Monday, June 29, 2009

Gender and Work: The Case of the Clergy

In 1993, Ed Lehman published a sociological study entitled Gender and Work: The Case of the Clergy. Lehman’s research focused on whether male and female clergy had different approaches to pastoral ministry. Lehman’s work was a response to the assertion by cultural feminists that women were inherently different in their leadership styles and understanding of pastoral ministry than men. He used the cultural feminists definitions of male and female styles of leadership to frame his research questions. Lehman’s study focused on approximately 500 clergy from 4 primarily white mainline denominations in the United States. The sample was comprised of half male and half female clergy with about 20% of the sample representing non-white ethnic groups. His primary research method was a phone survey to clergy. In addition, surveys were mailed to laity in a number of congregations to see if clergy self-perceptions were similar to that of laity perceptions.
Lehman’s work did not produce very clear results. Differences were often minimal and rarely located along lines of gender. While Lehman did find that female clergy are slightly more empowering than male clergy and tend to lead with rather than lead over, he found that both male and female clergy tend to use more feminine approaches to leadership. In addition, both male and female clergy were incredibly varied in their approaches. Lehman’s work highlighted the complexity of the issue of leadership. Unfortunately, his work is often cited as proof that women lead differently than men using a more empowering and relational approach. Lehman would most likely not support this assertion. Instead, he would shift the question from whether male and female clergy approached pastoral ministry differently and begin asking under what conditions gender differences emerged.
Lehman found the clearest differences among clergy of large congregations. He found that female senior pastors with multiple staff members often led in more feminine ways while male clergy in the same positions led in more masculine ways. He suggests that these female clergy had more freedom to express their true style of leadership while those in smaller congregations were more limited to cultural expectations of male roles. This has been one of the more challenged findings in his work. Zikmund, Lummis and Chang in their work Clergy Women found few differences between male and female clergy in large congregations. At the moment, it is difficult to find a large enough sample of female senior pastors in large congregations to come up with any definitive themes or conclusions. What is interesting is that Lehman’s work challenges stereotypes that suggest that women must lead like men in order to move ahead and be successful in ministry. If what Lehman suggests is true, I have wondered if these women lead in ways that are more acceptable to the culture. By not challenging gender roles, they are seen as “safer” and less threatening even though as pastors of large churches they occupy positions of power. Must you be a certain type of woman leader to get ahead? It seems that further research in this area would be helpful.
Lehman also found differences among those right out of seminary and more veteran pastors. New pastors tended to exert more power over the congregation while veteran pastors were more empowering. This perhaps suggests that new pastors are trying to establish their authority or that seminaries are training them in more masculine styles of leadership. Lehman also found more differences between white clergy and African American clergy, both male and female, than between male and female clergy of either race. African American clergy as a whole were less empowering and more likely to exert power over the congregation. Lehman does not expand much further on either of these results, suggesting that further research would be helpful. In particular, Lehman’s results suggest that the cultural context in which pastoral identity is formed would be an important site for further research. This includes seminaries, the congregations that form pastors, and other significant forces such as race and class. One of the aims of my research is to include these variables more explicitly in my work.
Lehman's work is clearly difficult to interpret, but it provides a good starting point for discussions regarding gender and pastoral leadership. Whether you agree or disagree with his results, they are worthy of being engaged and discussed. Where have your experiences supported his findings? Where do they contradict what he has said? The next post will consider some additional studies on women clergy that build on Lehamn's work.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mission and Liberation in Four Ecclesiologies

My last post gave a very brief overview of the ecclesiologies of Boff, Ruether, Volf, and Russell. This post will provide some critique of their works focusing on the practical implications of their theologies for the church.

For Boff and Ruether, liberation is an essential aspect of the gospel, though defined with different emphases. For Volf, new life is essential. There is a liberation aspect, but Volf sees justice as a culturally constructed reality. He is unwilling to make universal statements about what is just. Unfortunately, in failing to do so, he often loses any liberating edge in his work. GutiƩrrez describes two separate approaches to ecclesiology: the new Christendom model and the distinction of planes model. The new Christendom model centers on the work of the church in creating a just society in this world. The distinction of planes model sees a radical disjunction between the church and world. While Volf would argue for a culturally sensitive and critical gospel, he is also seeking to reclaim a gospel that is above the influence of the culture. His ecclesiology focuses on this aspect of the gospel while failing to provide significant tools to help congregations construct meanings that are socially located. As such, it often becomes unreflective on how the gospel itself has been culturally constructed.

Russell’s eschatological vision of the church contains aspects significant to all of the others. Along with Boff and Ruether, her work has a liberating emphasis focusing on both economic issues and issues of gender. Her work Church in the Round argues that the church can only be understood through the eyes of the poor and oppressed. The round table serves as the central image of her church where are all gathered equally around the table. There are no margins, or rather everyone is at the margins and Christ is at the center. The table itself draws on the eschatological image of the banquet table where Christ serves as the host and all nations and tongues are gathered for fellowship and worship. All are to be welcomed to the table and hospitality serves as a central image. This hospitality is not to simply welcome people into the church. Instead, the church is to take that hospitality out into the world, bringing liberation and fighting against injustice. At times, Russell fails to analyze the power dynamics around the table itself. Her image of hospitality can begin to sound patronizing as those who already have a seat reach out to those less fortunate and bring them into their world. None of the theologians addressed here attend to issues of race and the attendant cultural differences that must be addressed in order to create a church community that is truly welcoming and hospitable.

In addition to a missional focus, eschatology radically shapes the structure of the church for all four theologians. All have a more functional understanding of the pastoral office and an emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. Interestingly, Volf, the Free Church theologian, is less radically egalitarian than the other three theologians. While he emphasizes the priesthood of all believers, he holds to the threefold offices of the church: deacon, elder, and pastor. He says that these offices are not constitutive of the church, but are a socially necessary form of leadership for the church to function in this society. Volf provides no critique of the current internal hierarchies of the church and the way that they serve to marginalize many from leadership. Russell spends significant time on issues of leadership and authority in both Church in the Round and Household of Freedom. She argues for a more egalitarian leadership structure. Leadership is exercised with the congregation rather than over the congregation. She feels that ordination has been irredeemably corrupted by patriarchy and argues for a radical restructuring of the pastoral office. For Boff, the base communities are also radically egalitarian. While the priestly office still exists, his emphasis on the priesthood of all believers leads to a community without alienating structures in which individuals share decision-making, share material goods, and form a deep attachment for one another.

A final short note on the role of scripture in each of the ecclesiologies. For each of the theologians, the Word of God is a significant resource for the community. Volf seems to assume the centrality of the Word rather than argue for it. The others take a more critical approach. Russell sees scripture and the tradition of the church as the primary sources of theology since it is through these sources that Christ is revealed. She does take a critical approach to scripture, seeing it corrupted by patriarchy, and calls on a reading of scripture from the margins. Boff seeks to restructure his community around the axes of Word and laity rather than the current axes of sacrament and clergy operative in the Roman Catholic Church. The base communities themselves were formed around the reading of scriptures and the scriptures are seen as the source of liberation for the church. Ruether is the most critical of the scriptures and Christian tradition. While they are a source for theology, they are just one source. She also draws on the religions of the Ancient Near East and of the Hebrews. Liturgy is central for Ruether and much of her liturgies focus on recontextualizing, liberating, and exorcising various texts from the canon of scripture.