Why 'Evangelicals' Lag Behind on Women Leaders - Part 1

Eighty-five percent of American adults support the idea of a female president while only 73 percent of evangelicals do, Barr says.

"I hate Paul."

I can't tell you how many times I have heard that from female undergraduates.

Young women scarred by how many times passages from the Pauline epistles have been used against them: women be silent (1 Corinthians 14), wives submit to your husbands (Ephesians 5), women cannot teach or exercise authority over men (1 Timothy 2).

Christian women, according to conservative "evangelicals" (as the news media keeps labeling them), are designed to follow their husbands' lead and focus on family and home. Occupations other than family should be secondary for women, mostly undertaken out of necessity or when the children are grown.

I remember a conversation from just a couple of years ago with a female student. She asked if I ever experienced tension with my full-time career as college professor, my role as mother and my husband's job as pastor. Was my family OK with me, as a pastor's wife, working?

But the student really didn't want to talk about me. She wanted to tell me about her own frustrations as a career-minded Christian woman.

The student, from a conservative church background, was exasperated with a recent conversation she had with her father.

She was having anxiety about her major and asked her dad for advice. Her father, attempting to help, suggested her major didn't matter that much because she would just get married and not work anyway.

The student retorted, "Dad, are you really sending me to four years at Baylor for me to never use my degree?"

Evidence suggests the experience of this student isn't anomalous. It matches attitudes "evangelical" Christians hold about women.

A recent Barna poll found that while Americans in general are becoming much more comfortable with women in leadership roles and more understanding of the significant obstacles women face in the workplace, "evangelicals" lag behind.

Here are a few examples from the poll:

  • While most Americans agree that women face "significant obstacles" that make it "harder for women to get ahead," evangelicals "are the most skeptical of the existence of barriers for women in the workplace."
  • Thirty-two percent of evangelicals agree women face more barriers than men in the workplace as opposed to 53 percent of Americans overall. Evangelicals are "the most hesitant" about the "future possibility of more women than men in the workforce."
  • Fifty-two percent of evangelicals are comfortable with this scenario as opposed to 77 percent of Americans overall. Ninety-two percent of American adults are comfortable with the idea of a female CEO, yet only 77 percent of evangelicals think this is OK. In other words, evangelicals lag about 20 percent behind national attitudes about women in the workplace.

Perhaps the most startling lag in evangelical attitudes concerns women in specific leadership roles: as president and pastor.

I commented in a 2016 blog that Wayne Grudem's attitude toward women (that they should never be in authority over men) made it impossible for him to support a female candidate for president. The Barna poll indicates I was right about this.

Evangelical Republicans, like Grudem, who rallied around Donald Trump also reflect the lowest levels of comfort with a female president.

Ninety-eight percent of Democrats are fine with a female president as opposed to 65 percent of Republicans.

Eighty-five percent of American adults support the idea of a female president while only 73 percent of evangelicals do.

For at least some evangelical and Republican voters (27 percent to 35 percent), the problem with Hilary Clinton wasn't just because she was a Democrat; it was also because she was a woman.

My students are so tired of hearing me say this, but ideas matter. Ideas that women are less than men affect how men treat women.

Just ask the nine women who, as of Dec. 7, accused Roy Moore of treating them as less than human (to put it nicely).

It didn't surprise me at all to read that a course on law and government co-authored by Moore calls women the "weaker vessel" and "unfit" for political office. (Moore did not write this particular section, but he did allow for its inclusion.)

As Joyce White Vance wrote , "Roy Moore is committed to a culture that believes women are not men's equals."

This, she explains, is why he thought it was OK for him to sexually pursue teenage girls. "In Roy Moore's vision of Alabama, it's acceptable for 32-year-old men to date young teen girls as long as their father's permission is obtained first. Moore's views consistently suggest that men are entitled to control women."

Ideas about women really do matter.

Beth Allison Barr is associate professor of history at Baylor University and a resident scholar at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. A version of this article first appeared on The Anxious Bench, where she blogs regularly. It is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @bethallisonbarr .

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here .

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