A guest post reflecting on the recent popular article about women leaving the church and what that means to her as a theologically-educated layperson active in her church.
Should Women Leave the Church to be Heard?
Irene R. DeMaris
One of my best friends is not religious–which is hardly shocking as I am Pacific Northwest born-and-raised, and have lived in Seattle for the better part of a decade. Most of my friends aren’t religious and when I decided to pursue my Master of Divinity, it took time for some to understand why I as a progressive feminist would get even more religious.
Thus, it wasn’t a huge surprise when Pew Research released an article “Gender gap in religious service attendance has narrowed in U.S.” which led to another article, “Women Are Leaving the Church and the Reason Seems Clear.” It also wasn’t a surprise that said best friend sent me one of those articles, asking why I stay.
Achievements and Threats
Truth be told, I have been thinking about that article since it came out. Historically women have been integral members of faith communities, right from the very beginning with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, and all the women mentioned in Paul’s Letters. Women were a mighty presence from funding ministries to, dare I say it, speaking in church.
When women didn’t have rights outside of church buildings, it was within those walls women took shelter; they organized for justice, funded missions, found solidarity, and found a place where their prophetic voices could be heard. The church has been a place to give women voice, freedom to organize, and to live into their God-given agency.
Until it hasn’t.
For many women, the church is no longer the place where we have found our God-given agency and/or where we have been given the opportunity to speak prophetically.
A Denomination Astray
As a cradle United Methodist, I feel the constriction increase, where as a woman, my voice is stifled. In fact, that was a major reason why I recently left the ordination process. As a woman called to seeking justice and whose passion is reproductive health, choice, and justice, I felt that being ordained as a deacon would cause me to not use my voice, the voice I have so diligently developed over the course of my Masters of Divinity program. I want to speak my theologically trained truth that is grounded in the good news of the Bible.
I get why women are leaving.
- As a United Methodist, we saw progress for women and girls stifled recently at General Conference. Our General Board of Church & Society and United Methodist Women are no longer allowed to be in coalition with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC and the only coalition the church votes on).
- The response of General Conference’s vote against membership (which no money goes towards) in the RCRC on Twitter consisted of many women saying this was the last straw for them in the church. It was heartbreaking. Ironically, many people donated to the RCRC who had never before, they probably made more money by us leaving that will go towards their mission!
- Responsible Parenthood, a holistic view of what it means to choose to be a parent and affirmation of birth control as a way for women to have control over our reproductive health, was voted down. Other legislation regarding women and girls was left in the dust, taking out our voices from The Book of Resolutions.
The church is afraid of women’s bodies, our agency, and our voices.
As a Church, we moved backwards or to the side, which doesn’t do the female voice any good.
Speaking Up from the Pew
Restrictions over women’s bodies, paychecks, how we raise our children abound in society, and more abound in society, but our churches are not doing enough to do something about those important social issues.
Why stay with an institution that does not trust women? It is not enough to say that all were created equal, yet deny women’s agency and mute our voices. The church is no longer the space where women are being emboldened to seek justice. It’s tragic.
So why do I stay? Beyond my unreasonable stubbornness, I am a Christian woman who sees hope and possibility for the future. For the church to step up for women, to un-mute our voices and listen to the prophetic words we have to offer.
Women are leaving, yes. But there are women who are staying to turn the church around. They will be welcoming those women back, and listening to all they have to offer.
Irene R. DeMaris, MDiv, is a theologically trained laywoman seeking justice in a broken world. When she isn’t thinking about religion and politics she drinks way too much coffee, walks her dog around Seward Park in Seattle, and is active in her faith community, Valley & Mountain. (twitter)
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