Why I Write: For the First Time, Women Are Less Religious Than Men

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.[1] 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,[2] suffer “higher poverty rates than their counterparts 40 years ago,”[3] 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,[4] that doesn’t jump to modern conclusions in a modern context about what some or other passage must mean.[5]

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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 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. 

[5] 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.”

Can a Woman Be a Pastor’s Right-Hand Man?

Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the pastor’s Girl Friday, who pens the letter in his name, buys the coffee at Costco, and types the announcements into the bulletin. Neither am I referring to the pastor’s Yes Man, the one who is uniformly loyal, gets behind every plan, and takes the pastor’s side in every disagreement. 

What I’m thinking of is that person who can be fiercely loyal yet also possess the courage to speak the truth, who is overwhelmingly supportive yet can correct or admonish when necessary, and who does so only out of a pure and undefiled love of God. It’s the one who hears from God and can speak for God not just out of their own wisdom, however valuable that may be.

I’m talking about the person God uses as a prophetic voice in the life of the pastor.

And since, in most cases, the senior pastor is a man, I’m going to focus on whether God might ever call a female leader to serve as a male lead pastor’s right-hand, truth-speaking, prophetically-gifted “man.”

The prophet Nathan, in his relationship with King David, might be the closest biblical example of this role. We only have record of a few of his interactions with the king, but those we do shed light on how God uses someone in this position.

We encounter Nathan for the first time in 2 Samuel 7. David is at rest from his enemies and settled in his palace when he turns to Nathan, apparently one of David’s regular palace companions, and states that he would like to build a permanent home for the ark of God. 

Nathan, speaking out of his wisdom, loyalty, and knowledge that God’s favor rested upon the king, encourages David to do “whatever you have in mind” (v.3). However, that night the word of the Lord comes to Nathan declaring that David is not the man for the job. Nathan has to eat humble pie and reverse himself, delivering an unhappy and unsettling message to his friend. 

Yet that is exactly what is required of Nathan as a prophet of the Lord.

The next time we see Nathan he is confronting David for taking Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed in battle (2 Sam. 12). If you think telling David he was not the guy to build the Lord’s house was rough, imagine confronting the most powerful monarch in the ancient Near East about abuse of power, adultery, and murder. And then imagine that insanely powerful man’s response to your challenge.

What comes to mind is a Mark Driscoll screaming at the top of his lungs, Who the **** do you think you are??[1]

Yet David wasn’t that man and didn’t respond to Nathan’s rebuke like that at all. 

Sure, Nathan was savvy, presenting David’s sin to him in the form of a parable about a poor man and a rich man. The poor man had only one little lamb while the rich man had many, yet, in unconscionable selfishness, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and served it to his guest.

Initially David responds with outrage at the heinous deed, declaring that the man who did this ought to die. But when Nathan confronts David with the words, “You are the man!” (v. 7), David is immediately repentant, admitting, “I have sinned” (v. 13).

What do we learn from Nathan? What does this right-hand man role consist of? 

At its core it is not something that can be conjured up, that results from our own wisdom and insight and knowledge. It is truly God who appoints, authorizes, validates, and verifies this ministry. 

Most of the time we speak out of our understanding, which of course is valid and necessary. Yet sometimes in our understanding we are at complete loggerheads, we are blind to our sins and failings, or we have simply missed God somewhere along the way. 

It is in these moments that we need an intervention, a supernatural intervention. The point is, even if we permit God to speak, which does not always happen, we don’t get to choose the vessel. We might think it should be this person or that person and not this one or that one, but it’s not up to us. We can listen all we like to the wisdom of the saints, but if God has not chosen to speak through them in a specific instance, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Yes, discernment must be activated and whatever is said must be weighed according to the scriptures and the witness of the Holy Spirit within the broader community. No doubt there are false “words” and false messengers. 

But there are also true words and faithful messengers.

All of this brings us back to our initial question: 

Would God position a woman as a male pastor’s right-hand man?

How do we answer this question? By proof-texting one verse? Or do we consider how God himself used the voice of women in Scripture?

You can probably guess what I think.

The New Testament is very clear that God will speak prophetically through both men and women. Peter, quoting Joel 2, declares:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

In the church age, no longer would God speak prophetically through a few “professional” prophets. Now this anointing would spread wide, without the limits we are so accustomed to placing on God regarding who he may or may not use to speak his truth. Young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free all received the Spirit, and all could be used by God according to his will and his purposes (Gal. 3:28).

Paul agrees with Peter, assuming as an established practice that both women and men will prophesy in the worship service:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved. (1 Cor. 11:4-5)

Yes, men and women were to abide by culturally determined dress codes, but their freedom to prophesy publicly was not restricted according to sex.

So what, precisely, do we think these women in the early church prophesied about? (Just pondering here for a moment.) Who was going to win Sunday’s chili cook-off? Or who should have kitchen duty that week? Or perhaps which babies would sleep through the church service and which would fuss for an hour?

Or do you think these first-century churchwomen prophesied like Elizabeth and Mary and Anna, who were among the first to speak forth the identity and work of the Messiah (Luke 1:42-43; 46-55; 2:38)? Or Abigail, who prophesied David’s future kingship yet warned him, very personally and very directly, not to jeopardize all that in the heat of the moment (1 Sam. 25:28-31)? Or perhaps Huldah, who interpreted Scripture, speaking the word of the Lord to the king and the nation, giving them God’s bad-news-good-news report of the day (2 Kings 22:15-20)? And then there’s Deborah prophesying to Barak, directly and personally instructing Israel’s top military commander on his role and responsibility in God’s plan for the nation (Judg. 4:6-9).

Well, how do you think God used women in the early church, and how do you think God might choose to use them today?

It’s been a few years now, but I’ve seen God use women in this role. In most cases it wasn’t planned and was never officially acknowledged; it just happened. No one was more surprised than the senior pastor himself, for it was a God-move, a God-anointing, a God-position.

So perhaps, when God moves into our pre-planned and prearranged and perfectly-ordered systems, we should simply get out of the way.


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

[1] “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast series by Christianity Today contains this audio. If I remember correctly, the quote airs on every episode and is discussed in its context on one of the later episodes.

Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture

Probably most egalitarians have been accused of claiming there’s no difference between men and women.[1] It’s a common response to the view that both women and men are full image-bearers of God and therefore equally participate in the fundamental human calling of leadership on this planet. 

Mine came in a private conversation with one of the speakers at a theology of marriage event at my seminary. I was surprised he assumed that everyone in attendance agreed with his belief that men lead and women follow, and he was surprised when I said I did not think this paradigm described the difference between women and men at all.

Incredulously he asked, “Are you saying there are no differences?”

Continue reading “Egalitarians Need to Locate Genesis 2 in the Grand Narrative of Scripture”

“Around the House, Women Rule” and Other Marriage Myths

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I’m hearing that women rule the roost. Recently I had a conversation with a Christian leader who said that it’s women who have the power at home. He went on to explain that, for example, men ask their wives for permission before heading out to the golf links on Saturday.

Then I ran across an article at the Love and Respect website where Emerson Eggerichs responds to concerns of wives whose husbands seem less respectful toward them since doing his study. After citing numerous Proverbs that warn about contentious wives, Eggerichs quotes a couple of sources including a USA Today article that claims “around the house, women rule.” Eggerichs goes on to say that the true problem in these marriages may be “a contentious wife who is expressing her disgruntlement over the fact that periodically her husband puts his foot down and breaks the pattern of her getting what she wants.”

And then Christian therapist Kevin Leman, in his book for wives frustrated by their husbands’ irresponsibility and insensitivity, writes that “in the midst of all this struggle for power in a unisex society, guess who rules the roost? No doubt, it’s you women!” Leman references the article Eggerichs cites and another from the same journalist to support this claim.[1]

So here we have three highly influential Christian authors responding to women’s marital frustrations by explaining that wives have misconstrued the situation. In truth, we are told, women have the power in marriage and men are just trying to find a place at the table so they can be equal.

Rooting around on the Internet I found the USA Today articles plus others along the same line. With taglines like “Study: Women Are in Charge at Home,” “Women rule the roost, and that’s OK with men,” “Wives have the marriage power,” and “Women Call the Shots at Home,” one would think wives’ dominance of husbands is firmly established.

Until you look at the research it’s based on, that is.

It turns out that all of these articles are based on the same two studies, one by Pew Research and one from Iowa State.[2] Eggerichs also cites the work of widely respected marriage researcher John Gottman, though he leaves out salient parts of the paragraph and appears to misunderstand the terminology.[3]

I don’t have time to look at all of this in detail today so I’ll focus on the Pew study, a phone survey interviewing couples about who makes more decisions at home, the husband or the wife.

Pew asked 1260 men and women who was more likely to make the decisions in four common household scenarios. Here is the exact wording of the questions: Who decides what you do together on the weekend? Who manages the household finances? Who makes the decisions on big purchases for the home? And who most often decides what to watch on television?

Results showed that in 43% of couples the woman makes more of these decisions, while only in 26% of couples does the man make more. From this arises the idea that “women call the shots at home.”

Frankly, when I read the Pew study I was more perplexed than convinced. Does it really prove that women are “the boss” at home? Does it prove anything? I wondered what the outcome would be if different questions had been asked.

For example, who decides how much personal leisure time each partner gets while the other cares for the home and kids? Is this a decision the couple has worked out together or does one person have the upper hand here? Is the fact that many men let their wives decide what they do together on weekends a function of a mutual agreement they have made – as long as I can play golf Saturday morning, honey, whatever you want to do Saturday night is fine with me – or indicative of an unfair arrangement – I’m playing basketball two nights a week this semester, just so you know – that makes him feel guilty and her resentful, so he pacifies her by going along with her dinner plans? Or is it truly a case of the woman controlling leisure time? It could be any of these, but from the way the survey was set up we have no way of knowing.

Instead of asking who manages the finances, what about finding out who decides how funds are allocated in the first place or, for that matter, who is left with the grunt work of paying the bills and balancing the budget? The women I know who manage the household finances (I am one) do so for one of two reasons: either they and their husbands agreed she would do it (because she is more naturally suited to it or has more time) or their husbands refused so the wife stepped up.

It is true that the person who handles the finances has a better grasp on what the couple can and cannot afford, so a wife managing the day to day finances may result in a husband asking his wife if it’s okay for him to make a purchase. But this may not be about getting permission from his wife, but rather from the budget. In our case, my husband has certain goals for our finances and so do I. We talk about these and agree upon priorities, then I work out the details in a practical plan.

As for big purchases for the home, my question is how things would fall out if the question was about big purchases for the garage. Is the fact that women make more decisions about appliances and sofas related to men’s lesser interest in these items compared to cars, boats and tools? We don’t know since the survey didn’t ask the question. Numerous longitudinal studies do indicate, however, that although men have gained some traction with respect to household purchases women still take the lead in buying toilet paper, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, and bedspreads.

If that means I call the shots at home, well, I don’t know what to say.

The bias in the methodology here may be comparable to the bias inherent in some studies of who works more, men or women. Some data has indicated that women work an entire second shift compared to men, when total working hours (at home and at a job) are calculated. However, the main study asserting this inequity was based solely on women’s assessments of how much they work compared to their husbands. More accurate research indicates that on average stay-at-home wives/mothers work the fewest total hours, husbands/fathers with full-time jobs work about the same total hours as wives/mothers with part-time employment, and wives/mothers with a full-time job work a total of about one hour more per week than anyone else, varying a bit by country.

When it comes to television I wonder if the survey respondents assumed the couple was watching a show together, since a question about who handles the remote would seem to imply they’re both watching. And when they do, the wife is more likely to decide what they view.

But is that because she dominates, or because he’s fine with what she wants as long as he gets to watch his game on ESPN and play a few rounds of his favorite video game first? And does he even want to watch TV with her, or is she the one looking for some couple time in front of the tube? I don’t know; I’m sure there are couples where the wife is insensitive to her husband’s interests and dominates time spent as a couple, but I don’t think you can prove a general trend by this question.

Beyond these weaknesses, to me the Pew questions seem trivial. Bigger issues in my mind are things like who decides how household responsibilities are divvied up or how much extra work each partner gives the other through their thoughtlessness or selfishness. Is one person tacitly saying, I’ve done my share; the rest is yours? And if a wife manages the family’s social schedule, does that mean she’s dominant or that no one else is willing to do it? Or has the couple agreed that she play this role? It could be any of these.

And how about some questions relating to interpersonal interaction, like who decides when it is okay to be angry and when it is not? Does one partner believe his or her anger is warranted but the other’s is unprovoked? Who decides when a “sin” issue necessities intervention and when it’s “no big deal”? Who decides when something “makes sense” and when it does not, when “this conversation is over” or when it’s okay to say “I don’t need your approval to do this.” I think when either partner dominates does these things it is a much stronger indication that they “rule the roost” and, frankly, that their marriage is in trouble.

Back to the original illustration of a man asking his wife if it’s okay for him to go golfing on Saturday. Is this really an indication of a woman holding power in the home? Or is it simply common courtesy? What else should the man do – announce he’s leaving as he walks out the door, without checking if his wife has an appointment and needs him to watch the kids? And is that what his wife should do as well? Announce her departure as she heads out for a hike with a friend, without asking if her husband needs something first?

Perhaps checking with your spouse about personal leisure time is simply a reflection of the fact that when we live together in family we meld our schedules and priorities with each other, working things out in a mutually satisfying way so that we have time together but also time to pursue individual interests. As Jesus said, if you recall:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Caring enough about your spouse to consider their needs reflects a fundamental Christian principle, not some sort of dysfunctional codependency.

The bigger question in all of this is simply why. Why do some of our most influential marriage teachers think they need to convince husbands and wives that, actually, women are dominating men at home, especially when the studies they cite do not support this claim?

Yes, some research does demonstrate that women place a higher premium on closeness in marriage while men assign a greater importance to autonomy. So a couple may have different goals for their relationship and different feelings about their relationship dynamics. This is where compromise and the commitment to create a mutually satisfying marriage are needed. But perhaps it explains why a man can view running his Saturday plans by his wife as demonstrating her power over him while she thinks of it as common courtesy.

And yes, it is also true that women are more likely to push for change in a relationship no matter who brings up the problem. Husbands, on the other hand, tend to “demand” (press for change) when they point out an issue but withdraw in the face of their wife’s concerns. However, as Gottman notes, in healthy marriages husbands learn to respond to their wife’s “demands” rather than withdrawing from conflict. Though a wife’s compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal can lead to short-term marital satisfaction (perhaps this is why Eggerichs’ ideas seem to work at first), it is also highly correlated with long-term marital dissatisfaction and divorce.[3]

So, no, there is no compelling evidence that, in general, women rule the roost. An individual woman may dominate her home life, of course, just as an individual man may. Those things need to be figured out and worked out on a case by case basis, not by broad, inaccurate brush strokes.

Yet all this talk of women having the power at home is causing a lot of damage in circles where it is embraced as gospel truth. If we’re going to make claims about what is universally true in marriage we need to take the time to investigate the research rather than default to unsubstantiated myths.

We can do better than this.


[1] Have a New Husband by Friday, 29-30.

[2] The Iowa State study is also mischaracterized by the popular media, though it does demonstrate that wives are more likely than husbands to press for change in the relationship. Husbands push for change when it’s an issue they brought up but often withdraw and avoid if their wife chose the topic. Husbands are also more likely to be convinced of their wife’s arguments and agree to changes than the other way around, but this may be a sign of a healthy marriage according to the study’s authors. John Gottman would concur.

[3] Eggerichs drops the part that a wife’s “highly emotional” interaction includes “both positive and negative emotions.” He also leaves out the corresponding assessment of men’s interaction: “Men, on the other hand, have been described as conflict-avoiding, withdrawing, placating, logical, and avoidant of emotions.” Also, these comments are located within a section explaining that male socialization that results in avoidance of emotion “will have serious consequences when love relationships bloom and become serious in young adulthood.” John Gottman, What Predicts Divorce? The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes (Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994) 283. Gottman also explains that a wife’s push for change is positive as long as the husband responds to her needs rather than stonewalling her. In fact, he has a section entitled “Embrace Her Anger” (p. 131). Gottman also notes that a wife’s agreeableness and compliance in the face of her husband’s withdrawal and avoidance correlate to short-term marital satisfaction but long-term dissatisfaction. That is, the stonewall-comply marital dynamic is a high predictor for divorce (p. 131-135). Eggerichs also gets the page number wrong, so it took me a long time to find the quote. The correct page is 283, as noted above.

Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question

In my last post I mentioned a conversation I had with a speaker at a recent theology of marriage conference. I have since learned that he is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which may explain why our conversation was like two trains passing each other in the night.[1]

Anyway, this man joined my table during lunch, asking what we would have said if we had been part of the panel discussion that had just completed. Since the topic was one of my interests – gender differences – I jumped in and said I don’t believe the difference between men and women is a matter of leading and following, as had been implied by the panel. Ruling authority is granted to all human beings equally in Genesis, and since leadership and authority go hand in hand, it does not seem that there is any basis for claiming men were created to lead and women were created to follow. Continue reading “Who is Struggling More (Men or Women) is the Wrong Question”

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