I haven’t been posting much on my blog lately, partly because I’ve been working on some other writing projects but also because I’ve taken a position at my church as the executive pastor. But recently Christianity Today came out with a report that explains why I write, why I believe God has called me to throw my hat in the ring with so many others who are discussing what the Bible does and does not say about women.
“With Gen Z, Women Are No Longer More Religious than Men” details recent research demonstrating that the differing rates of religious involvement for men and women in the United States, which previously has always shown higher rates among women, has reversed in younger generations. It is no surprise that compared to previous generations there are more nones (who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular) among all Gen Zers (women and men). The startling fact is that this is the first generation in which women nones outnumber men.
Historically, about 5 percent more American women than men have reported holding some form of religious belief. This still holds true for Americans over the age of 50 but begins to flip as we come to younger Americans. The lines meet somewhere around age 35, and by the time we get to 20-year-olds, it is men who are about 5 percent more likely to be religious than women, at least in the population as a whole.
This shift has occurred primarily among White non-Hispanics, where the discrepancy is greater than 5 percent. Among young Asians and Hispanics, women remain more religious than men; among Gen Z Blacks, women are slightly less religious than men. But when it comes to young Whites, women are significantly less likely to adhere to any faith, lagging behind men by 9 percentage points.
Traditionally, there has been an even wider gap in church attendance. In evangelical churches, on average, women have comprised about 60 percent of people in pews. Once again, this still holds true for older generations but has reversed among those under 40.
For the over 70 crowd, men are about 8 percent more likely than women to report that they never attend church. Among those under 20, however, women are some 3 percent more likely never to attend. Also, while Gen Z men are slightly more likely to attend religious services than men over 70, Gen Z women are about 6 percent less likely to go to church than their older counterparts.
Reading these stats transported me back to a conversation I had with a council member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood a few years ago. When I suggested that evangelical women were struggling with the way their identity and place in the church has been presented, he quickly responded, “Women are fine. It’s men who need help.” He went on to cite various statistics demonstrating that women are doing much better than men.
It is true that women are pursuing college education at higher rates, graduating more often, advancing more professionally, and earning more than they used to. Women have also adjusted more easily to a modern economy that no longer provides as many employment opportunities in traditionally male occupations, such as manufacturing and mining.
This has resulted in some of the lowest employment rates for men that the United States has ever seen, with only some 70 percent of men in the workforce compared to 85 percent in the mid twentieth century. It has also resulted in women in their 20s outpacing men in earning power. In addition, men report higher rates of various addictions, from substance abuse to online gaming, suffer “higher poverty rates than their counterparts 40 years ago,” and are much more likely than women to live with their parents in their 20s and 30s. Clearly, men face significant challenges in America today.
Yet none of the issues facing men is causing them to leave the church in droves. In fact, if there is any connection between cultural issues and men’s involvement in religious activity, it may be that these challenges are having the opposite effect, pushing men toward faith rather than away from it. As I mentioned earlier it is interesting, in a world where adherence to any type of belief system is decreasing, that Gen Z men are slightly more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts over 70.
What I tried to explain to the CBMW council member that day was that the unique challenges men and women face arise from different sources. Men, and perhaps White men in particular, are facing new hurdles in the outside world, as detailed above. But women, and perhaps uniquely White women, are facing a situation within the church that is prompting them to step out for good.
The question is this: Why are women, who historically and across the globe have been more religious, leaving the church and even the faith in such high numbers?
I can only answer that question anecdotally. From my experience, the driving motivation is that women, especially younger women, do not feel as respected in the church as they do in society at large. In today’s world women can aspire to any profession and any position. Their agency as decision-makers in the public arena is affirmed. In most cases, women are treated as just as intelligent and capable as men, if not more so.
Then these women go to church and are taught that the woman was created second because women need guidance, because women need leadership from a man. They are told women were created to follow and support, but not lead, and that the essence of a woman’s identity is submission. They are trained to believe they must listen to and learn from men who may never take the time to listen to and learn from women.
And though they have spent decades or years or days loving the God of the Bible, they begin to wonder if he’s truly good. For how could he be good if he created one sex to rule the other, one sex to be listened to and one to listen, one sex to command and the other to obey? And yet that is apparently what the Bible itself teaches about this God of Creation, this Ruler of the Universe, this Lover of their souls, at least according to what they have heard at church.
These women don’t need a pep talk, they don’t need to be patronized by those who laud the wonders of the hierarchical ordering of male and female, and they don’t need a sort of aggrandized, paternalistic “protection” from men who are neither their fathers nor their bodyguards nor the cop on the beat.
What they need are answers rooted in scripture, a believable explanation of the text that makes sense, that is faithful to the ancient historical context, that relies on the text as written and doesn’t add or subtract words here or there to prove that the “plain” sense is truly plain, that doesn’t jump to modern conclusions in a modern context about what some or other passage must mean.
And they need to know their value, they need to know God loves them and that he created women, just like men, to participate in the ruling and subduing of this little planet for his glory, and that it brings him honor when they do so.
This, my friends, is why I write.
Image byJack Sharp on Unsplash.
 The male civilian labor participation rate was some 85 percent in the 1950’s but so far this year (2022) it has hovered around 70 percent.
 According to Andrew L. Yarrow, a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute, twice as many men as women report being hardcore gamers. See his “Why Progressives Should Stop Avoiding Men’s Issues” in the Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2019.
 Many translations add “a sign of” or “a symbol of” before the word “authority” in 1 Cor. 11:10. Also, “she” has often been changed to “women” in the first half of 1 Tim. 2:15, giving the impression that the “they” in the second part of the verse refers to women, which is not at all apparent from the original wording. The updated ESV also has also changed “your desire shall be to your husband” to “your desire will be contrary to your husband,” based on an understanding of Gen. 4:7.
 An example here would be that because the Bible emphasizes the submission of wives to husbands (though it demands the mutual submission of all believers), Christian marriage must be arranged hierarchically, with one person (the husband) holding personal and absolute authority over another (the wife). The error here is the same as assuming that because the Bible enjoins obedience of slaves to masters and citizens to emperors, we must arrange our employment and government systems hierarchically, with one person (master, emperor, king) holding personal and absolute authority over another (slave, citizen). But very few people believe that. Mostly, we know that systems where power is shared are more in line with principles of Scripture than those that grant absolute authority to one individual. So we have employment systems based on contracts and laws and government by rule of law rather by the personal power of one or even a few individuals. For more on this, see my article “Rethinking Christian Marriage.”
3 thoughts on “Why I Write: For the First Time, Women Are Less Religious Than Men”
This perspective was refreshing to read and helped me to unpack underlining guilt I’ve been hiding. There was a lot of good truth is this and very vulnerable stuff. I relate to what is being said and am currently on a rouge spiritual journey to discover what my faith means to me as a women who is not people pleasing any more and is tired of being made to feel less then for no good reason. I can’t pray away my feelings any more and am setting boundaries and putting my foot down. My faith is between me and God now and I pray He leads me in a positive direction that is not man made.
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I have been told that male/female roles/relationships is not a salvation issue and therefore not centrally important. I disagree. I do believe it is exactly a salvation issue when I cannot speak to co-workers about the God of the Bible because they have been told this God ordained that men command/direct and women obey/submit. Gifting of leadership by the Holy Spirit doesn’t matter.
These are professional women with college degrees who often are managers with male and female subordinates. They are looking for a partnership in marriage, not a boss/employee relationship. They don’t want to hear about a God that seemingly says otherwise. I understand. I don’t want to hear about a God that says otherwise either because that is not the God I know. The Son of God I know, Jesus, gave up His very throne to come and live as one of us, to serve rather than be served, to sacrifice His life for ours.
My daughter once said to me that she would never get married if it meant having a “man stand between me and God.” While it breaks my heart, I also am glad she sees patriarchy/hierarchy for the idolatry it presents.
So….keep on writing. Every voice is important in this area. It can very much be a salvation issue for unbelievers, and an issue of idolatry for well-meaning believers.
This is exactly what I’ve seen. I have a friend who years ago broke off wedding plans because upon their engagement her fiancé announced that now he would make all the decisions, including replacing her when she was invited to speak! (She was a missions recruiter and traveled around speaking.) She told me, “I have a good thing going with God, and I’m not going to let a man come between that.” She has been happily single all these years, but not everyone is like that. I hope your daughter meets a man who sees things differently.