So, I gotta write some fuggin’ research paper for a class, which I’d prefer not to do, but I gotta do it anyway because I can’t get into seminary to get an M.Div. until I get a token Bachelors in some shit and this research paper is a hoop I gotta jump through along the way. The young person who I will be paying to help me cheat assures me that “pretending to care” is a crucial part of doing a research paper, so I’m working on that. I do have some experience with pretending to care – I keep a straight face and act like I’m listening when my kid’s mother talks to me, fr’instance.
But anyway, I’m doing my paper on declining church attendance, specifically in the ELCA, which has been shedding members at an unsustainable rate since the denomination was founded, and I was skimming peer-reviewed research papers on church attendance in general, when I found one that focuses on the decline in happiness among women – https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5cb5/761c0935f19501d7dc107f296605724ad00b.pdf . You can read it, but I wouldn’t – because why would anybody read a research paper if they weren’t being forced to write a research paper? – but I’ll give ya the general jist (or gyst, if you prefer).
Over the past few decades, as second wave feminism morphed into third wave and now to fourth wave, women have made massive advances in every field, but women are not happier, according to them, than they were. During the same period, general church attendance in the US of A has declined. The paper I mentioned uses some variables and data, and some kinda mathy shit to make a correlation between women’s decreased church attendance and overall happiness. Comes down to this – not going to church makes women unhappy.
That is, of course, a gross oversimplification. Going to church is a form of participatory religious activity which indicates feelings, beliefs and certain identifiers. The changes in these invisible factors are surely more directly related to decreased happiness than showing up to a specific place at a specific time on Sunday mornings. Women aren’t necessarily happier when they see stained glass or listen to organ music. But internal attitudes can’t be measured, so we’re using church attendance as our marker.
It should also be noted that the inverse of the findings is not a given – it does not follow that if women start showing up to church they will become happier. Again, merely sitting in a pew for an hour isn’t the important thing here. What matters is the cultivation of a sense of community, a relationship with a Power greater than oneself, and a demonstrable commitment to both community and Power. Women might also enjoy volunteering more than men, seeing babies in little dresses and shaking their heads at what crazy ol’ Mrs. Johnson wore this week, but that’s all beside the point.
I will certainly be using this data in my research paper, in the end section where I propose some kinda solution to the problem of the ELCA’s bleeding out of congregants. In all honesty, I think the ELCA started out with a shitload of free riders who were just showing up because they were raised in one of the Lutheran bodies that merged to form the ELCA. The decline in ELCA numbers jumped after the Statement on Human Sexuality – https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Human-Sexuality – came out, which indicates that a lotta people decided that they hated queers more than they loved their church. I can’t say I’m all broke up that them folks went someplace else. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is a great place for homophobes to worship Jesus, who never said a mumblin’ word about the LGBTQ+, but who did say that His followers should love their neighbor as themselves and don’t judge.
I will certainly not be bothering my Bishop with some bullshit research paper, but I will be talking to people about women and queers, because they’re the people we, the ELCA, should be focusing our efforts on. We already ordain them, so we can lead off with that – Hey, ladies – and LGBTQ+s – we want you in our church so much that we’ll let you be preachers! And we should include some indication that showing up might make them happier. (Kathy what’s-her-face, who has given up on asking me to be a Crucifer, would love to have people show up and be worship assistants.) maybe they’ll drag their husbands/partners/squallin’ brats along and we can reverse the trend. Plus, it’d give LC-MS bloggers more fuel for their ire – they really don’t like that we don’t condemn the people they condemn.
For meself, as a woman who just happened to draw a Y chromosome in the sperm lottery, I know that attending church has certainly increased my own self-reported level of happiness. By the time Sunday rolls around, I’m generally pretty eager to get to church, and I always feel better when I leave.
(The phrase “churching of women” refers to an old ceremony that was related to giving birth – it was a blessing and a celebration that mother and child survived. It might still be done someplace – I dunno.)
(I am wildly, totally and completely of the Third Wave of Feminism, though I do acknowledge the problems with the “wave” model of describing the on-going efforts for equality. we understand intersectionality better now than we did when Riot Grrrl was almost a viable social movement, and that’s a good thing, but I’m attached to the 90s form over against the Fourth Wave which I see as a bit self-indulgent and whiny.)