Women in World Christianity: Why Bother?
DR. GINA A. ZURLO
Co-Director, Center for the Study of Global Christianity
In July 2018, I received a grant from the Louisville Institute for a research project on women in World Christianity. The purpose of the project is to do a comprehensive analysis of the gender makeup of the global church, down to the denominational level and on every continent. Let me tell you why this is important:
Gender imbalance in Christian leadership
As an academic, I attend a lot of conferences. I go to global conferences, local ones; Christian ones, secular ones, academic ones; big and small ones. Maybe I’m a conference junkie, who knows. But, in Spring 2018, I had a revelation after attending a series of Christian conferences – I’m the minority. Yes, I’m a white American. But, I’m young (at least, I think I’m still young), and I’m female. And most of the people attending these conferences were old, white, men. I started getting angry. Where are the women? Don’t we make up at least half of the global church? Why aren’t we represented? I began furiously handwriting thoughts about why we don’t know this, and the Women in World Christianity Project was born.
Lack of data on women in the church
I get asked all the time about women in World Christianity. What percentage of the world church is female? The Pew Research Center did a study that showed Christian women are more religious than Christian men when it comes to religious service attendance, prayer, and importance of religion in their lives. What we don’t know is what percentage of Christians in Africa – or more specifically, Anglicans in Africa – for example, are women. We don’t have comprehensive data on what activities women undertake in churches, their influence, their leadership, and their service. We have really good hunches that churches would probably utterly collapse without women. But we don’t have actual data, and without good data, we can’t make good decisions.
Lack of data on women in the world
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation annual letter, reflecting on things that surprised them in 2018, proclaimed: “Data can be sexist.”
Caroline Criado Perez wrote a fascinating, and infuriating (the topic, not her writing!), book on the lack of consideration of women in a wide variety of areas. From clearing streets of snow in the winter, to ill-fitting police uniforms, to bathroom inequality, she uncovers so many areas where research failed to take into account the unique needs of women’s bodies, activities, and lives. In some cases, this makes aspects of women’s lives inconvenient. In other cases, it can be downright deadly. It’s a serious problem.
I’m afraid to admit that the Center for the Study of Global Christianity has, up until now, been a part of the problem, not the solution. There are many reasons for this that I would love to talk to you about over a cup of coffee, but it’s enough to say that now we’re going to finally fill this data gap!
Interested in learning more?
I’m teaching a class on Women in World Christianity at Gordon-Conwell’s Hamilton campus in Spring 2020 (T/Th 9:35–11am). Email me for the syllabus: [email protected].