s two strikes).
Historically when single women served the church, it was about the only place a single woman would be respected. Now as a single woman, it feels like the church is the only place that doesn’t respect the amount of work and dedication an untethered woman has to give. I’m burnt out and leaving. I’ll still be a Christian, I just don’t know how to have a relationship with the church. Sometimes it feels like I was born during the wrong time to serve God without having the life sucked out of me. I know a lot of people burn out of ministry, but I think dealing with sexism just drains a person faster.
It certainly does drain you faster! I’m so sorry. I hope you find a job where you’re actually respected. That’s so hard.
One interesting thing that was brought to my attention recently by one of the assisting priests at our church (we’ve found a new home in a local Anglican Church recently), is that approximately every 500 years since the ministry of Christ there has been some giant reformation type of movement among God’s people. This was said to a Sunday school primarily full of older Christians in a heads up and don’t judge where Gods taking us kind of way. I hope and pray that this is one of them. Also, do you have “Don’t take my Jesus” merch? Love, love, love that so much! 💕
Oh, that’s a good idea for merch!
Sheila and family, what a calling to keep looking at the hard things, pushing for the hard change, and not giving up. I pray for your continued faith and endurance…and your motivation to continue toward a great reward, though maybe not in this life. I come from many generations of southern baptist pastors. We didn’t open our garage on Sundays until after 12PM if we didn’t go to church- that would be a bad witness. (Consequence: Others’ judgement is worth our behavioral manipulation and we are what we do, including church attendance- God forbid we be sick.) I had a male teacher slap my butt when I was 16 when we were alone…I almost didn’t say anything about this because I felt I would be blamed. I courageously told my parents about it and my dad’s first question: “What were you wearing?” (Consequence: the school fired the teacher…I learned to feel shame even though I wondered how cargo pants and a t shirt were tantalizing? Also, my parents controlled what I wore and my mom drove me to this man’s class so isn’t it her fault if I was wearing inappropriate clothes?) Women are to be “keepers at home” and be under submission to their husbands in all things. (Consequence: I married an abusive man who kept secrets and lies and sexual addiction from me all the while I was submissive in all things including being taken advantage of sexually and emotionally for 16+ years.) Men are over women and if a husband isn’t happy and pleased, the wife is wrong. (Consequence: A lot of trying hard and harder for me. When my husband’s lies and acting out came out…my dad sent me a book on forgiveness that literally gave an example of a husband cheating on his wife with a neighbor and how the wife still crying months later showed her lack of true forgiveness.) I could go on and on and on with horrific examples. I finally have had enough…I had “prayed more,” “had sex more,” “tried harder,” “taken on almost all of the mental load,” “served faithfully in churches,” and the list goes on and on. Trying harder didn’t work, something was missing and I had exhausted myself looking at myself for the answers. Still naiive to what the response was going to be from my evangelical pastors I sought their guidance. I cried in one pastor’s office for 5 hours straight… he told me he was sorry but that I had essentially made the bed and I had to lay in it…oh, and forgive. I went to a former pastor…he said…pornography isn’t adultery because many times the men don’t actually want to have sex with the woman they’re viewing on the screen…they’re just enjoying looking at her body so first of all, there is no biblical grounds for you to divorce and we won’t discuss that. I turned to a Christian marriage counselor- he gave us 6 weeks of counseling, believed my husband immediately (who was still lying at the time) and the last session said to me “you’re really lucky your husband is still around- most men would have said to hell with it by now.” These are just some of the examples of what was told to me as I literally felt like my soul was bleeding out. People can’t fake 5+ hours of tears. So now, I have left. I have picked up my mat and am walking. I don’t know to where, but religion isn’t for me anymore…it never was…I just believed lies. I have never had a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus than now… and I am without a church. My heart longs to be around humble, Jesus lovers who love His people…who don’t manipulate and control…who truly walk in the way of Jesus…the road less traveled, the narrower way. I am angry that I had a mark on me the minute I was a female born into a conservative, home school, evangelical family. I am angry that I had a full ride (grandmother paying for all of it) to law school in college and my then fiancee (now husband) told me if I pursued the law degree we would not get married because he wanted his wife to stay at home. I gave it up…I needed to submit. I needed to stay at home. I was going to be rejected if I sinned by going to law school. I married a bold face liar- while he was requiring this type of control and coercion of me, he wasn’t requiring faithfulness to God and to me from himself. Also, I immediately began working after graduating undergrad- my husband who wanted his wife to stay at home couldn’t support us with his job. He then went back to school and I worked and supported him through that. I worked at jobs I didn’t enjoy until the day I went into pre-term labor with my first child. I never realized the narrative had shifted all the while the lab rat (me) kept running on the wheel, faster, harder…it didn’t matter…the wheel was never meant to roll anywhere…it was meant to keep me busy, distracted, contained, and controlled. Lastly, I’ll say this…I have found a group of non religious, mostly non Christian women who come together weekly in a confessional community with a licensed therapist to share our stories, to be witnesses, to heal. In all of my life, I have never found a more sacred, healing space. The sheep are scattered, and the shepherds say “peace, peace.” Sheila and team, your job is so much harder because the buck has been manipulated, gas-lit, and passed for so many years it’s hard to make head or tail of what we’ve been handed. Thank you again for your diligent work and your courage. Things are changing. (I really didn’t want to leave all of this in a comment, but it’s important to share and shine light…even if its the 10 millionth “same story.” We can all do better and part of the doing better is being honest and willing to share.)
What a story! Thank you for sharing it. Wow, a full ride to law school? Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. I’m so glad you’re safe and that you’ve found such a healthy community.
I was a really, really good Evangelical for about 25 of my adult years. I pumped money into the system with my purchases and donations. I gave many, many hours in free labor. I beat myself up, repeatedly, for simply having human needs.
I left and it’s the best feeling in the world.
All those lies I believed kept me trapped.
God doesn’t need me to sit and listen to some white guy tell me what to think about feel.
I don’t need the Evangelical church. They needed me. And they’ve lost me and many like me. And they can do simple arithmetic so they are scared. That’s why they are attacking those who leave and the entire deconstruction conversation. Don’t care. It’s wonderful to own my own thoughts again.
Are you me????? Same, same, same, because women force themselves into the shape decreed by men, rather than being set free by Jesus.
I don’t have a very strong religious background. Years ago I read the Bible cover to cover on my own. With fresh eyes, what I took away from that was that God liked men better than women. I avoided church for decades. Long story short…the problems I have with sex I blamed on God…he was punishing me for past or future sins. Researching sites like yours that put a positive religious spin to sex has helped but I’m still split in two. I want to be selfless like Jesus but I feel selfish for asking for more (of whatever may give me pleasure). I feel like I should give to others without asking for anything in return.