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Women and the Church VOX magazine’s “3:28 Churches?” survey explored the experiences of and attitudes towards women in churches and Christian ministries across the island of Ireland along with issues affecting women in the wider society.

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH REPORT

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Table of Contents 03 04 05 06 08 10 12 14 15 17 17 20 22 24 26 27 29 33 37 39 42 47 51 51 67 71 72 72 75 77 79 80 89

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Endorsements Acknowledgements Introduction Methodology, Ethics, Analysis and Critique Demographics Headline Findings Faith Experience How would you describe your experience of church? Church involvement The Role of Women in the Church Theology The Role of Women in Practice Response from Dr. Anne Francis Response from Ciaran Loughran Leadership Roles and Gender Experiences of Women Women and the Church Sexism within the church Real Women Real Stories Christian Women and Feminism Attitudes of Men towards Women in the Church Male perspectives on sexism, abuse and feminism Attitudes and Experiences around Violence and Abuse Rape Culture Experiences of Violence and Abuse Church teaching on gender-based violence, abuse and sexual assault Consent Christians’ views on prostitution A Response from Sarah Benson Recommendations Where to find help and resources Appendix One: Survey Questions Appendix Two: Real Women, Real Stories

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Endorsements “There is a crying need for quality research concerning the Irish Church. Too often, we hear assertions and proposals based on surveys from other nations in very different church contexts. I am delighted, therefore, that VOX magazine is continuing its commitment to carrying out objective and relevant research. The “Women in the Church” survey is an honest, revealing and sometimes painful snapshot of attitudes and experiences in the Irish Church. In some ways, the research is what one would expect, in that it reflects differing theological views and biblical interpretations concerning the role of women in church life and public worship. However, there are also some surprising, even shocking, results concerning marginalisation, bullying and abuse. This research does not always make for comfortable reading but, oh, how we need to heed it!” Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland “Both male and female are made in the image of God. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do. In our work overseas women are empowered not only to lift themselves out of poverty but more than that to flourish as God intended them to. We seek to influence policies in Ireland that ensure justice for women and their right to dignity and freedom. This research undertaken

by VOX shows a level of humility as much as genuine interest in the experience and perception of the role of women as well as issues that affect them across church life. There is always room to improve in a broken world. There are some very positive findings and equally some very significant areas of concern. Our hope and prayer is that it will be a catalyst that inspires us to greater justice and equality. Secular Ireland could truly benefit from a model of equality and justice for all His creation - where all women and girls are treated with equal respect, dignity and freedom.” Sharan Kelly, CEO, Tearfund Ireland “Firstly, I would like to commend the brave souls who had the courage to explore such a critical and sensitive issue in our Churches in Ireland. Our places of worship, are sadly not places of safety for everyone. The responses of women and men reflect similar experiences across the world. Women in our churches often have it tough! I was particularly struck by the high extent of abuse and bullying experienced. It is hard to understand how entrenched abuse is in Christian living! This calls for deep reflection. It is unacceptable that we still do not speak, teach or preach about this even though it is so pervasive. I say to us women, please let us not accommodate the pain of sin as that is not the kind of Church our God was talking about. God does not need us

to do that. We have to transform the division of labour in our ministries as it is a disservice to men and women. Wonder how men feel about not using their gifts for nurture? I know many of us women want to and feel ready to lead. We have a long way to go, to be that shining light, a city on a hill. This study offers precious opportunities for cleansing so that we may gather up our courage and stand for what our God wants of us. I hope this report will be a wakeup call!” Veena O’Sullivan, Head of Thematic Support (Sexual Violence) Tearfund UK “As a Church, we believe we are called to be the Body of Christ. In order to honour all parts of the Body, we believe in the importance of just relationships, ones that listen to and value all members. The VOX Research ‘Women in the Church’, celebrates where we are honouring and valuing men and women of faith. But it also brings to the fore the areas and instances where distorted behaviours and practices have become normalised and need the light of Christ. It provides an incredible opportunity for self-reflection, so that we can grow to truly be safe spaces for those who are vulnerable as well as flourishing communities where God-given gifts are nurtured and released irrespective of the gift holder’s gender.” Lydia Monds, Education Advisor, Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal

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Acknowledgements

I

would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has contributed to this important piece of research and most especially to Sharan Kelly, Chloe Hanan, Anne Baenziger and Gemma Kelly without whose support, hard work, expertise and thoughtful contributions this project would not have happened. My sincere thanks to YWCA Ireland for their partnership and collaboration to explore vital issues relating to women in the church, and especially to Ally McGeever who provided detailed analysis of the qualitative findings contained in comment sections of the survey. Thanks to Anne Francis, Ciaran Loughran, Sarah Benson and Craig Barlow for their expert feedback on specific aspects of the findings. As always, I am so grateful for the graphic design talents of VOX magazine’s, Jonny Lindsay. To everyone who took part in the research and to those who will read and respond to these findings Thank you! Ruth Garvey-Williams Editor, VOX magazine (editor@vox.ie)

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Introduction

W

hen it comes to the experiences of women in Ireland, modern history is troubling. The Magdalene laundries... Mother and Baby homes... domestic violence figures and more recently the “In Her Shoes” website have given rise to story after story of misogyny, abuse, trauma and violence. The rhetoric, especially leading up to the 2018 referendum on the 8th Amendment, became increasingly polarised. Many pointed fingers of blame at Christianity and the Irish Church especially in the light of the Tuam Babies scandal. There were claims that the Church had forfeited any right to moral authority because of its track record with the treatment of women. Others, including some within Irish churches, launched attacks on feminism and vigorously challenged suggestions of male privilege. Women and men within faith communities also questioned a concept of “equality” that would deny the right to life of unborn babies (including gender selective abortion). As with many issues affecting the diverse Christian community on the island of Ireland, there was very little up-to-date research available to examine the experiences of women in churches and to explore attitudes and theological perspectives on the role of women. (NB: The excellent 2017 study by Dr Anne Francis - “Called - Women in Ministry in Ireland” was an important qualitative study specifically focused on the experiences of women in Christian ministry.) When an inter-generational group of Christian women (two older leaders and four younger women in leadership) gathered to discuss some of these issues it became clear that while there was anecdotal evidence, independent research was needed to explore the Irish context in greater depth. VOX magazine had already conducted a number of surveys among the “niche” grouping of committed Christians across the spectrum of denominations

and church backgrounds in Ireland. In particular the VOX Young Adults Survey in 2015 proved extremely insightful, gathering a large number of responses from Millennials. The learning from that project shaped VOX’s determination to ensure future research was published as an on-going resource for Irish churches. Against this backdrop, VOX agreed to develop a survey on Women and the Church to explore questions such as: • Is Christianity bad news for women? • What is the experience of women in churches and Christian ministries in Ireland? • What are the attitudes of Christian men towards women? • What theological position on the role of women do people adhere to? • Why is the role of women in the church such a divisive issue? • What are the attitudes of Christian men and women to issues around rape culture, gender based violence and prostitution? • How widespread is the experience of abuse within churches and Christian ministry across the spectrum of denominations? As YWCA Ireland was about to embark on its own research journey, a strategic partnership was formed to gather and analyse the data. The VOX survey was entitled “3:28 Churches?” as a reference to Galatians 3:28 - “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Some initial findings were published in VOX magazine (issue 40) in October. This report, based on the findings of the survey conducted in July/ August 2018, shares and explores the quantitative and qualitative findings in greater detail.

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Methodology, Ethics, Analysis and Critique Methodology

An online survey was created using Survey Monkey. Questions were designed to collect both quantitative data (multiple choice questions) and qualitative data (comment boxes). Using question logic, specific sections were tailored to collect data and opinions from women and men. The questionnaire was “piloted” among men and women of different ages and from different backgrounds, adjusting the questions in the light of their feedback. The survey questions can be seen in Appendix 1. Launched online in mid July, the survey ran for one month. It was distributed through social media platforms, the VOX email mailing list and through targeted mailings to a wide range of different church and ministry leaders and to individuals in different parts of the island from different denominational and church backgrounds with encouragement to share widely. The survey gathered responses from just over 800 people from across the island of Ireland with representation from all four provinces and from every major Christian denomination and type of church. The broad cross section of ages and backgrounds of those who took part gave the opportunity to gather a great diversity of views and perspectives that were reflected in the findings.

Ethics Statement

Data Analysis

The survey was conducted by VOX magazine as an independent publication that represents the broad spectrum of Christianity on the island of Ireland. Participation in the survey was entirely voluntary and for over 18s only. Steps were taken to ensure the complete anonymity of those who participated by broadening the geographic categories to provinces (not

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counties) and by randomising data during analysis. In the light of the sensitive nature of the questions around rape culture, abuse and violence, “trigger warnings” were included both at the beginning of the survey and at the start of that section. Questions in that section were voluntary and a list of helplines / resources were included to ensure participants would be able to access help and support. Recognising the controversial nature of the different theological positions, extreme care was taken to frame the “attitudes” statements to reflect a diversity of views. These statements were deliberately and carefully chosen to give equal representation to both complementarian and egalitarian views and to allow for a range of agreement / disagreement. Significant efforts were made to share the survey link widely and among the broadest possible cross section of Christians on the island of Ireland to ensure a multiplicity of views could be expressed and this was reflected in the data that was gathered. There was a firm commitment to sharing the findings accurately and with integrity to reflect both the quantitative responses and the breadth of opinions within the qualitative data both fairly and equitably by using a data analysis protocol for the comment sections (see below).

Survey Monkey provided summary data reports on all the quantitative data and allowed comparison between men and women, different denominations, different ages and geographic locations on the island (e.g. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). When considering the qualitative data, if more than 10% of the respondents added comments, the comment data was analysed by a consultant from

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH REPORT


YWCA Ireland. To analyse the comment sections the following protocol was followed: • For each question, all comments were extracted and listed in a spreadsheet - ‘Level 1’. • Each comment was reviewed individually and all descriptive terms and keywords were extracted into a second spread sheet - ‘Level 2’ • Level 2 was then reviewed and ‘summary categories’ were created for recurring comment themes, creating a ‘Level 3’ spreadsheet. • This process resulted in a list of recurring thematic categories for the comments sections, and how frequently those categories were represented in the comments. This data was entered into a wordmap generator to visualise the comments section.

of these issues, in hindsight, the re-phrasing of some questions may have been helpful. One important point to mention is that although around 5% of responses were from people from ethnic minority communities, we received feedback that the survey failed to adequately reflect the issues that are most relevant to them and so further work is needed to learn from their experiences.

Critique

In analysing and presenting the findings, it became clear that there are a number of areas where further research is needed. Certain survey questions raised more questions that answers and the findings indicate the need for clarification. For example, the findings around abuse and in particular, emotional and spiritual abuse would most certainly require a more in-depth study to identify whether these occurrences are historic or current, the frequency of abuse and the efficacy of reporting mechanisms, protocols and responses, etc. While significant efforts were made to ensure against bias, especially in questions around theology and the role of women in churches, there appeared to be an assumption or perception of bias from a particular group of respondents, revealed in defensive comments and feedback (which like other comments are reflected in these findings). Although this is an inevitable consequence of the controversial nature

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Demographics Of the 804 people who responded to the survey 63% were women, 27% were men and 10% declined to give their gender. Ages ranged from 18 to 65+ years,

with higher representation of over 30s. Around 10% of respondents failed to complete the more in-depth sections of the survey.

30

% of Respondents

25 20 15 10 5 0

18 - 21

22 - 30

31 - 40

41 - 50

51 - 65

65+

Age Group

Figure 1: Age distribution of 804 survey respondents Geographically, the majority of respondants were from Dublin or Northern Ireland (32 and 22% respectively), 30% of respondants were distributed between Leinster and Munster and a small minority of respondants from Connaught (4%) and ROI Ulster (5%). 7% of responses were from outside the island of Ireland.

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In terms of ethnicity, the overwhelming majority of respondents described themselves as White Irish (73%) or Any Other White Background (22%). Only 5% were from other ethnic backgrounds (including Black, Asian, Irish Traveller or mixed backgrounds). A majority of respondents were married (68%) and one in five were single (19%). Of the women who took part in the survey, the majority were aged between 30 and 65 (71%) and 80% of this group were married. The overwhelming majority of respondents identified as commited Christians/followers of Jesus (88%). Generally the data was well distributed between

Vineyard Catholic

the different Christian denominations in Ireland although in this survey, there were limited responses from Catholics (5.7%) thus not fully reflecting the position of the majority denomination. There were very few responses from immigrant-led churches. The largest representation was from independent evangelical churches, followed by the Church of Ireland and Christian Churches Ireland (formerly Assemblies of God / Pentecostal). Around 5% of respondents do not attend or affiliate with any church or denomination.

Independent Evangelical Church

Independent Pentecostal Methodist

Church of Ireland

Baptist

Presbyterian Christian Churches Ireland Other

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Headline Findings

O

ne of the “stand out” findings is that a majority of women (73%) feel valued by their church and content in the contribution that they make to church life (60%). Women commented on the sense of welcome, belonging and support that they have experienced within their church community. They have a loyalty and commitment to their church and even when, at times, there are negative experiences, these were explained as the “inevitable consequences of living in an imperfect world.” However, there were still a significant number of women who shared personal experiences of sexism, exclusion and disrespect ranging from jokes and personal comments to pats on the head and blatant objectification. 61% of women have heard sexist remarks in a Christian setting and for one in five this is a regular occurrence. One of the surprising findings of the survey was in terms of theology. In broad terms, the majority of denominations and churches adhere to one of two main theological positions on the role of women: Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. In this regard, the survey demonstrated that the Complementation position is quite significantly in the minority in Ireland - 15% of all respondents and 24% of men. More than three quarters of respondents (77%) described themselves as Egalitarian with the remaining 8% expressing a variety of views between the two positions. However, when we look at what happens in practice, leadership in Irish churches remains gender specific. Overall church leadership and preaching and teaching ministries are predominantly male led (64% entirely or mostly led by men) with only a tiny percentage mostly or entirely led by women (1.2% of church leadership and 2% of preaching / teaching.) The serving or nurturing roles of hospitality and

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children’s ministry are the only areas within churches that are predominantly led by women (60%) with only a tiny percentage reporting that these are mostly led by men (1%). “Feminism” proved the most contentious subject raised in our survey. There was considerable concern and confusion about the use and meaning of the term. Many women expressed a strong desire for gender equality but shied away from being called a feminist because of the associations it brings. Even those who call themselves feminists were at pains to explain that they did not ascribe to the extremes of feminism. Comments from men were often stronger with a number condemning feminism as anti-Christian and many raising concerns about positive discrimination and “man hating”. Attitudes of men towards women and women’s involvement in the church were extremely diverse. There were strongly-held, often opposing, views around equality, masculinity and gender roles and some fears, concerns and uncertainties, prompted by the survey questions, were expressed in the comments sections. Almost 45% of men believe there is a crisis of masculinity within Irish churches. In the context of the wider society, there is considerable confusion among committed Christians when it comes to the causes of gender-based violence and abuse. While there was widespread condemnation of rape and sexual violence, many seemed unaware of how underlying systems and attitudes can contribute to the abuse of women. When asked whether there is a rape culture in Ireland, the majority (60%) of women said yes but 56% of men said no. However, both responded heavily in the comments section and 10% would have preferred a “don’t know” option. As with the wider society, there seemed confusion around the reasons why (predominantly) men sexually assault women. 58% of women and 72% of men

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH REPORT


surveyed believe that how a woman dresses influences or sometimes influences incidents of rape and sexual assault. And there were similar views expressed about drinking and drug taking (etc.). When asked about prostitution, the overhwelming majority of committed Christians believe that both the selling (78%) and purchase (80%) of sex should be illegal in Ireland. 81% believe that those participating in prostitution in Ireland do not do so voluntarily but are forced by circumstances or through coercion. In terms of the experience of abuse of our respondents, 2% of men and 9% of women have experienced sexual abuse or sexual harassment within a church or Christian organisation. This amounts to 1 out of every 15 of our respondents and according to our findings, these crimes have happened in every denomination and type of church in Ireland. 25% of women and 14% of men also reported experiencing

sexual abuse or harassment outside of a church context. In addition almost 1 in 3 people, both men and women, have experienced or personally witnessed domestic violence. And 1 in every 2 people - 51% of men and 47% of women said they have experienced emotional abuse, spiritual abuse or bullying within churches or Christian ministries. Despite the high percentages of those affected, only a small percentage of those surveyed had heard teaching or preaching in churches on what the Bible says about issues such as domestic violence or abuse. Our survey found that 81% of men and 64% of women would be comfortable reporting instances of abuse or domestic violence to their church leader, although 36% (more than one third) of women would not feel comfortable to do so.

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Faith Experience The overwhelming majority of respondents identified as commited Christians/followers of Jesus (89% of the 777 people who answered this question). This indicates that the findings are very much related to a

“niche” demographic of those within a wide spectrum of denominations and churches that take their faith seriously and see this as an important part of their lives.

Q7 How would you describe your faith experience? Committed Christian / Follower of Jesus 89% New Believer 1% Currently experiencing struggles / doubts 5% Searching / drawing closer 2% Disillusioned / moving away 2% N/A 1%

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Committed Christian / Follower of Jesus

New Believer Currently Searching experiencing / drawing struggles / closer doubts in my faith

Disillusioned N/A / moving away

Total

Q15: Male

91.78% 201

0.91% 2

3.20% 7

0.91% 2

2.74% 6

0.46% 1

30.21% 219

Q15: Female

88.74% 449

0.79% 4

5.34% 27

2.57% 13

1.78% 9

0.79% 4

69.79% 506

6

34

15

15

5

725

Total 650 Respondents

Figure 4: Comparison of faith experience

Comparing the responses from men and women revealed only small differences*. Women were slightly more likely to experience struggles/ doubts in their faith (5% women 3% men). A small percentage of both men and women said they were disillusioned or

moving away (3% men 2% women). *This comparison does not take into consideration the 10% of those surveyed who did not give their gender.

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How would you describe your experience of church? Since this exact question was also asked in VOX Magazine’s Young Adult Survey (2015), there is a valuable opportunity to compare the church experiences of men and women (broad age range) with that of younger women (18 - 35) who responded to the previous survey. The majority of men (69%), half of women and 40% of the young women reported a

80

positive experience of church. Men reported a positive experience 15% more than women and 31% more than young women. Young women (aged 18-35) were six times more likely to have an entirely negative experience of church than the men and women in our wider survey.

Men

Women

Young Women

% of Responses

60

40

20

0

Positive

Negative

Mixed

Figure 5: Gendered experience of church as reported by respondants from the 3:28 Churches? survey (men and women), with ‘Young Women’ data from the 2015 Young Adult survey (responses from 512 young women added for comparison)

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Church Involvement Most respondants are active participants in their church communities but significantly more men reported ‘contributing within my strengths and gifting’ (73%), while more women reported ‘not fully using my gifts’ (29%) or ‘passive’ involvement (6%).

80 Men

Women

% of Responses

60

40

20

0 Active and contributing within my strengths and gifting

Active but not fully using my gifts

Disaffected

Passive

Figure 6: Church involvement Hence, while 56% of women reported contributing within their strengths and giftings, a significant proportion of women are currently not finding fullfillment of their potential in their church involvement. Less than 10% of women added

comments to their response so a full comment analysis was not carried out. However the vast majority of comments identified gender roles in the church as the main limiting factor on using their gifts. A few example comments are given below.

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Table 1: Example comments from women not fully using their gifting in church involvement

THEME

QUOTE I attend from time to time but I have young children, I work full time as I have other commitments. Sometimes it feels too hard to get everyone up and out to church. Them when I get there I’m expected to get them to sit quietly and there’s no one to staff the crèche so after the struggle of getting everyone out of the house, I sit in cold hallways entertaining my kids with toys and snacks from my home.

LIFESTYLE

I know I have more to offer and willing in the future. Currently involved as best possible juggling a young family, employment outside home, studies and personal development as a young woman. I found the church no longer able to identify with single people in their late 20’s and boxed in by gender roles. Celebrating marriage and children as the attainable goals to strive toward. Excluded from ordination because I am a woman The role of women is so limited in the church…I was hopeful if change but it’s not coming so I know it’s time for me to leave.

GENDER ROLES

Not fully using my gifts because of gender roles in church setting Disillusioned with church running as a business with a pyramidal male hierarchy and only giving lip service to social and environmental issues

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The Role of Women in the Church Theology

The survey sought to explore the adherence to different theological positions on the role of women and how (or whether) these beliefs affect the leadership structures and practices of the church. The survey summarised the two most common theological positions on the role of women in the church and asked (in broad terms) which position best reflected the views and opinions of respondents with a disclaimer that it was not possible to adequately summarise a detailed theological view in one sentence!

COMPLEMENTARIAN - the belief that men and women have different but complementary roles within church life and that scripture teaches that women should not teach or take authority over men. EGALITARIAN - the belief in the equality of men and women within church life and that scripture teaches that God calls both men and women into all types of roles.

100

Men

Women

% of Responses

80 60 40 20 0

Complementarian

Egalitarian

Other

Figure 7: Gender distribution of complementarian and egalitarian beliefs among respondents

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The majority (77%) of survey respondents described themselves as Egalitarian with 15% describing themselves as Complementarian and 8% selecting “Other”. Twice as many men held complementarian beliefs than women (24% / 12%) but there were still 67% of men who described themselves as Egalitarian. Northern Irish men were the most likely to hold Complementarian views (36%). Complementarian Theology was not the majority position in any Irish Christian denomination. Respondents from Baptist (35%) and Presbyterian (31%) churches were most likely to hold Complementarian views. However, even within these denominations, this was not the majority view of

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members - 55% of Baptists and 61% of Presbyterians described themselves as Egalitarian. Considering that a number of the denominations or groups of churches represented by this survey hold a Complementarian position on women’s role in the church, this data suggests that many Christians attending church do not fully agree with (or understand?) their church’s teaching on the role of women. While the number of Catholics who participated in the survey is not representative of the percentage of Catholics in Ireland, it was interesting to note that of those who did take part, the overwhelming majority were Egalitarian (79%). Again this does not reflect the position of the institutional Roman Catholic Church.

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Complementarian - the belief that

men and women have different but complementary roles within church life and that scripture teaches that women should not teach or take authority over men.

Egalitarian - the belief in the equality of

men and women within church life and that scripture teaches that God calls both men and women into all types of roles.

Other responses

Baptist

35%

55%

10%

Catholic

5%

79%

16%

Christian Churches Ireland (formerly Assemblies of God Ireland)

7%

86%

7%

Church of God

20%

80%

0%

Church of Ireland

9%

85%

6%

Elim

0%

73%

27%

Independent Evangelical Church

19%

69%

12%

Independent Pentecostal Church

8%

80%

12%

Methodist

6%

90%

4%

Plumbline

0%

100%

0%

Presbyterian

31%

61%

8%

Redeemed Christian Church of God

14%

72%

14%

Vineyard

13%

82%

5%

No denominational affiliation

7%

93%

0%

Total Number of Respondents

106

517

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The Role of Women in Practice In contrast to the theological findings, leadership roles within Irish churches remain gender-specific.

Women

Both

Men

100 80 60 40 20

Figure 4: Gender representation of leadership role in the church. (Labels: ‘men’= entirely or mostly men, ‘women’= entirely or mostly women’)

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Outreach / evangelism

Pastoral Care

Home Groups / Small Groups

Prayer Meetings

Children’s Ministry

Hospitality

Church Leadership

Preaching

Worship Leading

0


64% of respondents said that preaching and teaching is entirely or mostly (more than 75%) led by men with less than 2% of preaching and teaching led mostly or entirely by women. Although 33% described preaching and teaching as being led by both men and women, it is unclear what is the overall percentage of women involved in preaching and teaching ministries but the findings would suggest that this is low, even in churches where this ministry is shared. Similarly, 64% of the overall church leadership roles (clergy, pastor, minister) are entirely or mostly (more than 75%) held by men in their churches with just 1.2% led entirely or mostly by women. Again, these findings suggest that even in those churches that report a shared leadership between men and women (33%), the percentage of women involved is low. Hospitality and children’s ministry are the only areas within churches that are mostly or entirely led

by women (60%) with only a tiny percentage reporting that these are mostly led by men (1%). There appears a greater degree of gender balance in the areas of leadership such as home groups, outreach, worship and pastoral care where at least 50% of Christians report seeing these led by both men and women. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that in some of these settings a married couple would co-lead (e.g. in a small group). However, 30% of prayer meetings are still entirely or mostly led by men and 22% of worship leading and pastoral care is also entirely or mostly led by men. The majority of churches (67% of the respondents) have separate ministries for men and women. These findings demonstrate that for Egalitarian churches there is a significant disconnect between stated belief and on-the-ground reality.

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Response from Dr. Anne Francis Dr Francis is a theologian and researcher and author of “Called - Women in Ministry in Ireland Report 2017.”

M

any thanks for this research, which yields really important insights into the practices and perspectives in the churches in Ireland with regard to gender. It is encouraging to see such a large cohort, which includes women and men and a balanced representation of age groups. A wide variety of questions elicited nuanced responses. This is an important study. It is encouraging to see that a majority of women feel valued by their church and content with their contribution. This indicates that church communities are doing something right with regard to women’s flourishing and that women are finding ways of making their contribution and getting along well in their churches. It is somewhat confusing then to see that 41% of women experience limitations, stereotypes and exclusion. This may particularly apply to women who wish to take on leadership roles. The Women in Ministry in Ireland report (2017) (available online at www.irishchurches.org) reflects this and identifies some of the ways women experience limitation. Sometimes these limitations are direct exclusions and often they are more subtle. I am not surprised to see that women feel disregarded, invisible, underpaid, stereotyped and ‘less than,’ in church settings. Some of these reflect the limitations and stereotypes experienced by women in the wider culture too.

I expected to see that respondents would largely be in favour of equality in the churches but would experience churches as falling short of that. I expected a small minority of people to embrace complementarian views. This timely survey indicates a lively interest in the issue of gender and church and strongly held views about the distinct roles of women and men. It is good to see that both women and men wish to avoid any risk of promoting and encouraging women to the detriment of men. In fact the overwhelming evidence across disciplines is that women’s empowerment benefits boys and men . It is possible that the belief that ‘women are fully encouraged and empowered to be all that they were created to be,’ and the fear of empowering women and girls in case men be adversely affected are not evidence–based but are rationalisations of a reluctance to promote women and girls to a stronger position in churches. Whatever the gender theology espoused by churches, all churches would say that women are called to ‘fullness of life’ (John 10:10). This call takes precedence over the various denominational difference, preferences or local traditions. It seems therefore a key question arising for

1 For example this is accepted in business and international development: Board of director diversity and firm financial performance https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8683.00011 or Women empowerment and economic development https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jel.50.4.1051

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churches from this study is: Does the theology in our church lead to cultures and practices, which demean, and undervalue women and girls and limit their access to the fullness of life promised by Jesus? Put more positively: Does the theology in our church lead to cultures and practices, which promote the discipleship of women and their fullness of life in Christ? This requires honest and robust theological reflection by church leaders, theologians and members. If the answer to the first question is ‘yes,’ this is an urgent and compelling reason for changes in both theology and practice. If the answer to the second question is ‘no,’ then even where there is no active limitation of women there is still room to consider how theology and practice can even further promote the flourishing of women and girls in the churches.

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Response from Ciaran Loughran Pastor Ciaran Loughran Th.M is a church leader and an adjunct lecturer at the Irish Bible Institute.

P

astor Ciaran Loughran Th.M. is a church leader and an adjunct lecturer at the Irish Bible Institute who responds from his own complementarian perspective. [From the findings] there seems to be good balance of roles within areas such as prayer, worship, pastoral care, outreach, and home groups. This shows a measure of health. The areas of most interest are those reflecting a considerably higher percentage discrepancy: men in the areas of preaching/teaching and church leadership and women in the areas of hospitality and children’s ministry. Firstly, hospitality and children’s ministry show much higher representation by women. There is room for men to be more involved in these areas. Regarding hospitality Paul thanked Gaius (3 John 5-6) for being hospitable to the brothers travelling ministry. Paul also points out how Diotrephes refused to be hospitable, (3 John 10). These people Paul writes about are men. The charge to teach children was central to the life of Israel. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 contains the charge to teach children in verse 7. This command is certainly for men and women. It is encouraging to see this ministry is shared between men and women in one third of churches (33% in the survey) but again, there is considerable room for men to be more involved in this area. Perhaps there is a fear of men working among children in an Irish religious context? This should lead us to great care and wisdom as we conduct children’s ministry but not for men to shrink back from involvement. Would the figures be any different if no scandals had emerged? Is this role seen as a woman’s role? We must remember the impact of a godly man

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teaching children in Sunday school is high, setting an example for young boys, and giving them role models. Men and women alike are called to this. Secondly, preaching/teaching and church leadership shows much higher representation by men. This is also of interest. Complementarian churches may need to teach with greater clarity what complementarity means. My reading of Scripture leads me to conclude men are given the high responsibility to lead the local church in the areas of preaching and leadership. These are key responsibilities of elders, bearing accountability before God for this. There are some important points to make about this. [I believe] 1 Timothy 3 (and Titus 1) exclude women from the role of eldership. However, it also excludes most men from the role. If some people feel this view is too hard because it disqualifies women they must remember: • It disqualifies most men too. • Good male leadership seeks out and listens to the voice of women. • Women are not excluded from all forms of teaching. (The husband and wife team, Pricilla and Aquila, both taught, even instructing the influential Apollos in the way of God more accurately Acts 18:24-28.) Women have many opportunities to teach in the local church with the exception of the role of elder. It is crucial we understand that Complementarianism does not mean that men are more important than women. Absolutely not.

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Genesis 1:26-27 teaches total equality between men and women. Both are made in the image of God and have equal dignity and value in their personhood. Galatians 3:28 tells us both have equal access to the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. There is no distinction in these matters. However, there is distinction in responsibilities and roles. The idea of equal personhood but distinct roles is a reflection of the nature of our triune God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are equal in nature, essence and attributes. However, each person in the trinity relates to each other and to the world in specific responsibilities and roles. This stunning diversity of the trinity and their magnificent unity in nature and purpose is reflected in creation including man and women. [From my reading of Scripture, I conclude that] in Genesis, having established the equality in personhood of man and woman, God also makes distinctions in responsibilities/roles between man and woman. Man was made first (Genesis 2:7 and 1 Timothy 2:13). Man was given (Genesis 2:16-17) given responsibility to serve woman by teaching woman the pattern given by God. Though both sinned in the garden it was man that God addressed first (Genesis 3:9), reflecting a certain order of responsibility. This concept is reflected, for example, throughout corporate business organisational structures. The buck stops somewhere, and in the structure God designed for church and family, the buck stops with Adam.

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Leadership Roles and Gender The majority of those surveyed held some kind of leadership position (81% of men and 75% of women). There was a higher representation of men in church leadership positions (clergy, minister, pastor), in NGOs, as church elders or as trustees/directors. Of the women involved in church leadership roles (clergy, minister, pastor, etc.), the overwhelming majority

(87%) were married and 13% were single. There was a higher representation of women in leadership positions such as Youth and Children’s ministry, worship leaders and in the community (e.g. sports coach, youth leader, community organisation, etc.). The most even gender distribution was in the workplace and among church deacons.

30 Men

Women

25 20 15 10 5 0

Clergy or Pastor

In an NGO

Elder

In the Trustee / workplace Director

Youth / Children’s Ministry

Worship In the Leader community

Figure 10: Leadership Roles

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Church Deacon

None


Experiences of Women The qualitative data of the comments clearly indicate a diverse, mixed experience of positives and negatives amongst Chrisitian women attending churches in Ireland, summarised in WordMap 1 with examples of typical comments in Table 2. The most common recurring category amongst women was the sense of ‘community’ they have experienced in their church or parish. These comments referred to a feeling of welcome, belonging, support and family. Often accompanying these comments was the idea that ‘nobody is perfect’. Women acknowledged that they have had negative experiencces but see this as an inevitable consequence of being involved in a community of imperfect people. Many women said they loved the church they were going to and what it brings to them. Negative comment categories were more varied.

The two largest comment categories included ‘poor leadership’ and oppressive ‘gender roles’. In comments about poor leadership, many women referred to incidences of conflict or disagreement with church leadership or criticising church leadership for treating church like a business or pushing manipulative agendas. The role of women and lack of oportunity for women was repeatedly mentioned in the comments, with several comments particularly highlightiing the exclusion of single women. There were many other recurring themes in the comments, such as about the exclusive or clique culture of Irish churches, the judgmentalism, legalism or irrelevance of church teachings in modern society, and the prevalence of hurt and frustration among Christian women in Ireland.

Wordmap 1: Summary of comment categories of women’s response to experience of church

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Table 2: Example comments for comment categories of women’s experience of church

THEME

QUOTE I have grown up in a loving accepting community of believers who I believe are living the Gospel as much as humanly possible

COMMUNITY

NOBODY’S PERFECT

I love church I love the community it’s how life is meant to be lived together but within our humanness we get things wrong and people get hurt and that’s happened to me. But God is greater I love him and still love the church. I’ve come to realise there are no perfect churches. We’re a community together and need to be flexible at times as it’s often personal preference not substance Mostly positive. people are messy & so sometimes Church tends to be messy too.

POOR LEADERSHIP

Have been disappointed in the past by bad behaviour of church members and leadership, behaviour that you would not expect anywhere especially in the church. Also disappointed by attitudes of leadership to women in leadership and women’s issues. I’ve had great church experience, but also have experienced spiritual abuse and have been hurt by many CEO-type “pastors” Being treated ‘less than’ because of being female, and people using scripture to ‘prove’ this position is awful.

GENDER ROLES

I am a very committed Christian who finds the church’s teaching around women has had a negative effect on my experience of Church. Women (particularly single women) are marginalised.

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Women and the Church Female respondents were asked how much they agree or disagree with a series of statements about gender in church. These responses gave a clear indication that women are having a wide diversity of experiences in the church in Ireland. An overwhelming majority of women (74%) agreed with the statement, “My church values my gifts, educational achievements and experience.” 11% disagreed with a further 15% who were unsure or on the fence. 60% of women agreed with the statement, “I feel fulfilled and content in the contribution I make to church life.” However 22% of women disagreed or strongly disagreed with another 17% unsure or one the fence. Opinion was divided almost 50/50 over as to whether there are limits to what respondents are permitted to do in church (41% agreed, 43% disagree

with 15% unsure or on the fence). Similarly half of women agreed and half of women disagreed that the women who minister in their churches are usually married suggesting that there are different experiences between single and married women and between different churches. 75% of women do not prefer a male Bible teacher/preacher. Overall, these results are in stark contrast to the findings of the Youth Adults Survey where young Christian women repeatedly referred to negative or mixed feelings about their church involvement. The fact that the majority of women responding to the survey are actively involved in church, are married and are mostly aged 31-65+ would suggest that older, married women are more likely to have a positive experience of church than young women.

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Strongly Agree

Agree

Unsure

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

My church values my gifts, educational achievements and experience There are limits to what I am permitted to do in church I feel fulfilled and content in the contribution I make to church life I prefer a male Bible teacher / preacher Women have no opportunity to grow in their leadership or preaching/teaching gifts in my church The women who minister in my church are usually married Single women are valued members of our church leadership team

0

20

40

60

% of Responses

Figure 11: The agreement or disagreement of women to statements about the church

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100


The comment section clearly reflects the diversity of perspectives and experiences of Christian women in Ireland, with many comments directly contradicting each other. By far the most common comment theme was in relation to the inclusion or exclusion of single women in the church (see Wordmap 2). Some commenters felt that single women were marginalised and excluded from church, that marriage was perceived as qualifying a woman to lead and that church members and leaders didn’t know what to do with its single members. Others believed that single women were fully included in their church, and even had more opportunities because of a perception that their lifestyle was more compatible with volunteering.

There were also comments that single people were either absent or unavailable to commit in church communities. This was supplemented by more general comments about the exclusion or inclusion of women. Similarly, some commenters felt women were fully included in all aspects of church life, while others equally strongly felt they were not. Within the comments there were clearly many women who felt their gender did not in any way inhibit their leadership potential, while others strongly believed their gender and/or marital status placed them at a disadvantage and restricted their opportunities. For examples of typical comments in these themes, see Table 3.

Wordmap 2: Summary of comments made in response to series of statements about women’s involvement in the Church.

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Table 3: Example comments for the recurring themes highlighted in the WordMap

THEME

SINGLES EXCLUDED

SINGLES INCLUDED

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QUOTE As a woman who is single and in her 40s I have experienced many examples of being overlooked for ministry…. there seems to be a thing where if someone gets married they’re automatically considered more capable of ministry Singles in general not included in leadership positions as well as married women I am a single woman and I feel valued in my role as a youth leader and Sunday school teacher. My ideas and opinions are appreciated and encouraged. I would argue that single women (such as myself) have more of a pathway to explore different areas of church service than married women

WOMEN EXCLUDED

Women are not really valued in my church. If they’re in leadership but not connected to the two main families within the church, then they are constantly undermined and overshadowed.

WOMEN INCLUDED

My gender and my marital status have never prevented me from contributing to my church community and being heard.

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Sexism within the church Women were asked about how frequently they experienced a series of scenarios that would typify sexist behaviour. The results were mixed, with a significant proportion of women reporting never experiencing some of the scenarios listed. Some of the results were encouraging, such as 65% of women reporting that their ideas and suggestions are constantly or regularly welcome in the church. 61% of women reporting hearing sexist jokes and comments in a Christian setting and for one in five this is a regular occurrence. Similarly, around 60%

have experienced being interrupted by male peers or agreed that their ideas are more likely to be accepted if presented by a man. A significant percentage (40%) of women have experienced mansplaining at least sometimes in the church or have felt crushed or diminished in meetings. While no one would say that sexist jokes or comments (whether directed at women or men) are acceptable in a church context, yet these remain part of church life. Does this reflect the church culture or the culture in which a church resides - or both?

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Constantly

Regularly

Sometimes

Never

I am interrupted by my male peers My ideas and suggestions are welcome If an idea I have already suggested is presented by a man, it is more likely to be accepted I feel crushed or diminished in meetings Men without my expertise try to “explain” what I have said (“mansplaining). I have heard sexist jokes or comments in a Christian setting I have heard women referred to in ways that highlight their physical attributes 0

20

40

60

Figure 12: Frequency of Women’s experience of sexism within the church

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100


69 women chose to elaborate on their responses to this series of statements. The key recurring themes in their comments are highlighted in Wordmap 3 and Table 4. By far the most common comment category was ‘women too’, where respondents reported that negative behaviours such as sexist jokes, interrupting and shooting down of ideas, are just as prevalent and prohibiting among women as they are among men. Many commenters also shared experiences of ‘sexist remarks’ and wished to clarify that, rather than having experienced sexist jokes or references to physical attributes, women have come up against comments and remarks about being ‘too emotional’, a ‘feminist’ or other examples that don’t fall into

the categories of the statements provided (jokes and physical attributes). With regards to comments about ‘physical attributes’, a number of commenters referred to their discomfort in how pastors talked about their ‘hot’ wives, and the repeated objectification and sense of ownership in these types of statements. Other commenters clarified that, while they feel restricted and discriminated against because of their gender, this is a result of church structures and policies, and not as a result of the attitudes or behaviours they have experienced from individual men.

Wordmap 3: Recurring comment themes in Christian women’s response to sexist behaviour statements

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Table 4: Example comments from the key recurring themes from women’s responses to a series of statements on sexist behaviour

THEME

QUOTE I’m often interrupted by female peers too

WOMEN TOO

In my current church I generally feel more diminished by other women then by men I’ve heard far more women making ‘hot’ or 10/10 type comments about men then men making them about women.

SEXIST REMARKS

I was in meetings regularly where jokes were shared by male senior leaders about women not their physical looks but jokes and slagging about “difficult” female leaders and “feminists” pushing their agenda Not ‘hot’ but emotional, time of month/life, empty-nester, spinster etc. I was told by an elder that all I had to do on a mission team was I flutter my eyelashes to “convert” men

PASTOR’S WIFE

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In relation to women being described as “hot”, this has primarily been by pastors bragging about their wives (who happen to have many other desirable qualities that their husbands don’t mention...) and I actually find it demeaning. So many times I’ve been in churches where the male pastor has opened with statements like my hot wife. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.

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Real Women Real Stories An opportunity was given for women to share a story that sums up their experience of church and gender. 86 of the 506 women shared stories of their experiences of church. Again, these stories reflect a diversity of experiences and perspectives among Christian women in Ireland. The majority of stories highlight negative experiences, however, it is important to note from the evidence of previous questions that many of the Christian women surveyed reported positive experiences of church. It is likely that negative

experiences are more memorable and respondants are more likely to share them. Hence the responses disproportionately capture the negative aspects of women’s experience of church. Since this was an open question, it was not possible to analyse the stories for common recurring themes without oversimplifying and possibly biasing their meaning. Therefore a representative number of stories have been selected. The remaining stories are available in Appendix 2.

Table 5: A sampling of stories shared by Chrisitian women that sums up their experience of church

I found it hard to get a permanent role because I was female- when probed they admitted it was because they thought I would go on maternity leave so wanted to make sure the role had someone consistently in it. I have also been told “before you accept this role- we need you here for the full 3 years so if you are thinking of starting a family you may need to re think” My current role is permanent and the staff team is 50/50 so this isn’t an issue I have only ever been encouraged and included in church leadership and teaching. I’ve never felt excluded or undermined because of my gender A man took over my job without

asking me because I was pregnant. When I confronted him he told me “you are tired and stressed and pregnant. You needed help.” In another meeting when I voiced how I was upset about how the man (in story above) treated me I was told to not let my hormones get the better of me and that being pregnant was not an excuse for me to be upset. My opinion and feelings were belittled and downplayed to “it’s just hormones from your pregnancy” As a young, single female, I am usually overshadowed in my leadership, despite having worked in ministry for the past 3 years. My suggestions are usually “listened to” but sometimes not followed up

on, until someone else suggests the same thing. I do think it’s subconscious on behalf of the church, but still happens all the same. The experience I have as a female in Church is positive. The other members of the congregation respect me and any ideas or decisions I have. I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative experience because of my gender. If ever my ideas have been pushed aside it’s because of my age. I come from a church that truly values women and have not had any incident that has devalued or diminished the role the Lord has given me in the ministry or church I have worked in. Men and Women have been treated equally

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and it has been a very healthy environment where both men and women preach, lead worship and give pastoral care for each other. We are not a perfect church by any means but we are able to voice our issues and seem to conflict constructively in prayer and reconciliation. I feel very blessed by my church community. Although I’m in a church, which allows women preachers, I rarely get ministered to by one. I regularly get called to make sandwiches/traybakes for events but never my husband. It’s still mother and toddlers not parent and toddlers. I am still frowned at when my children make noise in church, despite the fact that if I leave with them I miss church entirely. All female oriented sermons seem to be based around the home and children. The council posts are all male. The lay preachers are majority male. Communion is administered by males. I have a PhD, I’m a mother, I’m a senior manager in a company and I’ve been a committed Christian all my life. I’m more qualified and in a more senior position in work than most of the males in the church.

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But the female-led teaching I receive is mostly based towards the servitude, sandwiches and children. God gave me talents that are useful in the church but I am counted as bossy or annoying when I try to ask for something different. It’s very frustrating. As a single/divorced woman I feel a bit left out or ‘abnormal’ at times. I find it a bit more difficult to make friends. Often preachers will make comments that assume everyone is married. There have even been occasions (including a women’s conference and an Easter service) where the preacher (one male, one female) have assumed we could all go home and have sex. There are women’s meetings announced where they say ‘men, make sure you are doing the babysitting so your wives can get to the meetings.’ I’m often the youngest person in the room & often the only female, which I sometimes find intimidating. I’ve often had older men in meetings not look me in the eye or address me directly when other men are present whom they address by name & make eye contact

with. I sometimes feel unseen &/ or unheard. I have also heard comments about nagging wives when in meetings with all men. Or comments of ‘my wife made me’. In a previous fellowship years ago. I did find it very male chauvinistic. But my current church is “woman friendly”. However since recently been widowed. I do feel the difference. Perhaps it’s just my readjustment to being single again but. I’m beginning to think it’s harder being single in the church. I think there are more opportunities when married just because they ‘ride’ on the back of your husband’s gifts. As a single I think you will have to stand out more before being recognised in your gifting. When I first joined the church, I was married. The marriage did not work out and when I ended it, I got zero support; in fact some people shunned me, because I wouldn’t stay in an abusive marriage. I stepped away from church for 3 years and only went back because God told me to! It’s been difficult to say the least. I still feel judged because I’m divorced.

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Christian Women and Feminism We asked “Do you describe yourself as a feminist?” 55% of Christian women said “No” while 45% of Christian women said “Yes”. Given that more than 1 in 4 women chose to comment additional details, it is clear that the lack of clarity and diverse perspectives of the word ‘feminist’ is as big, if not a bigger, obstacle to its use in the gender equality conversation in the church as in society in general. Many women who said they where a feminist in the technical sense that they believed in equal opportunity for all genders, commented to elaborate that there are still many political positions and social opinions associated with ‘feminism’ that they do not ascribe to. Similarly, many women who said they are not feminist, clarified in the comment section that they do believe in gender equality but do not affiliate themselves with the wider behaviour and politics of ‘feminism’. Hence the largest comment category is the label Gender Equality. This label represents women commenting that they do believe in equality for men and women, but then went on to clarify how that belief relates to their personal identification with ‘feminist’ (WordMap 4). In almost equal frequency, the four main clarifications as to how christian women don’t fully identify as feminist were ‘equal but different’, ‘negative connotations’ with the word feminist, rejecting ‘man hating’ and concern about the more ‘radical’ forms of feminism. Equal but different comments discussed the difference between gender equity and gender equality, suggesting that feminism is almost anti-women as it pushes the feminine gender towards behaving like a man to suceed. These comments also included discussion about feminism being anti-family and anti-moms. The ‘Negative connotations’ label referred mostly to comments that said they agreed with feminism in principle (i.e. gender equality) but are hestiant to

associate with that word because of all of the negative connotations it has accumulated, particularly in recent times and repeatedly in relation to abortion. ‘Man hating’ comments referred to feminism going too far and true gender equality being equal respect and space for both genders. Many women felt that third wave feminism had become about man bashing, and while they believed in gender equality in general, and specifically within the church, they do not condone what they percieve as unloving behaviour towards the opposite gender. The ‘Radical’ label refers to comments that felt feminism was too extreme for them to identify with as it had become ‘militant’. So while commenters agreed with the overall aim of gender equality, the majority did not aprove of the methods they were witnessing in the feminist movement. Christianity and God in relation to feminism was mentioned in three key ways; ‘Christian’, ‘Christian first’ and ‘unchristian’. ‘Christian’ comments refer to women who said Jesus exemplifies feminist values in his treatment of women and their Chrisitian worldview is a primary justification for subscribing to the feminist ethos. ‘Christian first’ comments refer to women who said they did identify as a feminist because of their belief in gender equality, but they felt feminism had almost become a religion in and of itself, and from an identity perspective wanted to clarify that God still took absolute priority in their life. Their selective support and engagement with aspects of feminism would be determined by that priority. ‘Unchristian’ refers to comments that believed one cannot be a feminist and a Christian because the two ideologies are directly opposed. These comments often referred to ‘equal but different’ and felt feminism undermined their Complementarian theological position.

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Wordmap 4

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Table 6 Example comments from Christian women asked if they identify as a feminist

THEME GENDER EQUALITY

QUOTE By which I mean I believe men and women ought to be treated as equals. I believe that men and women are equal, i.e. as important and valuable as each other I cannot tolerate injustice or abuse of women but believe women should enjoy their femininity as equal but different from men

EQUAL BUT DIFFERENT

Not by today’s standard as that’s a whole different league altogether. I see men and women as equal but different. Valued and unique in Christ’s eyes. I believe in equality in value but we complement each other not compete for equal status. Men and women have different characters and gifts etc. Both should be equally valued

NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS

I’m unsure as in my mind a feminist has negative connotations. I know it means to fight for equality but in society it comes at times with male bashing. I’m all for equal rights After the abortion referendum I feel that I couldn’t openly call myself a feminist as its being narrowly defined. I have seen feminism as man bashing. Instead I would like to see the Church celebrate and develop all the gifts that God has given, to both women and men.

MAN HATING

I am feminist in that I am pro women, but I am pro men also I think feminism is often anti-men and anti-family I don’t agree with the anger behind issues...

RADICAL

I would consider myself pro woman but the environment I work in is quite militant feminists and they would be v dismissive of some of my views Not feminist in the current, radical perspective, but feminist in that I believe men and women have different strengths and weaknesses that should be acknowledged neither is ‘better’, but team works best.

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Attitudes of Men towards Women in the Church

C

hristian men were given a series of different statements (designed to reflect a range of views) about the role of women and about issues around masculinity and femininity in churches. 3 out of 4 Christian men agree or strongly agreed with the statement “I believe my church fully encourages and empowers women to be all they were created to be”. This is a strong statement and caused some degree of surprise. Does such overwhleming agreement with this statement indicate the belief (among men) that women are “created” for the predominantly serving and nurturing roles that they currently hold within the church or a lack of concern for the empowerment of women? In seeming contradiction, 72% say they would like to see more women in active leadership or teaching roles within churches. 71% disagree or strongly disagree that moves for greater equality of women within churches are unbiblical with just 15% agreeing with this statement.

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Nearly 30% of men polled said they would be uncomfortable to come under the authority of a female minister and 10% were ‘on the fence.’ I think ‘on the fence’ indicates a level of discomfort so this statistic indicates that nearly 40% of men feel this way. Female ministers who participated in the Women in Ministry in Ireland study (2017) observed that many men felt reluctant to accept the leadership and ministry of women until they had experienced it personally and this frequently led to a change in their views. The majority of Christian men (62%) think the church needs to do more to attract men, and almost half (44%) believe there is an ongoing crisis of masculinity within the church. Similarly 31% expressed concern about the “feminisation” of Christianity with a further 25% unsure or on the fence.

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Figure 13: Attitudes of Men

Strongly Agree

Agree

Unsure

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

I would like to see more women in active leadership or teaching roles within churches I’m concerned about the feminisation* of Christianity (*the idea that our forms of worship appeal more to women than to men) I would be uncomfortable (either personally or theologically) to come under the authority/ leadership of a woman minister. I believe my church fully encourages and empowers women to be all they were created to be I think there is a crisis of masculinity within our churches Our church has invited women to get more involved but they said “no” I think our churches need to do much more to attract men Moves for greater equality of women in churches are unbiblical

0

20

40

60

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42 of the 205 respondents chose to comment, indicating strong opinions in this area and a keenness to clarify their perspectives and perceptions represented in the multiple-choice option. There were a few recurring themes in the comments:

Wordmap 5

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Equal but different

There were several comments with a strong Complementarian message that was sometimes toned with frustration. The key message of these comments can be summarised in ‘equal but different’. There was an understanding of there being clear biblical direction for the role of women. There was also palpable frustration with gender equality rhetoric and a consensus among these commentators that the definition of equality had become corrupted by secular society. The ‘equality movement’ was referred to by some as a form of threat or persecution.

Secular Influence

Another key comment category closely tied and embedded in ‘equal but different’ comments was the recurring statement of threat from secular culture and a corrupt branding of equality. In this context, the word ‘biblical’ was used frequently and the importance that the Church is informed by theology, not society. In some comments, gender equality rhetoric was perceived as an experience of persecution.

‘Positive’ discrimination

Several commenters referred to the risk of giving someone a leadership position on the basis of gender rather than calling or gifts. This was mostly discussed

in the context of putting women in positions they are not capable of or not called to due to the pressures of gender equality. However one comment also referred to the problems of men obtaining leadership positions based on their gender instead of qualification. ‘Positive’ discrimination towards women was also seen as ‘anti-male.’

Support Women

A smaller number of Egalitarian comments raised the idea of misogyny being hiding in conservative theology, the need to equip women to lead and the need for more female role models.

Men and Church

There was some consensus among both Egalitarian and Complementarian commenters that male gender expectations both in church or society are not biblical and that this is having negative consequences for the male experience.

Survey

A few comments were in relation to the survey itself, rather than gender perspectives. These commenters found some statements provocative and possibly even offensive. There was a defensive tone in some comments where the question phrasing was interpreted as biased.

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Table 7: Quote examples for comment categories male Christians about their perspectives on gender issues

THEME EQUAL BUT DIFFERENT

QUOTE There should be equality of status, but not necessarily of roles. Equality of opportunity to do all that women are called and mandated to do yes! But not to do what God says only men should be doing. We need to understand better the biblical perspective on gender roles and what we mean by ‘equality’.

BIBLICAL ROLES

I think that references to masculinity and femininity are profoundly shaped (for better and for worse) by the culture that we live in so any arguments about masculinity and femininity in the church are automatically warped because more often than not they are not working from a biblical perspective. Women having authority over men is not biblical They’re (is) a strong “equality” agenda at play in society, which is misguided.

SECULAR INFLUENCE

MALE IDENTITY

SUPPORT WOMEN

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I fear that the church is continually being blown by the winds of culture on these issues rather than submitting to how God created us to be. I see the church following behind the world’s agenda, and taking its example from worldly perspectives. Women and gay issues are examples where the church feels under pressure to conform to the world’s views, or face persecution, or dropping attendance I think the predominate view of what is masculine--physically strong, nonemotional, virile, etc.—is Biblically incorrect. I don’t think the crisis of masculinity is unique to churches; it’s in society in general. I think a large part of what we are missing is high profile “successful” female role models in leadership and platform ministry for our young women to aspire towards and to fuel their dreams and self-belief

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Male perspectives on sexism, abuse and feminism Christian men were given a series of statements in relation their views on sexism, abuse, exclusion and feminism. Once again the results reflected a diversity of views among Irish Christian men, with most statements split aproximately halfway between agreement and disagreement. The most uncertainty among Christian men (‘unsure’ answer) was on the issues of feminism, #Metoo and whether women in Irish churches are experiencing sexist attitudes and exclusion.

A significant proportion of men were concerned about the rise of feminism and this was reflected in the comment section. As with the responses from women, for a number of men the term “feminism” and the language of gender equality appears to be associated with a secular worldview. 53% of men agreed that they have heard men making sexist comments or jokes in a Christian settings. This affirms the experience of 60% of women.

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Strongly Agree

Agree

Unsure

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

I think the #MeToo movement went too far

Women in Irish churches are experiencing sexist attitudes and exclusion

I have never encountered a case of domestic violence or abuse against a woman within my church

I have heard men making sexist comments or jokes in Christian settings

I’m concerned about the rise of feminism

0

20

40

60

Figure 14: Male perspectives on sexism, abuse and feminism

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80

100


35 out of 206 men responded with comments in this section. Similar to the previous question, most of the comments shared appeared to be from a Complementarian perspective. There were also several comments summarised in the category ‘don’t know’, where respondents felt they weren’t familiar enough with the subject to answer the survey questions.

Other high-ranking comment categories were around the themes of ‘it depends’ and it’s a ‘balance’. These three comment themes suggest that there are many Christian men that are a bit caught in between on issues of feminism. There were several recurring themes, summarised in the word cloud below.

Wordmap 6

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Anti-male

Several comments felt that the issues listed in the statements were part of a feminist rhetoric that discriminates against men. These commenters felt that feminism expression promotes an ideology that claims men are either redundant / unnecessary in society or generalises that all men are guilty of oppressing and/or abusing women.

Depends

Many commentators felt their views couldn’t be summarised in the multiple-choice answers, because feminism itself encompasses a wide diversity of expressions. They highlighted some ideas and expressions of feminism as very positive, and other as more extreme and negative.

In some cases this balance was in the context of between secular and church society, in other cases comments referred to having a balanced approach to gender equality, taking on some aspects of #metoo and feminism, but not fully committing to some other aspects espoused by militant feminism (e.g. such as abortion).

Women too

Similar to the responses from women, men highlighted sexist comments and jokes being made by Christian women towards men. This survey did not specifically gather data on the experiences of Christian men of sexism or objectification, but given the prevalence of this ‘women too’ tag throughout the comments from Christian men and women, that could be an interesting future research priority.

Balance

On the issue of aspects of women’s rights going ‘too far’, commenters suggested the need for a balance.

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Attitudes and Experiences around Violence and Abuse In the context of the wider society, there is considerable confusion among committed Christians when it comes to the causes of gender-based violence and abuse. While in the survey responses there was widespread condemnation of rape and sexual violence, many seemed unaware of how underlying systems and attitudes can contribute to the abuse of women.

Rape Culture

Definition: Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused

in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. The majority of Christian women (60%) believe (according to our definition) that there is a rape culture in Ireland, while the majority of Christian men (56%) believe there is not. However, this question proved provocative and emotive with extensive participation in the comment sections (31% of men and 25% of women added comments).

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Figure 15: Do you think there is a Rape Culture in Ireland? Comparison of responses from men and women.

60

50

40

30

20

10

0 Yes (Men)

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No (Men)

Yes (Women)

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No (Women)


A general consensus emerged that individuals felt that their views were not accurately expressed by a yes or no answer. The most common comment themes were reporting that they ‘don’t know’ if there is a rape culture, or that their opinion lies ‘in between’ yes and no. Some expressed objections to the concept of

“rape culture” in Ireland and two disagreed with our definition. Others commented about why they believe there is a rape culture in Ireland and referred to the role of pornograpy, lad culture, the media and alcohol. Several people mentioned the Belfast Rape Trial as an example of rape culture at work.

Word Map 7

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Do you think how a woman dresses influences incidents of rape and sexual assault? 58% of women and 72% of men believe that how a woman dresses influences or sometimes influences incidents of rape and sexual assault. Significantly more

men believe it is a relevant factor than women (Figure 14).

Men

Women

50

40

30

20

10

0 Yes

Sometimes

No

Figure 16: Influence of dress on incidents of rape and sexual assualt

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Additional comments from men and women were very similar in theme, and so Wordmap8 and Table8 represent the responses from both genders. The consistency and low number of comment themes shows remarkable cohesiveness in the views of Christians from different denominations and locations on this matter. By far the biggest clarifying comment was ‘not an excuse’. Participants did not want to be misinterpreted when they selected ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’. While they believed dress might influence the occurrence or selection of assault, they did not in any way condone that as an excuse, nor did they blame the victim (‘not her fault’ comments). It is important to emphasise, therefore, that while many Christians believe dress may influence assault, the majority do not think this undermines the severity or perpetrator’s responsibility. Yet other comments demonstrate a misunderstanding of why rape occurs and why (predominantly) men rape and commit sexual assault. As with the wider society, there was tendency towards victim blaming and an absolution of men, particularly by Christian women. ‘Inviting attention’ was a common theme in the comments. These comments were less consistent in

content but generally referred to dress being a factor in who gets assaulted, the idea that one might be interpreted as ‘advertising’ or ‘easy’ based on their clothing, and often that modest dress is a wise choice for safety. ‘Men are visual’ was one of the most common comments amongst female respondents although male respondents did not mention this. Repeatedly women commented along the lines of unfortunately men’s desire is visually founded and therefore dress is a relevant component of assaults. As men did not reflect this in comments, the question arises as to why so many Christian women see this as a contributing factor in rape and sexual assault. Two other smaller comment categories appear contradictory. The vast majority of commentators were those who said ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’, but a few who said no, clarified with the comment label ‘irrelevant’. They elaborated that assaults are an act of violence motivated by aggression and control, not desire. In direct contradiction, the comment label ‘naïve to think otherwise’ refers to comments that said of course it is a factor (usually justified with ‘but not an excuse’), and that ignoring that reality could increase a woman’s risk of assault.

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WordMap8

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Table 8: Example comments from Christians on the influence of dress on incidents of assault

THEME

QUOTE I think there are outfits that can make women appear as targets, but the cause of the rape is always the rapist and never the clothes.

NOT AN EXCUSE

But I don’t think it can ever be used as a mitigating factor or an excuse But I’m NOT saying it makes it ok! Can’t stress that enough Although it happens sometimes, doesn’t make it right. I definitely think if women dress provocatively it can send a wrong message

INVITING ATTENTION

I don’t think that the way a women dresses is the CAUSE of rape (she’s not responsible for another person’s behaviour)...however, but let’s be honest here, if a women doesn’t respect herself enough to dress in a way that doesn’t invite unwanted attention (boobs practically hanging out, etc.), it sends a message about herself that may not be true (that she WANTS to be looked at, that she’s “easy”) There’s a reason prostitutes dress the way the do- it sends the message, “looking for biz”. Women who respect themselves really need to analyse the messages they are sending by the way they dress.... leave SOMETHING to the imagination. I know that is very politically incorrect to say, but I feel like some women send out messages by what they wear and how act. Dress when on a night out in Dublin now is highly a form of sexual display, which can give a signal of being available for sex. This could influence rape. But never excuses any assault.

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MEN ARE VISUAL

I don’t know the statistics of rape and sexual assault, but I understand that men are more visually stimulated than women. If this understanding is true, then I presume that a rapist, who may not have had rape on his mind on a particular day, may see a scantily clad woman and decide to rape her without premeditation. But I am only guessing this rather than being able to state it as a fact. I think many women do not understand how a man is sexually triggered by sight whereas a woman is more triggered by touch. I’ve seen the difference between European countries where prostitution is legal. Females there will dress much more conservatively than NI. Especially young girls going to night clubs here would dress similar to what you would see as girls in Europe who are dressed for prostitution. Girls need to be educated more on these things. I think my answer is politically incorrect but it’s common sense not to have too much body on show, as men are so visually aroused Men are always wholly responsible for what they do. Having said that, women should appreciate that immodest dress is a source of temptation.

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Do you think if a woman has been drinking/taking drugs/attending a party that this should be taken into consideration during a trial for rape? The majority of Christian women (63%) believe drinking, taking drugs or attending a party should not be taken into consideration during a trial for rape, while the majority of Christian men (57%) believe that it should be considered at least sometimes.

80

Men

Women

60

40

20

0 Yes

No

Sometimes

Figure 17: Should drinking, drugs, party going be taking into consideration in a rape trial?

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Again, the comments of men and women were very similar thematically and so are combined in the Wordmap 9 below. Again, not an excuse was re-emphasised by those who thought it should be taken into account. The key discussion points were ‘clarity of consent’, ‘vulnerable by choice’ and ‘judgement impaired’. ‘Clarity of consent’ and, often connected to it, comments about clarity of ‘memory’ were the main suggestions as to why drugs and alcohol intake were a relevant consideration to investigations. The majority of ‘vulnerable by choice’ and ‘judgement impaired’

comments in no way suggested that the ‘choice’ of vulnerability and impaired judgement in any way added to the victims responsibility for what happened, or took away from the perpetrators. These points were made more speculatively, primarily in relation to the general problems of Irish drinking and drug taking culture. Many commentators also said it ‘depends’, that they’d need more ‘context’ or they were ‘unsure’, suggesting the question was very broad and raised many considerations that couldn’t be answered easily.

Wordmap 9

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Table 9: Example comments from Christians asked about the influence of alcohol/ drugs/ partying on incidences of assault

THEME

QUOTE No means no. No will always mean No! But it can be construed differently when drink and drugs are involved Yes to ascertain whether consent was given.

CLARITY OF CONSENT

I can imagine that issues of consent get clouded if both parties heavily under influence of drink/drugs All circumstances should be taken into account, and consent is often unclear, and drugs/alcohol make that even more unclear. No means no. But when women lead and change minds later they put themselves at risk.

IMPAIRED JUDGEMENT

Her judgement could be impaired while drunk or high. However a man should not take advantage of that. When heavy alcohol and drug use/abuse is involved both sexes can make extremely poor choices Well this is risky behaviour i.e. anyone who is taking drugs or drinking is knowingly putting themselves at risk of many things. I still don’t think it should be an excuse for rape.

VULNERABLE BY CHOICE

Women should be aware of what drinking etc. can lead to in certain places. Each person is responsible for getting themselves drunk, knowing that they leave themselves in a vulnerable position. While this is not an excuse for anyone to attack her, she leaves herself more vulnerable and cannot be in control of her responses

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Do you think movies like “50 shades of grey” empower women and young girls?

Yes

No

Figure 18: Graph Yes 5% No 95%

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Word map 10

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Over one in three respondents commented in response to the question, ‘Do you think movies like ’50 shades of grey’ empower women and young girls?’. The comments were diverse and not as consistent in content as some of the other questions analysed. The most recurring comment by those who said they had not seen the movie and therefore didn’t know, were unsure, had no opinion, or based their opinion on what they’d heard or read about the movie. There were many comments that said movies like these promote unhealthy relationship dynamics, with concerns about objectification, control, manipulation, violence and romanticising or normalising abuse. A few comments contrasted the negative relationship this film portrays to God’s plan for an individual’s worth and God’s design and intention for sex and relationships. Some of the comments demonstrated an

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awareness of root causes of gender-based violence such a patriarchy, power and control. But this same understanding did not transfer to other questions (e.g. around dress, drinking, etc.). As a large number of articles and blogs were circulated at the time that 50 Shades of Grey came out, it would appear that this influenced the thinking of some Christians. Some commenters discussed coercion, unrealistic expectations and putting disproportionate pressure and emphasis on sex in relationships thus creating a distorted view. Consent was discussed in two ways. A few commenters felt that if consent was clearly communicated, it was the couple’s private business and that they had no right to comment t. Others felt consent can be undermined and manipulated and absent in relationships like the one depicted in the movie.

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Table 10: Example comments

THEME

QUOTE I have never seen it or read it so cannot backup my opinion

HAVEN’T SEEN IT

Didn’t see the film, so opinion only on hearsay! Hard to answer. I know what the film is about but I’ve never actually watched it. It’s just another distorted view of sex.

DISTORTED VIEW OF SEX

It’s a wrong view of sex- not one of true love It distorts what sex is. I don’t think it promotes healthy relationships or gender roles.

UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

GOD’S PLAN

It glamorises and encourages male sexual dominance. It also creates a very unhealthy view of what a loving sexual relationship should look like. I think they teach that unhealthy relationships involving manipulation, power games and borderline stalking are ok. They teach women that you should force yourself to be ok with things you aren’t comfortable with just to please a man. Pornographic material (even in novel/film form) never empowers women. They cannot, because they are so far removed from God’s plan for marriage and sexuality in which the man is continually laying his life down for his wife and the woman is continually choosing to be life-giving and supportive. I hate how the phrase “ezer kenegdo” has been translated as “help meet” in English. That phrase, apart from when it refers to Eve in Genesis, always refers to God as the One who is strong, powerful, and without Whom we could not survive, never mind live. It is a majestic term. Those movies do not exhibit God’s design for relationships and sex.

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Response by Craig Barlow Craig Barlow is an Independent Consultant in Forensic Social Work and a Criminologist. He is an expert in violence and sexual violence, and the trafficking and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults. He regularly acts as an expert witness in court, is an expert adviser to the prosecution in cases of modern slavery and sexual violence, and is a consultant to the Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

M

any of the attitudes expressed within this survey are typically found among the general population and are informed by a range of false assumptions about rape, rapists and survivors. They constitute enduring and pervasive rape myths. Consistent with common rape myths, many of the views offered by the research participants situate the responsibility with the victim with the caveat that her behaviour is no excuse for the rapist. There is also an implicit assumption in many of the responses that women who have been raped were attacked by strangers. The fact is only around 10% of rapes are perpetrated by strangers. Last year, an evaluation of Rape Crisis Advocacy services for Glasgow found that 23% of the women attending rape crisis had been raped by an intimate partner or ex-partner, 24% were assaulted by a family member and 44% were assaulted by another person known to them. The responses to the research also indicate assumptions about men who rape. One is that male sexual arousal is uncontrollable and helplessly triggered by visual stimuli. Obviously, this is not consistent with the relationship patterns between the target of the assault and the motivated perpetrator represented in the figures above. Rape is not a simple matter of sexual arousal; it is symptomatic of some form of transient or enduring dysfunction in the rapist. It is an act of

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violence in which sex is the weapon. The gratification is less sexual than it is emotional as a means of asserting or reassuring his masculinity, as an expression of anger, resentment, revenge or as an outlet for sadistic urges that seek to demean or humiliate the victim. Rape results from a fusion of anger and sexuality on the part of the perpetrator. The attitudes in this survey all state that rape is wrong and there is no excuse but this assertion is a caveat to preceding statements that offer mitigation through the perpetuation of victim blaming myths. These are an obvious barrier to women coming forward. Perpetrators adopt the same myths as posthoc rationalisations for their violent behaviour. Myths are used to justify or minimise the severity of their actions, to deflect blame or feelings of guilt onto the victim. Having interviewed hundreds of sex offenders over 30 years of practice, I have heard many of the statements recorded in this survey being offered in mitigation by the rapists themselves. Is there a “rape culture”? I’m not sure what that might mean but our social tendency towards victim blaming still exists and that is a collusion with men who rape and contributes to an environment that is conducive to patterns of sexual violence and denial of victims.

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Experiences of Violence and Abuse While this study was focused on the experiences of women and attitudes towards women, we recognise both men and women can be affected by violence and abuse and therefore this section was open to both to participate. Trigger warnings were included and answers were optional. Despite this, over 650 people opted to answer these questions (including 200 men).

domestic violence. This is a significant finding as it means that almost one third of people within our churches have been affected by domestic violence. This has long-term implications for pastoral care, teaching on marriage and relationships and the wellbeing of individuals and families. *NB Some people have both experienced and witnessed domestic violence

Domestic Violence

Almost one in three Christian women 31% and 26% of men have personally experienced and/or witnessed

Men

Women Experienced*

Witnessed*

Not experienced/witnessed

Figure 19: Experience of Domestic Violence

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Sexual Assault or Sexual harrassement within the Church One third of women in our survey had experienced sexual harrassment or assault including 9% of women who have personally experienced sexual harrassment or assault within the context of a Church or Christian ministry. Percentages for men were lower but still

Experienced*

Witnessed*

troubling (2% reported experiencing sexual assault or harrassment within a “Christian” setting and 14% having experienced abuse or harrassment outside of the Church). It was unclear whether the abuse experiences was historic or more recent.

Not experienced

Experienced outside Church

Men

Women

*NB Some people have both experienced and witnessed sexual harassment or assault

Figure 20: Experience of Sexual Harassment or Sexual Assault

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Reporting Abuse

Of those who have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse, 64% of women and 81% of men reported that they would feel comfortable talking to church leaders about it. However, there were still 36% of women who would not feel comfortable talking to a church leader about abuse. Abuse survivors are less

likely to feel comfortable disclosing abuse to a male authority figure. Negative or ineffectual reactions to abuse disclosures can be re-traumatising. Historically, the church has a poor track record in this area - with denial and cover up the default positions.

100

80

60

40

20

0 Yes (Men)

No (Men)

Yes (Women)

No (Women)

Figure 21: Reporting abuse - comparison between men and women DATA: Would you feel comfortable talking to a church leader about domestic violence or sexual abuse?

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Emotional Abuse, Spiritual Abuse or Bullying

60

50

40

30

20

10

0 Yes (Men)

No (Men)

Yes (Women)

No (Women)

Figure 22: Experience of Emotional Abuse, Spiritual Abuse or Bullying

51% of men and 47% of women reported experiencing emotional abuse, spiritual abuse or bullying within a church or Christian ministry. This stark finding (one in every two respondents) was unexpected and therefore we were not able to clarify the frequency or extent of this type of abuse. Further research is needed

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to identify why such a high number of practising Christians, both men and women, report experiencing bullying, emotional abuse or spiritual abuse and to determine ways in which churches can address such a serious finding. It raises significant questions in terms of the culture and structures within churches.

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Church teaching on gender-based violence, abuse and sexual assault An overwhelming majority of Christians reported never hearing teaching in their church about the topics of domestic violence, gender-based violence and sexual abuse. Significantly more Christians reported hearing teaching about sex before marriage than those who have heard teaching about sex within marriage, despite the majority of Christians surveyed being married. This points perhaps, to a long-standing approach to sex and relationships as well an issue of personal

morality and a lack of knowledge, awareness and acceptance that gender-based violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse affects (and can take place within) church congregations and faith communities. These are issues that require sound church teaching informed by outside professional knowledge and expertise. Questions remain about the most appropriate ways to address these issues theologically, pastorally and in terms of structures and procedures.

Have you received teaching on? Sex before marriage?

Yes 76%

No 24%

Sex within marriage?

Yes 58%

No 42%

Domestic Violence?

Yes 22%

No 78%

Gender-base Violence?

Yes 16%

No 84%

Sexual Abuse?

Yes 24%

No 76%

Figure 23: Church Teaching on issues such as Sex, Abuse and Violence

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Consent The overwhelming majority of those surveyed (92%) said that a woman can withdraw her consent for intercourse at any time (even within marriage). This indicates that at least in theory, Christians understand the need for consent and that a woman or man should be free to change their mind. This issue is being widely discussed in the media and merits further research and a broader discussion on consent and what constitutes sexual assault.

Christians’ views on prostitution

The majority of Christians believe that both the selling and buying of sex should be illegal in Ireland and that the majority of those participating in prostitution in Ireland are not doing so voluntarily. These data indicate that Christians are not fully in favour of the Nordic model currently operating in Ireland, they agree with the aspects of the Nordic model criminalising the purchase of sex, but disagree with the decriminalisation of selling sex. The data did not vary significantly between men and women.

Agree

Those who engage in prostitution do so voluntarily: The purchase of sex should be prosecuted in Ireland: The selling of sex (prostitution) should be legalised in Ireland:

Figure 24: Christian views on prostitution

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Unsure

Disagree


WordMap 11

86 out of 656 Christians gave comments about their views on prostitution. One recurring comment theme was that some people choose prostitution and others don’t (‘some choose, some forced’), other comments clearly stated that there was ‘no choice’ and people are involved in prostitution as a result of ‘circumstances’ like ‘poverty’, ‘trafficking’, ‘coercion’, ‘addiction’, ‘slavery’, and desperation. Some comments called for prostitution to be de-stigmatised and those in

prostitution should be supported and helped. Some stated it was a very ‘complex’ issue, others were unsure of their view and a few said we must listen to the voices those involved in prostitution. There was a strong call in some comments to penalise the buyers of sex and a few comments about the ineffectiveness of legislation in Ireland and other countries. There was some awareness among commenters about the Nordic model and its strengths.

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Table 11 Examples of comments on prostitution.

THEME

QUOTE Some choose to do it, some are forced into it by others or due to their circumstances

SOME CHOOSE, SOME FORCED

Not all women do it because they choose to, some are forced which is appalling We have women forced and imprisoned in Ireland to work as sex slaves. Other women choose to make money this way. I believe they are forced by circumstances

CIRCUMSTANCES

Even if someone claims to be willingly engaging in the role of a prostitute I would question whether their circumstances are dictating that choice Generally the set of social circumstances, which lead women down this path, render little choice. A hugely complex issue. Will prostitution always exist in some form? Where there is poverty it will always be perceived as a way out however awful.

POVERTY

Desperation for money, duress from pimps, and human trafficking would suggest little choice Hard to say re engaging voluntarily. If someone chooses to engage in prostitution as they have struggled for a long time to gain any other source of income, is that voluntary?

PENALISE BUYERS

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I think the force of the law should/must be aimed at those who buy it - given that so many women are forced into prostitution. I think prostitution is a kind of modern slavery and should be prosecuted. Not the prostitute herself (she needs help), but everyone else in the business

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A Response from Sarah Benson Sarah Benson was the CEO of Ruhama until May 2019. Ruhama a Dublin-based NGO which works on a national level with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. Sarah took time out from her busy schedule to review the findings of the VOX survey. This is her response:

I

t is really important when considering the system of prostitution to look at those who are represented. Overwhelmingly, it is the most vulnerable, the marginalised and girls in care; women and girls who have no safety net, who have already been abused, socially excluded, and denied education. There can be an undercurrent of stigma that somehow it is the fault of the person that they are involved in prostitution. Those who organise, profit from and solicit sex from these people are targeting and exploiting their vulnerability. It is not possible to fill the brothels of the world with people who choose to be involved in prostitution. The 1949 convention sets out that prostitution itself is a violation of human dignity. Buyers are using their disposable income to satisfy their sexual urges. There is a perspective that there is an entitlement on the part of men to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification but to say that, in certain circumstances, women’s bodies can be bought, is contrary to human dignity and value in an equal society. Sex trafficking cannot exist without the prostitution trade. It is important to understand that exploitation is inherent to the act of prostitution.

Having to have sex with numerous strangers has negative consequences, let alone if someone is forcing you to do this. The harm is inherent to prostitution itself. Pope Francis has said that the purchase of sex is violence against the person (not just sex trafficking). In her book “The Sex Economy” Monica O’Connor makes the point that consent does not obviate harm. Even if someone is perceived as consenting, having to have unwanted and undesired sex with multiple people has measurable physical, emotional and psychological consequences. Traditionally there has been an all or nothing approach to prostitution: Legalisation (decriminalising both the purchase and sale of sex) or Prohibition (prosecuting both buyers and sellers). Legalisation (the model in Germany) has been proven to increase the level of harm inflicted women with escalating violence and dehumanisation of those involved in prostitution. However, in the US, which takes a prohibitionist approach, overwhelmingly law enforcement officers target the person in prostitution rather than the pimps and buyers. Disproportionately those who

2

The Sex Economy by Monica O’Connor challenges the suggestion that the sale of women’s bodies as commodities can ever be acceptable, and that the male consumer has an acceptable right to buy their services. She disproves the claim that sex work is a lucrative occupation for impoverished women and girls. She lays bare the harm that “normalizing” the sex trade does to women’s lives, gender equality and society as a whole, and exposes the realities that constrain and control women locked in prostitution, debunking the notions of choice and agency.

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are most vulnerable are prosecuted and those who are benefitting or profiting from the “trade” escape consequence. In Ireland, we have partial de-criminalisation (also known as the Nordic Model). It is important that politicians know there is support for the full implementation of the current model to target demand and minimise harm. This solution is grounded in recognition of the unequal power balance within prostitution. It criminalises the purchase of sex and those who profit (or coerce) somebody else’s prostitution but it has a compassionate response to those who are being exploited by the sex trade and seeks to minimise the harm to the most vulnerable within our society. If you target demand, the pimps, traffickers and brothels won’t make money. It is an effective mechanism to reduce harm. When the politicians come knocking, it is important for ordinary people to advocate for the spirit of the law to be upheld. Women involved in prostitution need to be treated compassionately by law enforcement and provided support to find a way out of prostitution. The “Christian” thing would be to offer compassion rather than sanction to those who are caught in prostitution.

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Recommendations Prayer

These issues affect huge numbers of people both inside and outside of the church. Prayer is a vital first step in responding to this research. We want to make special mention of the excellent initiative by the Mothers’ Union, which organises 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in November/ December each year.

Theology

While it is recognised that different Christians will adhere to different theological positions on the role of women, this research indicates that it is important for churches explore and debate these theologies in a safe and respectful environment, acknowledging the biblical arguments for each position and listening carefully to one another, rather than condemning or rejecting one another on the basis of a single issue. Whatever people’s individuals views, theological positions should not be used as an excuse for defending or perpetuating unhealthy and unbiblical stereotypes (e.g. only women can take care of children) or damaging behaviours (e.g. submission in the context of abuse).

Creating safe spaces for difficult discussions

The research demonstrated that strong feelings, fears, concerns and painful experiences have shaped and coloured the attitudes of both women and men around the issues we raised. It is important for churches to create safe spaces where such issues can be discussed and where we can learn to listen well and listen deeply to one another. How can we acknowledge painful experiences and genuine fears without dismissing or diminishing them?

Culture change

Regardless of the discussions around theology, we encourage churches to examine the cultures that have tolerated or even excused sexist comments and jokes, whether about women or men, and seek to lead by example in demonstrating value and respect for each individual. The attitude that “it is only a joke” wears thin when individuals are undermined or devalued within church culture and this does not reflect the biblical truth that everyone is made in the image of God.

Teaching about gender-based violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse

While tough topics, it is important for churches to explore the most appropriate ways to teach about violence and abuse from a biblical perspective. YWCA Ireland and Christian Aid have both produced excellent resources that can aid small group discussions. The danger churches face is labelling these as “women’s issues” and not considering the importance of tackling such widespread problems with all members of our congregations in appropriate and sensitive ways. Both men and women are affected and damaged by violence and abuse!

Pastoral Care and Disclosure of Abuse

The stark findings around violence and abuse demonstrate an urgent need for church leaders and pastoral care workers to be trained in how to care for victims and survivors including those who have suffered bullying or psychological abuse. Specialist intervention is usually needed in cases of abuse

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(professional counselling by accredited counsellors with experience in handling abuse cases). Churches need clear procedures about how they will respond to disclosures of abuse, whether current or historic, and whether involving someone inside the church, in church leadership or outside of the church. Disclosures must be taken seriously and must be referred to the appropriate authorities for independent investigation (e.g. An Garda Síochána, etc.). Expert help and impartial advice is needed to ensure integrity and prevent conflict of interest. YWCA Ireland and Christian Aid are important sources of support and help. Women’s Aid and the Rape Crisis Centres also provide excellent resources.

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Where to find help and resources: Helpful organisations: Women’s Aid - domestic violence and information about women’s refuges (www.womensaid.ie). Rape Crisis Network - www.rcni.ie The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence - www.cosc.ie Christian ethos organisations YWCA Ireland - transforming and connecting women throughout Ireland and the world - www.ywca.ie. Christian Aid Ireland - www.christianaid.ie Mothers’ Union - www.mothersunion.ie Tearfund Ireland - working around the world to lift people out of poverty with a focus on the most vulnerable - www.tearfund.ie Helplines: National Sexual Violence Helpline (for men and women): 1800 77 88 88 National Domestic Violence Helpline (for women): 1800 341 900 Amen (for men experiencing domestic violence): 046 902 3718 Elder Abuse Helpline: 1850 24 1850 Human Trafficking / Prostitution Blue Blindfold Campaign - www.blueblindfold.gov.ie Ruhama - supporting women affected by prostitution - www.ruhama.ie Counselling VOX magazine is happy to recommend the Irish and Northern Irish Associations of Christian counsellors - www.iacc.ie and www.accni.org. Always ensure that counsellors are properly trained, supervised and accredited with a professional body such as IACP or BACP.

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Appendix One: Survey Questions INTRODUCTION

Outside of Ireland or Northern Ireland

In this in-depth survey for VOX magazine, we are exploring the experiences of and attitudes towards women in churches and Christian ministries across Ireland, and some of the serious issues affecting women in the wider society. We welcome responses from both men and women (over 18s only) and from a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds and locations across the island. (NB: the survey title is taken from Galatians 3:28). [Trigger Warning: This survey contains questions relating to violence and sexual assault, which may be triggering to survivors.] Most questions are straightforward tick boxes but there are optional opportunities to share your views in more detail with comment boxes. We estimate the survey will take 10 - 15 minutes to complete and want to thank you for taking part. 1. What is your age bracket? 18-21 22 - 30 31 - 40 41 - 50 51 - 65 +65 2. Where do you live? County Dublin Leinster (but not Dublin) Munster Connaught Ulster (ROI) Ulster - Northern Ireland

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3. Are you...? Single Married In a relationship Separated Divorced Widowed 4. Are you...? An Irish citizen A British citizen A citizen of another country 5. How would you describe your ethnicity? White Irish White Irish Traveller Any other White background Black or Black Irish - African Black or Black Irish - Any other black background Asian or Asian Irish - Chinese Asian or Asian Irish - Any other Asian background Other - including mixed background

CHURCH / FAITH EXPERIENCE 6. Church/ denomination? (This could be the church you currently attend, the group you most identify with or a previous church). NB If applicable, you may tick more than one. Baptist Catholic

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Christian Churches Ireland (formerly Assemblies of God Ireland) Church of God Church of Ireland Elim Independent Evangelical Church Independent Pentecostal Church Methodist Plumbline Presbyterian Redeemed Christian Church of God Vineyard None Other (please specify) 7. How would you describe your faith experience? Committed Christian / Follower of Jesus New Believer Currently experiencing struggles / doubts in my faith Searching / drawing closer Disillusioned / moving away N/A 8. How would you describe your church involvement? Active and contributing within my strengths and gifting Active but not fully using my gifts Passive Disaffected* but still attending church Disaffected* and no longer attend church Never attend church Any comment? *To be disaffected is to be dissatisfied or disillusioned with something (esp. an institution or authority) to the point that you can no longer fully support it. 9. How would you describe your experience of church? I’ve never attended church Positive Negative Mixed

Any Comments? 10. In broad terms, what is your opinion/theological position on the role of women in the church? (Disclaimer - we realise a quick summary/ explanation cannot do justice to a detailed theologicalposition.) Complementarian - the belief that men and women have different but complementary roles within church life and that scripture teaches that women should not teach or take authority over men. Egalitarian - the belief in the equality of men and women within church life and that scripture teaches that God calls both men and women into all types of roles. Other (please explain) 11. Tell us about the leadership of the main ministries within your church. (If you do not currently attend church, please answer for a church you have attended previously or simply click N/A) Preaching Worship Leading Church Leadership (e.g. clergy, pastor, minister, elder, etc.) Hospitality (serving refreshments, etc.) Children’s Ministry Prayer Meetings Home Groups / Small Pastoral Care Outreach / evangelism Choices: Entirely led by men Mostly led by men (more than 75%) Led by both men and women Mostly led by women (more than 75%) Entirely led by women NA

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12. Does your church have separate ministries, groups or meetings for men and women? Yes No N/A

LEADERSHIP AND WORK 13. What type of leadership are you involved in? (Tick all that apply) None - I’m not in leadership in any way In business or the workplace In a non-profit organisation In the community (e.g. sports coach, youth leader, community organisation, etc.) Church leadership - Clergy or pastor Worship leader Youth or Sunday School leader in church Elder or other spiritual leadership in church Deacon or other practical leadership in church Campaigning / Advocacy Trustee / Director or Board Member If Other (please specify) 14. What is your occupational status? Retired Not in work due to illness or disability Seeking employment Carer to elderly or disabled family member(s) Looking after the home/children Full-time employment (including self-employed) Part-time employment (including self-employed) In full-time education 15. Are you? Male Female

MY EXPERIENCE IN CHURCHES OR

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CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES

An opportunity for women (only) to share their experiences within the Christian context. 16. Consider your reaction to the following statements... feel free to elaborate in the comment box on any issue of particular concern. My church values my gifts, educational achievements and experience There are limits to what I am permitted to do in church I feel fulfilled and content in the contribution I make to church life I prefer a male Bible teacher / preacher Women have no opportunity to grow in their leadership or preaching/teaching gifts in my church The women who minister in my church are usually married Single women arevalued members of our church leadership team Choices: Strongly Agree Agree On the fence/ unsure Disagree Strongly Disagree Comments 17. Consider the following statements... feel free to elaborate in the comment box on any issue of particular concern. I am interrupted by my male peers My ideas and suggestions are welcome If an idea I have already suggested is presented by a man, it is more likely to be accepted I feel crushed or diminished in meetings

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Men who do not share my expertise are quick to try to “explain” what I have said (“mansplaining). I have heard sexist jokes or comments in a Christian setting I have heard women referred to by Christian men in ways that highlight their physical attributes or desirability (e.g. “hot”, 10 out of 10, etc.) Comments Choices: Constantly (all the time) Regularly Sometimes Never 18. Please feel free to share any incident or story that sums up or illustrates your experience in churches or Christian ministries (positive or negative). 19. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Yes No Any Comment?

EXPLORING THE ISSUES

A chance for men (only) to express their honest opinions on women in the church. 20. Consider your reaction to the following statements (please feel free to use the comment box at the end to elaborate on any issue of particular concern to you). I would like to see more women in active leadership or teaching roles within churches I’m concerned about the feminisation* of Christianity (*the idea that our forms of worship appeal more to women than to men) I would be uncomfortable (either personally or theologically) to come under the authority/leadership of a woman minister.

I believe my church fully encourages and empowers women to be all they were created to be I think there is a crisis of masculinity within our churches Our church has invited women to get more involved but they said “no” I think our churches need to do much more to attract men Moves for greater equality of women in churches are unbiblical Please elaborate on any issues of particular concern for you. Choices: Strongly Agree Agree On the fence/ unsure Disagree Strongly Disagree   21. Consider your reaction to the following statements (please feel free to use the comment box at the end to elaborate on any issue of particular concern to you). I think the #MeToo movement went too far Women in Irish churches are experiencing sexist attitudes and exclusion I have never encountered a case of domestic violence or abuse against a woman within my church I have heard men making sexist comments or jokes in Christian settings I’m concerned about the rise of feminism Choices: Strongly Agree Agree On the fence/ unsure Disagree Strongly Disagree Please elaborate on any issues of particular concern for you.

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ATTITUDES AND EXPERIENCES AROUND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND ABUSE

Yes No

While the focus of this study is mainly on the experience of women, we recognised and affirm that both genders can experience violence and abuse. For that reason, these questions are addressed to both men and women.

Comments

We realise these are sensitive and difficult topics. (NB: Helpful advice and helpline numbers are available for both men and women online at www.cosc.ie or at www.womensaidni.org. We also recommend the Irish and Northern Irish associations of Christian counsellors www.iacc.ie and www.accni.org.) 22. Do you think how a woman dresses influences incidents of rape and sexual assault? Yes No Sometimes Any Comment 23. Do you think if a woman has been drinking/taking drugs/attending a party that this should be taken into consideration during a trial for rape? Yes No Unsure / Concerned If unsure / concerned, please explain why 24. Do you think movies like ’50 shades of grey’ empower women and young girls? Yes No Please explain your answer 25. Do you believe we have a rape culture* within Irish society? (See definition below).

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*Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. 26. Have you ever experienced domestic violence? Yes - personally experienced Yes - personally witnessed No 27. Have you ever experienced sexual harassment/ sexual assault within a church context? Yes - personally experienced Yes - personally witnessed No Have experienced and / or witnessed but only outside the church context 28. If you were (or are now) experiencing domestic violence/sexual assault/sexual harassment would you feel comfortable speaking to your church leadership about it? Yes No 29. Have you ever experienced emotional or spiritual abuse or bullying within a church or Christian ministry? Yes No

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30. Have you ever heard preaching / teaching within your church on any of the following? Sex before marriage Sex within marriage Domestic Violence Gender-based violence Sexual abuse

Domestic and sexual violence helpline NI 0808 802 1414

31. The issue of “consent” has been widely talked about in the media. At what point do you think a woman can withdraw her consent to have intercourse (including within marriage)? Before intercourse During intercourse Right before intercourse At any time 32. What are your views on the following statements about prostitution The selling of sex (prostitution) should be legalised in Ireland The purchase of sex should be prosecuted in Ireland Those who engage in prostitution (the majority are women / girls) do so voluntarily Choices: Strongly Agree Agree On the fence/ unsure Disagree Strongly Disagree Any Comments Helplines for those affected by domestic violence / sexual assault: Women’s Aid (ROI) 1800 341 900 AMEN 046 902 3718 (for men experiencing domestic violence - not 24 hour) Sexual assault 1800 77 88 88

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Appendix Two: Real Women, Real Stories An important part of this research project was providing an opportunity for women to share their honest opinions and experiences of church. 86 out of 506 women added comments or stories in this section. As every story is unique, this appendix includes all of these 86 contributions. Most of our outreach and ministries are headed up ably by women. Men are slow to initiate any ministry. However all the elders and deacons are men. So they make decisions and the women are left out. I find this bizarre. Pastoral care in theory is the elders. They recognize the need for women and so delegate appropriately to their wives. Is this right? I would say most pastoral care is done informally by caring women and men. I have only ever been encouraged and included in church leadership and teaching. I’ve never felt excluded or undermined because of my gender I answer a specific question by a retired church leader. He turns his head to look at another male leader and asks that man to answer the question. He answers the same question. I in turn, refer back to my answer and reiterate the answer. This is an experience of being undermined, not taking seriously and where I felt I had to exert my authority as the chair of the committee in question, and one of the two people equipped to answer the question - the other being the other male who was asked the same question as I... Well, patriarchy is well entrenched in the organisation of roles in the Catholic Church and being an African brought up in a patriarchal society, quite frankly I really do not think along the lines of some of your questions. Bishops need to be inclusive in all aspects of church life. All we see is misogynistic crap.

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The minister of our church is very open to women in leadership etc. - so I do somewhat feel that if we had a more conservative minister some of my answers/ attitudes could be very different. I’ve started a Christian Union on my campus, which I lead while a student. Fostered relationships with local clergy and our spiritual care team. But now I’m back at my home church, I feel like they think I’m not the right type of person to teach people. I was denied ability to complete my education in youth pastoral ministry specifically because I was single and a female. Outside of the meeting, I was encouraged by one of the men who disagreed but would not publicly voice his opinion, to join YWAM, the only organisation known to allow women in leadership at that time. After spending a full year searching for another college that would allow me to graduate with a degree in pastoral care and being repeatedly denied, I did just that. Today, it’s a much different place. Women can easily attend seminary and complete a degree in leadership and pastoral care. Had a role model female Christian leader in my former church who led me to Jesus and hosted a regular home group where I grew. Have benefitted from male and female home group leaders and teachers alike. I am quite quiet so don’t plan to teach or take a lead myself but am happy to if required. In general, my experience has been very positive. My only negative experiences have been feeling limited in a few ways that I might lead (specifically in preaching/

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teaching), and one or two instances where I have felt like my strength would not have been received well by my male counterparts due to their insecurity due to their lack of leadership experiences. In the past, I have definitely felt like my opinion didn’t matter as a woman. I find the older I have become and also the more confident within myself and the gifts and callings that God has placed on my life that the world around me has responded by being far less discriminatory than I thought. I do believe that much of this thought has been in my own mind. My own pastor has been only supportive of me in all types of ministry, even though he definitely has some “oldfashioned” ideas about women/men. The world is changing, and also in church. I think it is a very good thing, as long as men are not sidelined in response but rather encouraged to take their roles and positions without feeling restricted also. I come from a church that truly values women and have not had any incident that has devalued or diminished the role the Lord has given me in the ministry or church I have worked in. Men and women have been treated equally and it has been a very healthy environment where both men and women preach, lead worship and give pastoral care for each other. We are not a perfect church by any means but we are able to voice our issues and seem to conflict constructively in prayer and reconciliation. I feel very blessed by my church community. I was once helping run an event (visuals) with my then boss and intern. We all ut in the exact same amount of work and when it came to say goodbye, the warden of the church shook my boss’ hand, my intern’s hand and then patted me on the head. Positive experience, happy to know God created me in His image.

Negative experience... Preach out of bible but have affairs with church members. Yes, I was working in a church for four years. My pastor ask me help him with money to renew the church, I did and asked if can I find a room to stay for three days because they have a prayer meetings. I give money and found a place for him to stay for three days. The result was he come and bring a lady in that place. When I ask him, he denied it but it was true. He left his wife and married that lady. He did not renew the church. The experience I have as a female in Church is positive. The other members of the congregation respect me and any ideas or decisions I have. I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative experience because of my gender. If ever my ideas have been pushed aside it’s because of my age. In my personal experience, I found men outside of the church who were more respectful towards me and valued me more as a person then in all of my experience growing up in Christian youth culture and as a young adult active in a vibrant church and Christian culture. I found my husband outside of the church environment and he has always treated me with more respect then I experienced from young men within that culture. I feel valued as an equal by my husband and did not experience that within the church, even in a very ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ church culture. As a former youth worker, a female, working with a male rector, I didn’t feel the role was supported or taken seriously by him. I felt it was just a formality that he was carrying out as it was a suggestion from the Vestry to implement such programmes. Pastor was too controlling... had too much power

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When I attended a previous church I was part of the worship team there which was led by a woman. I was given more responsibility in relation to my ‘gifting’ and felt I was not held back for being female. In another church which I attended with my husband, I had some issues that I wanted to address with the pastor (who knew my husband well). However, he would only speak to me through my husband, or he would meet with him and get his wife to meet with me separately. These were not issues that my husband was raising, it was either just me or the two of us together. I believe this was because he didn’t feel like he had to answer to me as a woman. About 15 years ago, as a pastor’s wife who was co-pastoring a church, I attended a leaders retreat day. There were three women attending, myself, an associate pastor of a big church and the administrator handing out printouts. The first speaker greeted the gathering thus: “It’s so great to be here with other men of God!” I felt invisible. As a single/divorced woman, I feel a bit left out or ‘abnormal’ at times. I find it a bit more difficult to make friends. Often preachers will make comments that assume everyone is married. There have even been occasions (including a women’s conference and an Easter service) where the preacher (one male, one female) have assumed we could all go home and have sex. There are women’s meetings announced where they say “Men, make sure you are doing the babysitting so your wives can get to the meetings.” As I mentioned in Q16, my church is quite small. However I attended a larger church (over 300 people) up until three years ago where I did feel discriminated against because of gender and marital status. It was very male orientated and led. The ladies ran tea parties, fashion shows and autions and men went to outdoor activities and had hog roasts - not all ladies fit

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into that type of activity. A couple of weeks ago, a male working in a significant and highly visual role in our church was talking in a very provocative way about politics and was talking about how much ‘worse’ Hilary Clinton was than Donald Trump. I pointed out some of the double standards specific to his particular argument and said he wasn’t judging him by the same set of standards and that he should at least critique them equally. This man answered, unapologetically, with the statement that men and women are not equal. When I expressed my offence I was pushed to provide ‘one way in which men and women are equal’. When I answered ‘in dignity and rights’, this man literally swatted the air dismissively. I was disgusted. My church has encouraged women as well as men to attend accredited preacher courses, and one woman who completed it speaks such truth and in such a good way that people look forward to the times when she is set to preach. She has both blessed those of us listening and been blessed by God in return. Several times when working at CCI church, the assistant pastor made sexist remarks or told dirty jokes. I feel extremely valued in my church. I don’t know where I lie on this subject. But all I know is that God is sovereign. And if he made me to have authority, I’m cool with that. And if he made me for something other than authority, I’m also cool with that. There is no doubt that women have been subjected to despicable treatment in all areas of society through the centuries. We have been abused and mistreated. Things like this kind of irritate me though as it seems to put the blame on some sort old fashioned view of “what the Bible says”

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I don’t blame the bible for these things, I blame the enemy. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t have authority. I’m wondering why we think not having it makes us any less in God’s eyes. This is more to do with how we want society to see us than anything else. He has a perfect plan for us and our lives. Comparison kills, and the church is no exception. When I first joined the church, I was married. The marriage did not work out and when I ended it, I got zero support, in fact some people shunned me, because I wouldn’t stay in an abusive marriage. I stepped away from church for three years and only went back because God told me to! It’s been difficult to say the least. I still feel judged because I’m divorced. Men are seen as the more natural leader in some churches. Opportunities seem to be given to them more often. More often than not there are more women in the congregation and a women teaching/ leading and be more relatable and often presents a lesson or study in a more practical manner. My church has women leading from the front, back and sides. And that’s what I want to daughter to see. One of my main responsibilities as a staff member in a former church was “to keep the sink empty” in the staff kitchen. I was also highly micromanaged in menial repetitive tasks. I was often interrupted from my work and asked to heat my boss/pastor’s lunch in the microwave while he stood and watched. When I was clocking 70+ hours per week for a few months straight at the church office, I asked for some of my responsibilities to be handed to others for a few weeks. I was told I didn’t have enough faith or else I wouldn’t be tired and that maybe I’m not a “big church” person and I should check my calling to see

if God really called me to the city I was working in. I was also expected to babysit my pastor’s kids for free, sometimes watching them for 8 hours a day on my days off. That was just one church. My husband had staplers and other desk-objects thrown at him by an elder at the church/charity job he had. And the conditions of that job, elders, and his pastor/boss left him with a life-altering illness due to stress and anxiety he suffered. We realised that a lot of what we experienced had nothing to do with Jesus, and although the people who were representing Him were using His name, the version they portrayed had nothing to do with the Jesus of the Bible. This is part of the reason why I want to seek out people who are seeking God, but have a disinclination to the version of God or Jesus that they’ve experienced. Sometimes you can’t hear a Bible verse or a sermon because of the actions and morals of the communicator. And I don’t ever want to work on staff at a church or church’s charity again. I’ve experienced too many meglomaniac pastors on a pedestal who have left a pile of hurt bodies in their wake. After I quit my job, I learned of at least half a dozen other people who had been treated the same way by this pastor, if not worse for some. One woman couldn’t step into a church for two years after leaving her job. She was gaslighted and thought it all was her fault, or any problems and red flags she recognised were all in her head. She was a family friend and got in touch when she heard I quit -- she was afraid I’d been hurt too. Four years after she quit, she felt relieved to hear my story and realise what she went through was real, not her fault, and not in her head. She is still a Christian. I feel women are encouraged and supported in their gifting in my church - including preaching- but know

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from my parents’ church that this isn’t the case everywhere. I have had far more positive experiences serving in mixed gender teams than in female only teams. My current church has been a breath of fresh air for me. My gender or martial status never come into play what does is my calling, gifting and willingness to serve. Both men and women are in senior leadership roles and a good balanced model is seen publically. The church has 3 locations and have a 50/50 male/ female populations I served for many years in a youth department serving both behind the scenes and up front. I also worked for many years full time in a national church office. There I grew and had an opportunity to learn from so many wise and godly men. For this I am extremely grateful. But there were 2 points I struggled with. All top leadership roles were held by men - and this did not change over a 7 year period. When I asked why I was told - no women have the ministry experience to serve in such a leadership role (true) but when pressed as to how this could change they seemed to have little or no interest in finding a way to change this. E.g. Changing training - creating family friendly leadership events to enable women with families to come - encouraging women and not just couples to serve and intern in national offices. I also once over heard a conversation between two senior pastors who were basically saying it’s not good to hire a female youth pastor or worship leader cause if they get pregnant maternity leave really breaks the flow of your church with people hopping in and out. I found this very disheartening. As a young, single female, I am usually overshadowed in my leadership, despite having worked in ministry for the past three years. My suggestions are usually “listened to” but sometimes not followed up on, until

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someone else suggests the same thing. I do think it’s subconscious on behalf of the church, but still happens all the same. When we were first married our lead pastor at the church we attended constantly commented on whether or not I was pregnant yet and when I might be. He was a man and I found it extremely upsetting. I made this clear to him but he persisted with the ‘joke’ for a long time. I have been blessed, even from a young age to be encouraged and challenged by leadership to develop and exercise my gifts. However in our wider church organisation I find the national leadership team populated by men only. It appears women are not often given the ‘main stage’ at events to speak. Even with invited speakers they are almost always men. I’m aware that their may not be many female speakers on these leaders radar, yet. People love to hear me preach and teach. Both men and women have commented on how they love how I craft sentences and ideas in order to communicate God’s heart. I regularly get thanked for teaching something that resonated with someone (whether they are male or female). Thankful for the men in my church community recognising my call and gifting and opening the door for me but in other settings find the church is often a boys club despite declarations of support for women. Most of the Churches I have been a member of have not “Equipped the people to then be Released”. They have not “Created a Safe Place” to practice & grow in the Gifts. There would appear to be very few Churches in Ireland where Women are Released & Encouraged to Teach & Pastor. I have taught in Bible College for years, and have

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preached for years, but rarely in my own church. When I moved with our church plant last year and started preaching there, people were amazed that they had never heard me preach before. The last time I preached in our main church was seven years ago, and a number of people responded for salvation. I have always struggled to understand why I was not asked to preach more; I don’t think the issue is simply that I am female. Thankfully there are no such issues in our church plant and I now preach regularly there. I was told in a leadership class that hell would freeze before I would be asked to preach Teach on Sunday. Not a view taken throughout the denomination I’m part of. A man took over my job without asking me because I was pregnant. When I confronted him he told me “you are tired and stressed and pregnant. You needed help.” In another meeting when I voiced how I was upset about how the man (in story above) treated me I was told to not let my hormones get the better of me and that being pregnant was not an excuse for me to be upset. My opinion and feelings were belittled and downplayed to “it’s just hormones from your pregnancy.” I am a single female, Christian since age 6, youth leader since my teens, president of my CU while in university, worked in full time university student ministry for almost 5 years after graduating from college, been to church leadership training school among other academic training, served on almost every team in church over the last 8 years but still not fully supported or released into my calling to preach while I have watched a man of similar age, but married and not with the same ministry experience be welcomed on to the senior leadership team and preaching team. There is one married female and six

married males on our senior leadership team. Too many to write about. I was once told I could no longer volunteer with high school students after my divorce and that I could serve in the back of the kitchen. I didn’t. Negatively I have found myself ignored or talked over when trying to make a contribution with snide antiwoman remarks made and unfortunately this was with male clergy. In a less ‘institutional’ setting the atmosphere is different in terms of openness to ideas or getting involved in any of the ministries and that’s the difference. I am fortunate in being in a lovely, welcoming and inclusive Church. The only experience I have had of not feeling welcome in a Church was not due to gender but due to specific seats being where others normally sat. (and it wasn’t my current Church). i.e. Every time I went to sit down and move to an alternative seat I was told it was someone else’s. My home church and my current one are both of the egalitarian view, to put it in a nutshell. I came from a home which values men and women as equals so I got a shock during a gap year in Peru and subsequently at different evangelical and Pentecostal churches during college that some Christians hold different views on this. As a woman who is independent and adventurous I struggled to know my role for a while but God, through the prayer of another woman, affirmed that He made me who I am and calls me to be part of His work. I’m still filled with sadness and anger though when I think of the thwarted potential of many Christian women I have felt powerless since being involved in church ministry of any sort. I call myself the maid. I am not allowed to be the leader I am. In any other setting, I am heard and valued. The church uses messed up

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theology to keep women silent and subservient. I come from a Neo-Pentecostal Independent Evangelical church (in Brazil). In that setting, we had women pastors and all. For them to be “anointed” pastors, the women would need to show a ministry apart from their husband’s (usually, kids ministry), then they would preach from the pulpit and all. But in my current church, a Baptist church, women don’t teach men. We can share the word in prayer meetings, we can lead worship, we’re more than welcome to teach the kids, but there can be no aspiration of preaching from the pulpit. But as I said, most women in my church don’t even desire to teach the whole church, they seem pretty content with the position each one has. The immediate need to create a council of priests to advise a bishop overriding the need to create any broader advisory body. Comment was ‘the clergy will not tolerate having no voice’ followed by ‘its important to set up the Diocesan pastoral council properly so its better it takes a few years than to have the wrong (lay) people on it’.

I’m often the youngest person in the room and often the only female which I sometimes find intimidating.

I have always felt encouraged and listened to, except I have noticed that there is no encouragement or training for women to preach in my local church.

I have also heard comments about nagging wives when in meetings with all men. or comments of ‘my wife made me’.

One concern is all churches attitude to people with a different sexual orientation and a lack of acceptance of all as to where they are no matter (what peoples home or family status is or make-up might be). I believe we need to be less judgemental and more inclusive to all walks of life.

difficult to juggle care of small children and leadership especially if both husband and wife contribute in worship services..

In my previous church even though I was a specialist in church community transformation I was never asked for help in this area.

I was never asked to give out communion in church or lead anything, however women who are part of a couple were consistently asked to take part in services. I have also seen how when a woman has started to date/or has married someone on the leadership team

In a by gone era where I was involved in a non

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denominational church when I was bringing the main message on a Sunday morning it was always referred to as “sharing” whereas if a man brought the main message it was referred to as “preaching”. I received comments through women from their husbands after I “shared” that they did not want their wives to be like me as I was “a strong” woman. I was frequently passed over for roles of responsibility within the church specifically because I was a woman. If I missed a Sunday meeting I was berated as my husband was in leadership I was told that I must attend every meeting that the church held irrespective of family circumstances e.g. I was primary carer for my Mum who had Alzheimer’s and was instructed to put her into a home in order for me to be present at all meetings.

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I’ve often had older men in meetings not look me in the eye or address me directly when other men are present whom they address by name & make eye contact with. i sometimes feel unseen &/or unheard.

ie we have 3 kids under 4 and both contribute to services weekly...

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or a very valued male member of the church she is then asked to lead/MC/give out communion etc. This demonstrates to me that women are not valued as a person in their own right but only when they are associated with a man. It also demonstrates that there is an exclusivity within church and this power is mostly held by men. In my experience there is no place for single, highly capable, women in church or women who have strongly held opinions and beliefs. You have to be married it seems to be valued and even then being valued by association is not being valued. I have also come very close to walking out of services on Mother’s Day when only the women who are mothers are asked to stand up and are prayed for, presented with flowers etc. This is massively insensitive to many women - those who want children and do not have any, those who cannot have children or have lost children or indeed lost mothers. I find womens gifts arnt accepted as much as what mens are In my own church there is a male majority in leadership- it is rare to see women preaching in any service, including our own deaconess and during pw services. However recently, as I have been developing my leadership skills particularly in preaching, I have been given opportunities that I have not seen other women given in my church such as preaching and leading during an evening service- which for me shows that my church is becoming more accepting of this, yet still has a long way to go. I was recently affirmed in my preaching/teaching gift by a prominent male church leader and I realised that aside from family/close friends this was only the second or third time this has happened to me as a woman who preaches!

On the other hand I have always attended churches that affirm the role of women and release women into leadership - it has only ever been outside of my own church settings that I have encountered anything different - more than anything the prevailing attitude amongst men (particularly those in full time church roles) is there aren’t any women around to ask to do x,y or z. Our church honours both sexes equally. Sexism is often unintentional. Men in Christian settings, who are significantly older than me, have commented on my physical features in ways that were meant to be complimentary, but that came across as objectifying/offensive. In my home church I had a negative experience of how the church pastorally and spiritually supported women (and men who weren’t elders too). However in the church that I work at I have an extremely positive experience as it’s an environment where everyone is valued, appreciated and loved. Women are always included and it is very genuine, rather than feeling like they have to be seen to do it. My experience of males within Church and other Christian organisations have been that despite the fact I am capable of doing the roles I am in, I continuously am forced to justify every comment and decision, and also my personal feelings and emotions, which has been damaging for me, I make and am often argued against despite the fact it maybe ‘doesn’t matter’ or isn’t of much consequence. Any decisions I make are questioned and often are not respected. I have never seen this level of distrust and criticism in an older man who gives or has similar views. I have found I am made to feel small, stupid and over sensitive. Comments and criticism often also become personal rather than remaining factual and related to the topic in hand for example they talk about my past,

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my physically, my family etc, which should not come into practical decisions and would not be tolerated in secular work places. I feel on a number of occasions I have been victim to ‘work place bullying’ which again would not be tolerated under any other circumstances but has been ignored in ‘Christian’ and ministry based settings. However I have been told by Christian women that I am strong, intelligent and men simply don’t like a young women questioning them or having thoughts of their own. However I don’t want to submit to Church leadership, be it male or female but at this point I am in a situation that I don’t trust male leadership enough to feel comfortable to submit to it. I was co-leading a bible study with a fellow leader (male) at a camp for teens. He consistently spoke over me and ignored my points/input. I eventually told the head of the camp (also a man) and he reprimanded the guy. It was great to have an allie in the man overseeing the whole camp, he totally understood my situation and agreed that the guy I was working with was not respecting of women or female voices. However it was extremely frustrating to have to have a man defend me as I knew speaking up for myself to this guy would not change anything. I am young so people naturally assume I know less and that I am less capable of leading people in worship etc but some do see what I can do and don’t underestimate me which only encourages me to prove others wrong and that I can do great things at a young age. As someone committed to full time ministry I and other Catholic women I know have been deprived of leadership and work/income because the roles ordained and otherwise are retained for less qualified, less suitable men. I found it hard to get a permanent role because I was female- when probed they admitted it was because they thought I would go on maternity leave so wanted

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to make sure the role had someone consistently in it. I have also been told “before you accept this role- we need you here for the full 3 years so if you are thinking of starting a family you may need to re:think” My current role is permanent and the staff team is 50/50 so this isn’t an issue I think the high pressure within Christian circles to meet and find a husband or wife has contributed to a very specific culture regarding roles and priorities within church settings. Leading to many who don’t find this mate feeling implicitly redundant in value. In my denomination in the evangelical arena where I work women are on the whole valued and supported in their ministry, there are those who disagree but that is human nature they are entitled to their opinion and they will always be with us. God is our only judge, he gives immense gifts to women and they should be used for his glory. There are many men and women who struggle with the idea of women in ministry but there are plenty who are supportive too. Although I’m in the methodist church which allows women preachers I rarely get ministered by one. I regularly get called to make sandwiches/traybakes for events but never my husband. It’s still mother and toddlers not parent and toddlers. I am still frowned at when my children make noise in church, dispite the fact that if I leave with them I miss church entirely. All female oriented sermons seem to be based around the home and children. The council posts are all male. The lay preachers are majority male. Communion is administered by males. I have a PhD, I’m a mother, I’m a senior manager in a company and I’ve been a committed Christian all my life. I’m more qualified and ina more senior position in work than most of the males in the church But the female led teaching I receive is mostly based towards the servitude,

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sandwiches and children. God gave me talents that are useful in the church but I am counted as bossy or annoying when I try to ask for something different. It’s very frustrating. Pray more to allow your heart to be open to the Holy Spirit coming down through you .. your life will change forever. It’s all about seeing God as your best friend speak to him about all your good times and troubles. He wants to be there for us no matter what. Ask and you will receive Seek and you will find, Knock and the door shall be opened unto you...it’s actually that simple and the Graces you receive are far beyond any happiness you have ever experienced in your life before. Pray pray pray! Experienced misogyny in Christian ministries There is also a tendency for married Christian women in jumping to taking sides with the male versus the single female recent examples: some christian women took sides with George Hook and his comments regarding the rape case. In a previous fellowship years ago. I did find it very male chauvinistic. But my current church is “woman friendly”. However since rescently been widowed. I do feel the difference. Perhaps it’s just my readjustment to being single again but. I’m beginning to think it’s harder being single in the church. I think there are more opportunities when married just because they ‘ride’ on the back of your husbands gifts. As a single I think you will have to stand out more before being recongnised in your gifting. There was a vote at the church about women being greeters but it was turned down as a step too far. I actually couldn’t believe it. A female minister I know was told she would never preach in our church.

As a home group leader alongside my husband, I was not allowed to lead a prayer group in the church building. An elder/pastor was put in place over me. Both my son and myself were sitting in our car outside our church. A Sunday school leader was walking past. He opened the passenger door where my son was sitting and lifted his bottom up and left off wind (farted). He laughed out loud and walked off. The child protection officer complained to the guy in question and she was told you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. I do that to my girls (his daughters) all the time. So the child protection officer complained to the Pastor and he laughed and did nothing at all about it. My experience has been that women in leadership have to be a lot more assertive to be heard and affirmed in what they are saying/teaching/leading. Whereas men will often progress quicker in leadership. Church leaders will often publicly condemn sexism/ sexual assault toward women, and affirm the role of women as leaders in the church, but actions can say otherwise. My husband and I agree that we co-lead out house group. Our minister chooses to be in our group. He will thank my husband for “leading” and me for “hosting” even if we have equally prepared both the study and the refreshments. About 80% of the study materials used by our house groups over the last 10 years have come from my recommendations to various elders who then propose this to session. No one has ever acknowledged that as a “thing”. At a recent Q&A with a visiting speaker, 3/4 of the questions posed by our minister came from me. He commented to my husband that too many of the

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others sent to him were inappropriate. Yet I wouldn’t have been slowed to host the Q&A myself because I’m female. I lived and worked for a time in a city and was active in a church for over three years. I got far fewer opportunities to use my gifts. I believe some of this was due to my gender and some due to not being a native of the city and part of a certain in-crowd who had known each other for years. I did observe that men who were not native to the city seemed to find it easier to break into positions of trust and influence. Since moving into the rural Church of Ireland I have been invited to preach in many churches within and beyond my diocese. Even though I’m a youth and children’s worker I am invited to preach to adult congregations. I have been invited to contribute to national publications and reports. I have been invited to join boards and committees and my input is extremely meaningful - not a token nod to including women. Overall my experience in rural Ireland in the Church of Ireland has been much more positive than in the city - which I have found very surprising. In general women are not encouraged to preach this seems particularly the case in Ireland. In our church I pastor with my husband so preach regularly. A our leadership both men and women are given opportunity to preach prophecy and have input. We try to empower others and make sure they are valued Single women are the people least allowed in ministry leadership or teaching positions in the Christian church Raised a Catholic I grew away from church because I felt unwelcome, uninspired and unchallenged. A personal relationship and spiritual knowledge with God and among parishioners was lacking in my homes in NY and LA. I got married even though we failed the pre-marital classes. I had to search for a priest

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willing to marry us because we were transplants to the area. And everything had a $ figure attached. When I finally befriended a priest he was arrested for selling drugs and embezzlement. I was off church for a decade, before choosing to attend a Presbyterian USA congregation. I have to say after several relocations I have been a member of 4 Presbyterian churches—they ALL have been very egalitarian, extremely encouraging of my spiritual growth, and always treated us like family from the absolute start. I came from a church where since many years ago (as far as I can remember, at least 30 years ago), the women had a great role in the church, teaching to children and adults in the Sunday School, leading the services, being deacons, and also preaching from time to time. Even so, the pastor has been always a man. This church doesn’t accept women as ministries (pastors). Apart than that, I always felt that men and women were the same at the church and both genders were loved and valued as equals. Never felt that I (or any woman at the church) was less for being a woman. In my previous church where I was a member for 16 years and led worship for 10 of those years, my church leader was against women in ministry in a whole church context. Women leading and/or teaching women was acceptable, as was a woman teaching children. Sadly, this prevented any development of my ministry in the direction I believed the Lord was calling me to. Now, I have an active ministry in my current church in leading and teaching on Sunday mornings. I also led a small group in my current church for several years as a single ‘divorced’ woman (have since remarried). On a service assessment form (for Bible college) a male person in the congregation suggested a cup size increase (B to D to be specific which meant there was study) was the only thing that would make the service better. (Although this may sound unbelievable it was

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emailed me so I have proof it happened). When I told a friend they suggested it was flirting - this is not flirting, this is wrong.

died for our sins, I didn’t give off the spiritual ‘vibe’ that a truely saved christian does, and therefore was currently still going to hell.

I was unable to have a meeting with my male boss because another male thought it was inappropriate (this was my line manager) for us to meet alone. How does this work in the secular world for Christian employees and employers?

Myself and two other women raised concerns about the behavior of a man serving in church leadership and asked for a response from church leadership. The man was repeatedly protected at the cost of three women leaving the church. After leaving the church we learned of other women who had also placed complaints about him, had been ignored and had also left the church.

I have been involved in running the Sunday club for over 10 years now and often for months on end in the past but two men came in and took over and I don’t get any say in the overall programme of the group or asked opinion of what’s best for the kids( I’ve known done since they were babies) and have developed a very strong relationship with them. I had an idea to set up a ministry project. At Sunday service the pastor made a big point that all ideas are welcome and the door is always open for suggestions. So I went up and suggested my idea, I explained every aspect of the project and how it would be resourced and delivered. To which the pastor replied ‘that is an excellent idea, I wonder if ‘John’ would be interested in doing that’. ‘John’ was a young man who no longer attended the church, the pastor used my idea to try and entice him back and offered me as his ‘right hand girl’ to help deliver the project. I attended that church every Sunday for several years and had set up community projects like this before with secular organisations. ‘John’ said yes to leading the project, continued not attending the church, and didn’t do the project. I continued doing my ‘ministry’ with secular organisations The support worker for my university CU took me for coffee to tell me that as a Christian I shouldn’t be dating my catholic boyfriend and I had to break up with him. The same CU worker told me that while she acknowledged I believed Jesus was God and that he

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Women and the Church  

A full report on the in-depth findings from VOX magazine’s “3:28 Churches?”. Exploring the experience of women and attitudes towards women i...

Women and the Church  

A full report on the in-depth findings from VOX magazine’s “3:28 Churches?”. Exploring the experience of women and attitudes towards women i...

Profile for vox_ie
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