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Feminist researcher Kristin Aune from University of Derby has been studying why women appear to be leaving the Church of England. Her conclusions? Women see more relevance in, for example, TV icons who promote female empowerment than in traditional religion. This despite the church (and the media) focusing heavily on issues such as women’s ordination and their slow climb up the ecclesiastical ranks. And thus women, apparently 50,000 each year have been leaving the Christian flocks (all brands, not just CoE).

Dr Aune cites a number of reasons why women are not going to church.

  • ● Fertility Levels – women have fewer children and are not having enough children to replace the older generation lost from the church.
  • ● Feminist Values – feminist values began influencing women in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminism challenged traditional Christian views about women’s roles and raised women’s aspirations.
  • ● Paid Employment – At the beginning of the 1900s, a third of women were in paid work, now two thirds are in the labour market. Juggling employment with childcare and housework causes time pressures and attending church is one activity to suffer.
  • ● Family Diversity – compared to wider society, churches include fewer non-traditional families. Family forms which are growing such as singleness, lone-parent families and cohabitation are under-provided for and even discouraged by churches.
  • ● Sexuality – The church’s silence about sexuality is driving women to leave, feeling that the church requires them to deny or be silent about sexual desire and activity.

From University of Derby

The research, from a book called Women and Religion in the West co-authored with Sonya Sharma (Edinburgh University) and Giselle Vincett (University of British Columbia) has recommendations for Churchs – like audits of congregational losses, profiling of attendees and arranging activities to suit women to attract them back to the church.

Christina Rees, chairman of the pro-women bishop campaign group Watch, said the report highlighted the damaging effect that traditionalist attitudes within the Church of England are having on women…Ms Rees told The Daily Telegraph: “What this research reveals is that a lot of people are put off by traditional stances and attitudes. We still have a long way to go before women, particularly young women, feel as included in the church as men do. I’m absolutely convinced that when we have women as bishops that it will send out a very clear message that women are as valued as much as men.”

From The Telegraph

Of course as an atheist I have to say one of the things that might put women off is the fundamentally patriarchal nature of organised religions. But on the other hand I totally admit that I am “out of touch” with what’s happening in religion today. But it seems to me that on the issues listed, christianity tends to be either silent or largely anti-woman (I’m going to ignore the clunky wording of the press release in lumping together declining demographic with women choosing not to go to church). I think the fact there hasn’t been a substanial decline in the numbers of women who say they a religious combined with the decline in attendance rather flags up that the institutions of christianity aren’t working for women – after all sermons don’t tend to talk about “women’s issues” (unless it’s how supporting a man is a really important thing to do) – nor do they talk about the issues affecting everyone’s lives – longer working hours, how to find good quality affordable childcare, how to find a fulfilling life balance, why being single/single parent/left by your partner/leaving your partner doesn’t make you a bad person and so forth.

We don’t do a lot of blog posts on religion so I thought I’d do this one – am interested what other people think. Particularly if there are feminists who are also christians out there and your views.