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Summary of Major Findings on a 2003 Survey of the NCC Justice for Women Network

National Council Of Churches Justice For Women
Working Group

Consultation on the State of the Ecumenical Women’s Movement

Survey Content Authored by
Karen Hessel, Program Director
NCC Justice for Women

With the Assistance of:
Jennifer Butler
Letitia Campbell
Lee Hancock
Rosemary Keller
And Input from Others in the Network

Survey Analysis and Results Summary by Adair Lummis


Foreward:  The Survey, the Sample, and this Report

The following pages describe some of the major results of a survey sent out to those in the NCC Justice for Women network in July-August, 2003.  This is not “my” survey. Karen Hessel and other members of the NCC Justice for Women network, particularly Jennifer Butler, Leitita Campbell, Lee Hancock and Rosemary Keller, authored all the question content.  My contribution was putting the questions wanted in “mailed survey” format for ease in answering and for computer analysis. 

Sample:   These  results are based on the responses of 76 persons who returned their surveys by September 15th.  Several have been returned to Hartford Seminary since that date, but the basic results will not change significantly adding a few additional surveys.

  • This is predominantly a sample of Anglo, heterosexual, women, age fifty and older who attend church at least “almost every week.”   (See Responses to Survey, pp. 16-18).  However, there are several men answering, and almost a fourth of this sample is Asian, Black or Hispanic.  Approximately 10% of those returning surveys indicated they are lesbian or gay person.   A fourth of the sample is under age fifty, but only 5% are under age 35.   

  • Eleven denominations were named among those returning surveys, however the largest percentages are Presbyterians (35%), followed by UCC (14%), UMC (14%) and Episcopalians (12%). Approximately 90% have been or are now in leadership positions in their congregations and/or in leadership positions on the national or regional level.  Almost two-thirds (66%) are currently in some national or regional church leadership position.

A strong majority (70%) see themselves as “feminist” and a fourth (25%) instead of or in addition to being feminists see themselves as “womanist” or “Mujerista.”    A small minority (16%) further specified whether they considered themselves “second wave” or “third wave” feminists.  Most answering this survey were probably not clear on what the distinctions were between these two “waves” - nor quite frankly was I - so I asked a colleague. [1]  Very generally, in contrast to second wave feminists who had to fight for women’s ordination and struggled to get inclusive language used in church services, third wave feminists are more focused on social issues and global effects on humans of every race, nationality, gender and sexual orientation.   

Although survey respondents may not have defined themselves in this fashion, there is evidence that a probable majority of those answering this survey, whether or not they originally became involved in the women’s movement in the church because of “second wave feminist” issues, are now involved more because of “third wave feminist” concerns.  (See Responses to Survey, p. 5).   The issues most frequently checked by 70% or more of the sample as “currently important” in their involvement in addition to “feminist theology” (the strongest interest) are “poverty- welfare reform”, and  “peace movements.”

The emerging strong interest among NCC Justice for Women members in what might be considered “third wave feminism” is an important consideration to keep in mind when hearing the following presentation of results, and considering future actions.

Presentation of  Results:  Those named who developed the content of the survey, on getting the first results from me, then developed the seven core areas in which they would like the results summarized for  input and discussion in roundtables. Roundtable topics and survey results for each are as follows:


1.  Significant Developments and Accomplishments

A.  The Two Most Significant Accomplishments Over the Last Thirty Years

The ordination of women” is the most significant accomplishment of the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years in the opinion of a three-fifths (62%) majority of those responding to the survey.

This percentage would have been even higher if it were not for the fact, as  several noted, that their denomination has been ordaining women for over thirty years.. A number of those who checked this explained that for women it marked a sea change in women’s position within their denominations, and encouraged women’s taking leadership in many other church positions. 

Ordination of women, several commented, “broke the male monopoly” in church leadership and was an important symbol that fired and affirmed other important changes in denominations and congregations, such as the development of feminist scholarship in theology and generally greater attention to women’s concerns on the part of denominations and church institutions..

The development of feminist scholarship in theology, biblical studies, etc.” is a near second in being the most significant accomplishment of the women’s movement over the last thirty years in the opinions of slightly over half (55%) of these respondents.

Several explained that “feminist scholarship” was the groundwork or impetus for many of the other accomplishments for women in the church.  Without the development of feminist scholarship, the ordination of women in Protestant denominations would have been much slower, the quality of theological scholarship would not have been as “vital or relevant”, nor would there be as many women faculty in seminaries, gender-inclusive language in worship would not have been considered and discussion of the female aspects of God in local congregations would be non-existent.  Without feminist scholarship, the ecumenical connections among women faculty and church leasers would likely not have been as developed as they are presently.

No other potential accomplishment of the twelve listed came even close to the above two in being the most important accomplishments of the women’s movement in churches.  This is probably mainly because the others listed on the survey (Responses to Survey, p.2) were seen more as outcomes of the above two.  However, it also true that some of these other “accomplishments” have really not been accomplished. 

B.  Yet to be Accomplished  

In the opinion of many respondents who wrote comments, the goals of the women’s movement in churches that have not been met are particularly in the areas of getting more women in top leadership positions in congregations and denominations, and in the use of gender-inclusive language in worship.

1.  Breaking through the Stained Glass Ceiling.

Ordination itself is no longer the problem for women, many noted. Rather it is:

Getting ordained women paying church positions beyond the first placement or call.

To quote two respondent in illustration:

  • To me, the struggle is not so much about women’s ordination anymore, but about women being called to be senior pastors (or at all)!

  • Women can be ordained but have to be “good girls” a la Bev Harrison – are not real leaders and hit the stained glass ceiling unprepared! 

The majority of those surveyed share these opinions. Although 70% checked that an important issue in their first becoming involved with the women’s movement in churches was “women’s ordination”, only 33% checked that women’s ordination is currently important for their present participation in the women’s movement.

Only about a third (30%-32%) indicated that “Access to ordination” and “Access to theological education” for women should be an important future priority their denomination. Twice as many (66%) checked “development of women leaders for churches” as important, however.  Women’s going through seminary and getting ordained has not necessarily resulted in their becoming church leaders.  Getting women into employed church leadership is seen as more the current priority:  Almost three-fifths checked that their denomination should be: addressing “gender discrimination in hiring church professionals” (59%) and/or “acceptance of women in church leadership positions” (49%)

2.  Inclusive Language in Churches and Using Female Images of God

A majority of those surveyed indicated that feminist theology  (58%)and especially indicated that inclusive language (67%) were important for their initial involvement in the women’s movement in churches.    Further over two-thirds of those surveyed said both feminist theology (74%) and inclusive language (57%) are important to their current involvement. While over half said that a major future issue for their denomination should be “development of feminist theological scholarship” (54%) and “theological-intellectual freedom”(55%), even more said that “inclusive language in worship” (66%) should be a future issue for denominational attention. 

Feminist theology continues to be important to respondents perhaps because it goes beyond women’s specific second-wave feminism concerns, as suggested earlier, toward a more third wave feminism of concerns about globally transformation.  As one put it: 

Feminism is not limited to equal rights/access but must aim at deep social/ecological/economic transformation. Most religious institutions are too timid to provide a “launching pad” for such efforts.  We need to make broad connections with other radical movements, while pressing for change within the churches

Inclusive language many responding view as very important, giving women empowerment to “name God/world/reality.”  The reason given why it was checked as one of two major “accomplishments” by only 7% of the sample is that it has not been sufficiently accomplished.  Two noted that there is more resistance to inclusive language now in their denominations that there was a decade or two earlier; and another that inclusive language is one of the particular targets of the current conservative “backlash”.


The most cited limitation of the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years, of nine potential problems listed on the survey, is:

Underestimation of patriarchy

(Checked by over two thirds, 68%)

Extent of backlash: Nearly four-fifths (79%) of those responding noted at least some backlash against women in leadership positions within their denominations, and a third (33%) said there has been “a strong backlash”.   As a denominational group, the Presbyterians were far more likely to note a strong backlash; almost two-thirds (65%) saying that there has been a strong backlash, particularly around the dates of “Re-Imagining.” 

From comments made on the survey, many were so encouraged by early gains they did not foresee the possibility of backlash from those who felt their power or prestige diminished by women’s entry into church leadership.  The concept of “backlash,” as a couple commented, assumes that women have made substantial gains in their denomination, which they did not agree was the case.  

Causes of backlash.  Most surveyed, however, felt that women have made great strides in becoming leaders and decision-makers within their denominations. About half further believed that one major cause of backlash in their denomination, although not the most important, was indeed:

Success of women’s movement

(Checked a “important “by 52%, as “most important” by 11%)

The major cause of backlash, however, was considered to be an:

Organized attack from the right

(Checked as important by 63%, as “most important” by 45%)

Underestimation of patriarchy, correlations indicate, is most likely to be realized when women’s church organizations and women leaders are subject to an organized attack from the right.  This organized attack, correlations indicate, occur most often if the women’s movement has been successful, however theologically conservative factions can launch an attack simply because they resist the whole notion of women’s ordination, inclusive language, feminist theology and the like.

The three other most cited reasons for backlash among the nine listed, (see Responses to Survey, p. 12), are:

3)  Failure of denominational leadership (58% important, 28% most important)

4)  Mainline decline/budget cuts (46% important, 20% most important)

5)  Divisions among women  (41% important, 14% most important).

Additional reasons for backlash written in noted the “general move to far right of government and most institutions in the last 20-40 years, as well as: Fear of “difference”, of “feminization”, of “men being overpowered” and Failure to “organize sufficiently, recognize the “subtle and no so subtle” ways that men demean women” and  “attract and educate more young women.”

Effects of  Backlash   The major way those surveyed personally experienced backlash   against  women in the church has been through a “general climate of suspicion or hostility” (57%) created by these attacks. While relatively few (11%) said they “lost their job” because of backlash, several wrote in that they were aware of other women in their denomination who had.  Fully a third (33%) indicated they experienced “personal attacks” based on beliefs, which for some (11%) led to “strained relationships with family and friends.”  A fourth (25%) checked they experienced “loss of a program they benefited from” because of denominational backlash against women in church leadership positions.   Whether backlash was directly aimed at them personally, the majority of participants who noted it within their denominations felt its effects by observing what was happening around them to programs and persons they thought had made it through the patriarchy.

Underestimation of patriarchy and power on the part of women in church leadership and women’s organizations, is one of the probably factors contributing to several of the “causes “ of backlash listed in the survey, also becoming results of backlash, which further hurt the women’s movement in churches.  Written comments suggested that: 

“Strategic right wing attacks against the program I staff”, sometimes from “Those who have raised new efforts to prevent women from leading professionally” and/or being “Not allowed to address conferences, do workshop, limiting my access to grass roots” by their denominational officials can have deleterious effects on the internal dynamics of women’s organizations in the church.

The many (51%) who noted an “Organized attack from the right” as a cause of backlash, significant correlations indicate, are also most apt to be among the 25% minority who feel there had been a “Failure to anticipate political fallout.”  Being surprised by political fallout is associated with perceptions that there had been a “Failure of leadership in the women’s movement”(26%) as well, which itself can lead to “Divisions among women” (41%) and “Weakening  of grassroots networks” (30%).  The internal cohesiveness and strength of women’s organizations in the church is diminished when, as one wrote on the survey:

All energy spent in fighting for self-preservation; strained relationships among women, & hard to work without the support for grassroots networks.

These leaders of the women’s movement would concur that in addition to timely and effective response to organized attack for the right, there is a great need to gain and retain support from a wider group of women in their denominations and ecumenically, particularly younger women. 

It is important to note that although the sample is predominantly of over fifty Anglo/white women, nonetheless there are both younger women (under age fifty) and/or women who are Asian, Black or Hispanic are significantly more likely than older women or Anglo women to  check one of the major causes of backlash in their denomination to be “Divisions among women.”

II.  Involvement of Younger Women

A second most cited limitation of the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years of nine potential problems listed on the survey, is:

Inability to Involve Younger Women

(Checked by 58%)

Inability Because of the Success of the Woman’s Movement: In proffering written explanations, several felt that the success of the women’s movement over the last thirty years has resulted in, as several put it, but to quote one: 

“Younger women see no need to be concerned about women’s issue; saying it is all fine for women now. “ 

It may not alter the situation much if young women see the women’s movement as having done all it can and not likely to achieve much future success.  If so, why should they become involved?  The comment of one young woman is instructive:

“There is such a lack of understanding among those of us who are younger about what those who are older fought for and why. Pop culture is rolling us back and we see frustrated female pastors who are excellent stuck as associates under ancient male patriarchs in the church, relegated to preaching once a month.  If we are ordained, will we get respect? Jobs? Hope needs to be instilled. Please.”

Inability Because Women’s Organizations in the Church are not relevant and/or are not welcoming to Younger Women’s concerns and leadership    Just as local churches that want to grow and attract young people will likely have to make changes in their structure and programs, several wrote comments to the effect that so too, many women’s organizations would also have to change.   Failure to sustain and nurture the few young women who do pass through” possibly because of the “intransigency of established models of women’s organizations in the churches “ were among the reasons given for difficulties in recruiting younger women. 
Among the changes suggested were:
  • Change image of women’s groups (PR to dispel notion we’re either dowdy or shrill). 
  • Understanding needs/interests of younger women and responding to meet those needs and interests in relevant ways.
  • Involvement of young people through stressing critical issues that attract their attention and fervor.

Younger women responding to the survey are more likely than older women to note “divisions among women” as one of the causes of backlash in their denominations.  Although we cannot tell the full extent of these possible divisions from the survey responses, it may be important to note that younger women are significantly more likely than older women to feel their denominations should give attention to racism and poverty in particular. 

Consequences of Failure to Attract

“Failure to attract and educate more young women” was cited by another as an addition factor in backlash against efforts to enhance women’s leadership in the church   All denominations want to attract young adults.  The fact that younger women do not seem as interested in the women’s movement in the church as those fifty and older, obviously contributes to divisions among women and is fodder for those who organize an attack from the right on women’s organizations in the church. 

Possible Strategies for Recruitment and Retention

Younger women in churches and definitely in seminaries need to be reached to help them understand the importance of the women’s movement in churches, and understand what has happened because of backlash and what challenges they may face as church leaders, without discouraging them from attempting to change the church and the world for the better.

Mentoring by strong women”, probably in college or seminary, is one way a number of those surveyed became involved in the women’s movement, comments suggest.  Survey statistics indicate that: 1) Denominational women’s conferences or activities were initially important for the majority of respondents (70%) becoming involved in the women’s movement, and for half (50%) still important. 2) Ecumenical/interfaith conferences and activities were and still are important for about three-fifths (59%-61%) becoming and still retaining their involvement in  the women’s movement in the churches.  This is true for all respondents, regardless of their ages. 

However, many denominational and ecumenical youth organizations do run conferences for their young people.  The problem is that these events do not typically include the thirty-something crowd, e.g.:

“I was initiated into the women’s movement through participation in national and international conferences and activities.  Once I hit my 30’s I no longer fit the category of ‘young adult’” and have not been included in such invited events”

For young women who are not in seminary and are not very involved with a congregation or their denomination presently, other paths into the women’s movement in churches are needed..  3) Academic/ professional conferences with sessions on women issues are one of the most important avenues through which those surveyed became involved in the women’s movement in churches  (55%) and which continue to be important for their involvement (59%).  However, significant correlations indicate that older women are more likely than younger women to cite such conferences as important for their continued involvement in the women’s movement, probably because older women are more likely to attend academic/professional conference. 

There is some indication in the survey that younger women may become more attracted to women’s organization in the church if these organizations are involved from a “faith stance” in social activism in the areas of peace, economic justice, global inequality of wealth, and addressing causes such as ending domestic violence, racism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination and violence against others.  Further, as one advised:

Remember that “younger women’s” experience of sexism is significantly different and far subtler.  We are not fighting the old battles.


Tied for second most cited limitation of the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years of nine potential problems listed on the survey, is:

Racism   (Checked by 58%)

The women’s movement in churches had taken place over the last thirty years in the predominantly white liberal Protestant denominations.  In part for this reason, there was more concern with getting the more denominationally-typical women ordained, and feminist theology  and inclusive language used in seminaries and congregations generally, than in trying to ensure that women of other races were part of this thrust. 

As mentioned, several indicated they had problems with the concept of “feminism” because of its very white orientation to the world.

  • I do not quite know how to respond to the issue/concern of feminist theology.  I am a womanist and have not been comfortable in the white feminist movement.

  • “Feminist” is a word that carries memories of racist values for me
  • I have become frustrated with a feminism that is simply about white women succeeding.  I am white myself, by the way

Several specifically named racism and feminism connections as problematic:

  • “The difficulty of connecting womanist/feminist work”
  • “Failure to involve more women of color in leadership roles and racism.”
  • Uneven partnerships with women of color.” 

  • “For many racial ethnic persons the issues related to “racism” continue to take priority over women’s issues.  The overwhelming dominance numerically of women give them power in excess of that of racial ethnic persons combined.  Some people of color continue to perceive that they confront great competition from white women in issues of employment and leadership and they do not perceive sensitivity to the issues from many white women.”

Several women wrote that they came into the women’s movement in churches through being in a racially mixed or non-Anglo women’s group, and would be unlikely to continue their involvement unless racism was a focus of concern, e.g.:

  • Women’s/feminist groups which are not serious about issues of racism are no longer groups I support

A strong majority  (72%) of survey respondents saw racism as a major issue for their denomination to address in the future, though considerably fewer (38%) saw racism an issue for their congregations.  Racism was not an issue that was considered of particular attention from their denomination or congregation, possibly because it is being addressed or because of other priorities listed.  (See Responses to Survey, pp. 14-15.). 

There is another possible explanation, i.e. non-church groups may be more effective.

In this regard, it is at least interesting to note that  only a fourth of the  total sample indicated that a limitation of the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years, was

Lack of connection to the secular women’s movement  (Checked by 24%)

However, non-Anglo persons responding to the survey were significantly more likely than Anglo’s to indicate that a limitation of the women’s movement in churches has been  a lack of connection to the secular women’s movement. 

Sometimes those of different races/ethnicities are more theologically conservative than many Anglo women in these liberal Protestant denominations.  As one explained, a major limitation of the women’s movement has been;

  • Racism and division among women.  Women have become a microcosm of the larger church instead of leading the church in a new way of being.  Women have been unwilling to dialog with those of different theological points of view.

V.    Homosexuality and Homophobia

Issues around sexual orientation are seen by a substantial minority of those surveyed  as a limitation faced by the women’s movement in churches over the last thirty years, as illustrated in the problematic issue of:

Heterosexim  (Checked by 40%)

Several said they became and/or are currently involved in the women’s movement in churches because of their  women’s group connection to justice for Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual persons.  Regardless of how these predominantly heterosexual survey respondents became involved in the women’s movement, a strong majority (71%) checked the issue of heterosexism/homophobia as one that should addressed in the future by their denomination, and half (50%) felt this should also be an important concern for their congregation.   Further, heterosexism/homophobia was one of the top four of nineteen issues listed in the survey receiving the highest proportion checking it as most in need of both denominational attention (15%) and of congregational attention (16%). 

A number of those surveyed likely realize that their efforts to support lesbians and gays in the church can result in some heterosexuals, including young women and racial minority women, avoiding their women’ organization.  As one remarked:

“Rather than heterosexism as a major problem – homosexuality or homophobia – has been an impediment.  Women in the church have been strong advocates against homophobia.  As a result, many women have been reluctant to be associated with the women’s movement lest they be viewed as homosexual.”

This realization, however, has not diminished their efforts to work on eliminating heterosexism in the church.  Feminist heterosexual women leaders do so is because they know that the struggles of lesbian and gay persons currently mirror their own struggles to achieve their present church positions:

  •  “Importance of making the connection between sexism and homophobia – and also race and class issues
  • I think that women need to support the ordination of gays and lesbians in our church.  The similarities to the struggles over women’s ordination just fifty years ago are to overpowering to ignore.  We need to support each other.”

VI.  Strategic Response to Challenges and  Backlash

One problem definitely contributing in the opinion of half those surveyed to the limitations of the women’s movement in churches has been:

Failure to respond strategically to challenges/backlash  (Checked by 51%)

Part of this problem, as indicated earlier in section II, was attributed to women’s underestimating patriarchy and the likelihood of organized attacks from the right.    However, such failure to respond strategically may also have other roots.  (See survey  results summary for  II. “Underestimation of Patriarchy and Power.”)

Even if leaders of the women’s movement in churches are aware of the power of patriarchy in their denominations, the possibility of organized attacks from the right, and of the central reasons for backlash against their successes, how should they respond in a timely and effective manner?

The following are some approaches suggested by those surveyed:

1.  Reach more Women through Widening the Appeal

  • It strikes me that the messages of the movement have failed to reach enough women to have the necessary breadth of appeal.

Broadening the appeal involves women’s organizations and movement in the church, it would seem from findings presented, focusing on those causes and concerns that will involve younger women, women of color, and gay and lesbian women.   These are likely to be issues other than ordination or even the use of inclusive language.  Rather, these are the same issues and concerns that interest secular feminist women interested in social justice for all, peace, violence, and global ecology.  Addressing these issues, but from faith-based perspective, may well attract more and wider diversity of individuals who are not presently part of the women’s movement in churches.

Education, conferences, publications about events that will get women involved in activities relevant to their central concerns are central ways of reaching more individuals.

2.  Reach out through Ecumenical Women’s Organizations

  • There is so much caution and fear in denominational contexts, so I choose to work ecumenically and outside and on the edges.

Women’s organizations not under the thumb of a national denominational hierarchy are often in better position to take a stance on issues that denominations are unwilling to support a formal policy of the denomination.   More freedom and more interdenominational contacts through its members, further allow women’s interfaith and ecumenical organizations to broaden their appeal to women of different interests and backgrounds in working cooperatively to address issues of concern.

3.  Keep Awareness of Patriarchal Backlash:  Don’t Let Down Your Guard!

  • Necessity of strategy among ecumenical women to combat pressures from the religious right, patriarchal church structures, and failure of male denominational and ecumenical, national leadership.

  • Realizing and addressing the issue of power: who holds it, how is it used, who does it serve.  It is an issue that crosses lines of gender and race.

Savvy women and men survey respondents from long experience know that resistance and backlash is unlikely to become a “thing of the past.”    Developing effective strategies must take into account the possibility of power plays and resistance from those who do not support the goals of the women’s movement in churches.

4.  Organizational Preservation  and Self-Preservation

  • All energy spent in fighting for self-preservation; strained relationships among women; it is hard to work without the support of grassroots networks.

  • Energy drain.  I had to refocus from creative programming to defense, defense, defense.  Then I found my mission shifting to broader, deeper concerns of the earth, under-served communities and building literally “from the ground up.”

One of the reasons why women’s organizations in the church and individual women leaders are not sufficiently strategically effective in their response to patriarchal backlash is because they are exhausted in trying to do exactly that.  The other demands on women leaders needs to be understood and dealt with; otherwise we will lose our brightest and best.

5.  Organization, Clear Agenda. And Strategy to Achieve Goals

  • The future of the women’s movement needs:  
    1) organization; 2) clear agenda; 3) long range goals; 4) strategy.
  • The future of the women’s movement needs:  (1) Not having women’s leadership taken for granted; (2) know where we have been and where we are going; (3) check cost – not differences in male-female relationships, not cost for business as usual. 

It is safe to say that no one wants the women’s movement in the church to be focused heavily on resisting backlash and challenges posed by detractors.   The women’s movement has important issues to address not only for USA Anglo Christian women, but also for the entire world.

At the same more attention may need to be given to focusing on goal priorities that may be effectively worked toward by different women’s organizations and groups.  In addition to careful planning and effective implementation, there is a reality problem that needs also to be addressed. Like any other organization, group or movements, women organizations in the church need financial resources.  This has become increasingly problematic.  It is essential to have goals and causes that are important and which inspire women to contribute their time and energy.  However strategies that focus on goals and causes, neglecting attention to the financial resources that will be needed, will be ineffective, as discussed next.

VII.   Control of Women's Financial Resources

A.  Financial Problems and Their Causes

1.  Mainline Denominational Decline and Budget Crunches:

According to nearly half the survey sample one of the major causes of backlash in their denominations, is:

Mainline decline/budget cuts. (46% checked this as a cause of backlash)

National church “restructuring” has been driven by mainline denominational decline in funds.  Restructuring processes typically look at what can programs and departments can be easily eliminated or reduced, and their resources reallocated to other denominational departments and programs.  This has happened to women’s organizations on the national and regional levels. In illustration, one wrote that she personally experienced backlash through:

“(Denominational) Restructuring to gain control of programs and ultimately finances previously generated and regulated by women.”

A diminishing (national church) budget…. is the main reason for..(the fact our organization) for Women will disappear, but there will be executive directors for each who will function as assistants….  Staffing and budget will be severely reduced in this new design.  

Denominational financial problems affecting most mainline denominations appear to have had deleterious effects on women organizations.  Comments on the survey indicate that several women’s organizations have had their vacant positions not refilled and programs they have been working with discontinued.   Some women’s ministry desks on the national denominational level have reduced or eliminated altogether. Sometimes these cuts cannot be fought effectively.  Perhaps sometimes, however, women leaders give up too quickly, as suggested by one who saw 

Women my denomination cooperating with budget cuts and backlash.”

Other factors associated with backlash from “mainline decline/budget cuts” (significant correlations among survey items indicate) is often  “lack of a broad base of support” which can further erode funding and autonomy for women’s organizations.

In addition, and not necessarily as a consequence of denominational budget cuts, is the fact that women’s organizations can have both their autonomy and money removed from their control by denominational senior executives.

2.  Women not taking control of their money:

Nearly half %) checked on the survey that one of the problems or limitation of the women’s movement in the churches in last thirty years has been: 

Loss of control of women‘s financial resources”  (47% checked this as a limitation of the women’s movement)

Women’s organizations are often effective in raising money; but retaining control over these funds is far more difficult.  Ironically, women may lose control of their money because they espouse democratic leadership and allow men to “share” in decision-making over its allocation, as suggested by the following survey respondents:

“Women have raised funds but diluted power, management and control, even sharing too much decision making within church structures.”

Whatever the factors involved, there is a serious financial situation for women’s organization in the church, as another put it cogently:

“Unfortunately, I think the major issue is money.  The NCC and denominations are suffering serous financial problems and women usually are hit the hardest. Women must find ways to control their own money!”

B.  Changing the World and Women’s Organizations:  Next Steps?

One of the three most important issues for women in the church that respondents felt should be a future priority for their denomination is:

Global inequality of wealth”  (66% checked this a major issue for their denomination. 

This was also the issue that received the highest proportion (20%) nominating it as one of two issues most in need of denominational attention. 

Indeed, denominations’ distribution of funds to addressing poverty and global issues will likely have priority over funding women’s organizations.   However, will denominational attention to the global inequality of wealth or other justice causes be as well addressed if women’s organizations are eliminated?  

The existence of women’s organizations on the denominational and ecumenical national and regional levels is precarious presently.  What should be done?  What can be done realistically within each denomination and ecumenically?      

Postscript:   As one wrote in responding on strategy: “We need to know where we have been and where we are going.”    Before making plans for the future, it is important to understand where we have been.    Rosemary Keller’s presentation helps us understand.


[1] She is Paula Nesbitt, Visiting Professor of Sociology at UC Berkley, who has done work in this area.  I asked her what she saw as the distinction, more precisely what exactly were “Third Wave Feminists?”  She wrote back to the effect that the Third Wave feminists, who are typically in the younger age group, see the Betty Friedan generation of the Second Wave Feminists as being of “the dinosaur era and that life is much different and better now, thank you... Third wave feminism is also much more committed to multiracial feminism, multicultural issues regarding feminism, and about the effects of globalization on women.  They also tend to think beyond the lesbian/straight dichotomy in terms of sexuality issues.  Third wavers also are less likely to join NOW or ECW or some such to work for change.  But they are active at the grassroots…Third wavers complain that second wavers don’t want to let go and second wavers complain that third wavers don’t see the systemic issues and are too complacent.  Both generations are correct.”  return to text




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