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Call goes out for study of women in leadership


Saying that questions remain about whether women are being treated as “equal partners” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a task force is asking the 2012 General Assembly to fund a research study to look more carefully at women in leadership in the denomination.

A group that has been looking at how such a study might be approached has concluded, for example, that “gaining access to ordination does not guarantee the equal treatment of women” in the PC(USA).

“We cannot afford to avoid doing this study,” said Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, an associate professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville and a Presbyterian minister who has led a group considering methodology – identifying some broad areas of concern and ways in which the denomination might conduct a study of women in leadership.

That group – technically known as the Status of Women Methodology Task Force – is asking the 2012 General Assembly to approve $143,750 in funding for the research study.

On Feb. 15, Hinson-Hasty described to the Executive Committee of the General Assemby Mission Council the work her task force has done. Hinson-Hasty said she started the work thinking some questions might be fairly easy to resolve – but discovered they have hidden complexities.

How, for example, is leadership defined?

And theologically, what does the Reformed tradition say about including the gifts of all and about a vision of shared partnership?

The work the task force did revealed, for example, that while the PC(USA) has for decades allowed women to be ordained, very few women have obtained senior leadership positions in large congregations. Only 4.7 percent of senior pastors in congregations with more than 1,000 members are women, according to statistics from the denomination’s 2010 Comparative Statistics report.

“Despite access to ordained positions women still report feeling limited or restricted by traditional norms for ministry” drawn from gender stereotypes, the task force report states.

Six in 10 Presbyterians in the pews are female, but only one-third of the denomination’s active ministers are women, according to the Comparative Statistics. Only 48 percent of those surveyed by the Presbyterian Panel in 2007 said they would be “very comfortable” with women of color fulfilling a pastoral role.

“Women are not equally represented among leaders ordained as ruling elders, deacons and teaching elders on all levels of ministry in the church,” the task force report states.

There also is a shortage of information about the ways in which women are serving in other ways – about the compensation and work hours, for example, of those serving as Christian educators, most of whom are women. Or what about women who want to serve the church but have decided not to “climb the ladder” in traditional ways?

And what impact is a changing culture having? With demographic shifts, for example, what are the implications for congregations today of the leadership of immigrant women? “The PC(USA) has not yet fully celebrated, welcomed, and embraced theologies emerging from the experience of people who are marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or class,” the report states.

The genesis for this proposed study comes from an action of the 2008 General Assembly. That assembly passed a “Resolution to Explore the Study of the Status of Women at All Levels in the PC(USA,” presented by the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns. That resolution called on the assembly to create a task force to design a mechanism for doing a broader study on women’s leadership in the denomination.

The task force on methodology now is recommending a study focusing on five broad questions:

  • Where are women doing the work of leadership and how do women themselves define their own leadership within the PC(USA)?

  • What is the status of women in these positions, relative to men?

  • What factors support/hinder women’s level of representation and participation in decision-making?

  • In what ways are our perceptions of leadership in the church shaped not only by gender but also by race, ethnicity, class and age?

  • How do our current definitions of leadership reflect the Reformed theological traditions of the church, and how do these definitions of leadership specifically impact women?