Monday, January 30, 2012

Christian Catfights

January 30, 2012

Christian Catfights: Why Women Leaders Don't Support Each Other

Insecurities can cause women to undermine each other.
Monica Holmes had the prettiest hair of any girl in the fifth grade. Her chestnut locks flowed effortlessly down her back, while my delicate, thin hair broke off around my shoulders. Even so, I didn’t envy her hair; I begrudged her braggadocio. No matter the context—recess, lunch, or a bathroom break—Monica couldn’t say enough about her hair to anyone who would listen. “I just love my dark-brown, beautiful hair. Don’t you too?”
By Christmas, I’d had enough. In the seat behind Monica during the annual showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, in the darkened multi-purpose room, I stealthily stuck a big wad of pink Bubble-Yum gum in a wide swath of Monica Holmes’s dark-brown, beautiful hair.

It wasn’t one of my finer moments. But lest you think my preadolescent behavior was an anomaly, a recent study from the University of Ottawa suggests otherwise. Intrasexual competition is widely demonstrated among males, so researchers Tracy Vaillancourt and A. Sharma wanted to know whether or not intrasexual competition existed among women, often believed to be nurturing, communicative, and more likely to rule by consensus. “I was convinced,” stated Vaillancourt, “having lived my life as a woman, that we’re not as pleasant as some people make us out to be.”

In the study, 40 women were put in a room in pairs, believing they were taking part in a discussion on female conflict. Then, “Conservative Kari” came in and called the research associate out of the room. Separately, another 46 women were paired together, but this time “Kari” became a bit more provocative in dress and presentation.

Predictably, Provocative Kari drew a number of negative reactions from the women, including gossiping, giving the woman a onceover, negative comments, or mockery. Conservative Kari was barely noticed. “This is not something that sort of happened,” said Vaillancourt, describing the reactions. “Ninety-seven percent of the women were inappropriate.”

Whether the women reacted negatively because they saw Provocative Kari as a rival or because they thought her outfit was inappropriate for an office setting is debatable. But Vaillancourt suggests that women are “intolerant” of “sexy” peers and use indirect aggression to slam potential rivals. Vaillancourt believes her study demonstrates that the bad behavior, i.e. “catfighting,” we see on shows like The Bachelor is not an isolated TV phenomenon—it’s a reality in our schools and workplaces.

But rivalry among females is not limited to sexuality. Sometimes our negative reactions towards other women are much more subtle. Anytime there is scarcity, there is a potential for derogatory attitudes that undermine the potential achievements of women, and nowhere is the principle of scarcity more at play than in Christian ministries and organizations.

According to a report published by the White House Project, a nonprofit promoting women in business and politics: “Although women constitute over a majority of churchgoers (60 percent), men continue to dominate leadership roles in the church,” with women making up only 15 percent of Protestant clergy.” So does the scarcity of leadership roles in Christian ministry and organizations lead to catfighting among Christian women?

Maybe. Given the enormous strides made by women in the past century, the lack of research on Christian women is appalling if not embarrassing. But the study I conducted last year among Christian men and women serving in Christian parachurch organizations points to, at a minimum, some relational tension between Christian women.

In contrast to the majority of studies of this kind, Christian women were perceived to be more “communal” than “successful leaders” or “successful female leaders.” But they were rated as less likely to demonstrate certain relationship-oriented qualities, including compassion, fairness, good listening skills, inclusiveness, intuitiveness, sociability, and understanding.

Further, women differed from successful leaders in every single category, rating lower in characteristics such as ambition, analytical ability, assertiveness, self-confidence, competence, independence, intelligence, considerate, encouraging, inspiring, and trustworthiness.

These results suggest, first, that there seems to be some sort of relational tension among Christian women. Whether women actually demonstrate less relational qualities or they exhibit qualities that undermine relational qualities is unclear. However, in previous studies, women have usually scored higher on relationship-oriented qualities than any other group. But in this case, the data seems to support Vaillancourt’s suspicion that women may not be as “pleasant” to one another as our reputation purports.

Second, Christian women don’t have high opinions of other Christian women. In layman’s terms, we don’t have each other’s back. In the Christian world, most of our attention has been focused on how men, as institutional gatekeepers, have prevented women from assuming leadership positions. But even we don’t see other women as having what it takes to be a successful leader. So how might that make us feel about Christian women leaders who defy that expectation? How would that attitude shape how female Christian leaders feel about other women?

In her book Reinventing Womanhood, Carolyn Heilbrun claimed that the number-one reason women failed to reach leadership positions was not because men kept them out, but rather because of the failure of women to bond. Women don’t support other women on the path to leadership, so when a woman does reach a position of influence, she does not bring other women along with her through mentoring or through encouraging the organization to accept more women leaders. “Women of achievement,” writes Heilbrun, “have become honorary men, having consented to be token women rather than women bonded with other women and supporting them.”

Our implicit views of Christian women are just as destructive as the explicit behavior of the women in Vaillancourt’s study. Our attitudes about other Christian women cause us to feel inadequate when someone defies our standard expectations, makes the road for the aspiring female Christian leader a long, difficult, and lonely road, and in some cases may cause the female leader to denigrate other women.

In this vicious cycle, Christian women—and, by extension, the church—lose every time. Only when we increase our expectations of women and purposefully seek to encourage one another, build up one another, help one another, and seek the good for each other (1 Thess. 5:11-14) can we begin to understand that our vision for the future of ministry by Christian women can be expanded by validating and supporting our sisters in Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Free Community Dinner at Grim and Thorn

Free Community Dinner At Trinity United Methodist Church
Thursday, 2/2 - An Opportunity To Meet and Get To Know One Another. Dinner*Activities*Conversation sponsored by the church.
RSVP/Info:, 619-281-2592

Friday, January 27, 2012

Giving Up Worry

Featured article: Giving Up Worry

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about worry and how so many of us Christian women obsess over life issues: our kids, our futures, our money, our health, our jobs, our friends. Why is it that we justify our worrisome lives, when Jesus—actually, the entire Bible—tells us to fear not? Is it really as simple as just saying no?'s editorial coordinator, Ashley Moore, decided to give that a try. A professional anxiety addict, she felt convicted to let go of her fears and see what God had to teach her. She shares her lessons learned, along with some tips for letting go of worry, here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

To strong and lasting marriages!

Today's featured article, Do You See Me? reminds us how important it is to try to see our spouses' hidden sacrifices, and to say thanks. The article's author learned a lesson when she realized how much she wanted her husband's appreciation.

For a biblical reminder that It's the Little Things That Count, join Rachael Phillips as she recognizes some of the unsung spouses of the Bible and nominates her own husband for an Unsung Spouse Award.

Saturday, January 21, 2012



Hi Friends and Neighbors,

I'm writing to let you know that I had a break in on my property last weekend. The thieves stole a couple of thousand dollars of construction equipment from my locked garage. The equipment belonged to my construction crew who is working on my driveway and backyard.

The police came and took a report. They suspect that the thieves watched the job site for comings/goings and knew what they wanted to steal. It's a bit scary to know that these guys were watching my house and then broke into the garage while I slept. I didn't hear a thing!

Perhaps you can let the neighborhood watch know that we should always be looking out for suspicious people who may be watching our homes. In addition, the police gave me a tip that motion detecting lights can be a deterrent for some thieves.

Regards, a resident on Cooper St in North/South Park

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Spiritual Landscape

Jesus Is Not Our Elected Representative

The church is a hierarchy--in composition, character, and mission. Jesus is not our elected representative. He is King of King and Lord of Lords.

By Frederick Schmidt, January 03, 2012

In a recent dust-up over liturgical colors, a colleague of mine was challenged on her decision to use purple instead of blue during Advent. Only in an Episcopal Church.
Of course, colors are never about color. And I am fairly sure that the parishioner who took her to task had concerns that go well beyond liturgical propriety. But the case that she made for using blue over purple was telling. "Purple is hierarchical," she complained.
Well, duh, yes it is. Kings, royalty, all that jazz. And, by the way, so are some shades of blue.
This slipstream of reasoning is pretty common of late. The word "egalitarian" is thrown around as an ecclesiastical ideal with ever-greater ease. And, arguably, there is a case to be made for an approach to leadership and church life that is as open-ended as possible, borrowing on the energy and imagination of those who enter the doors of our churches.
I am not a great fan of power that is used in a bullying, officious, abusive fashion. It's not for nothing that our dog Hilda is named after Hilda of Whitby a 7th-century abbess who was renowned for chewing on the bishops of her day. (We don't allow our dog to do that, by the way.)
But there are real problems with insisting that the church is not a hierarchy.
Not the least of them is this: The church is a hierarchy—in composition, character, and mission. Jesus is not our elected representative. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
To ignore that fact flies in the face of a fundamental truth: God is God. We are not. To assert otherwise by changing colors and purging our language is not just a problem for our theology, it is a problem for ecclesiology as well. If God is not God, then there really isn't a good reason for doing church. People sense this, even if they can't name it, and it has subtly, but steadily eroded church attendance.
This does not mean that churches need to embrace caricatures of authoritarian leadership by barking orders and threatening excommunication. But it should not allow itself to be bullied into impotence by those caricatures either.
Biblical understandings of the fundamental and hierarchical difference between God and humankind do not focus on God's right to lord it over us, punish us, or drive us to despair. God is characterized instead as the One who is both capable of relationships and as One who longs for them. In this regard AkzoNobel's Tex Gunning, understands something about leadership that church leaders should have understood all along—and do, when they are at their best:
The quality of communal life of any kind depends upon the quality of the relationships within that community.
Understood in Christian categories, Gunning's observation is one with the way in which the purpose of Christ's life and ministry is described in John's Gospel: "that they may be one, as we are one."
This understanding of leadership is often missing from the approaches taken by ecclesiastical leaders who emphasize bureaucratic brinkmanship and programmatic glitz. And it may seem completely out of place in the corporate world. But, rightly, Gunning observes, people in any organization need to know that they are valued, respected, cared for, and safe. In churches, of course, relationships with God and with one another are in a sense, what it is all about.
A good friend of mine put his finger on this need not long ago. He observed, "You know, when I was young, I belonged to an intentional Christian community that really made a difference in my life. I felt needed and I needed the others who were a part of that community. I don't feel that way about church any more. Oh, I go—and I still think it's important to go. But worship is just something I go to watch happen. I don't feel any sense of connection to God or to the people with whom I attend church. After I've left, it doesn't matter any longer."
Of course it doesn't. We disassembled the hierarchy in the name of building relationships. Ironically, in its absence, there is no longer any reason to give those churchy relationships priority.
To argue that Jesus is one among many alternatives—or that church is among one of many civic organizations that are worthy of our attention—puts the church on a footing with other "good causes" that is alien to its original inspiration. The message of the Gospel is that the church is more than a good cause. To use a word that Gunning employs as well, it is the lifeline that restores our relationship with God and heals our relationships with one another.
That may sound hierarchical. But church is not a worthy activity. Life in the church is meant to be a one-of-a-kind commitment. And Jesus is not our elected representative. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. If we don't communicate that as ecclesiastical leaders, there are no programs or strategies that will serve as a substitute.

Frederick W. SchmidtThe Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).
Schmidt's column, "The Spiritual Landscape," is published every Monday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


“Natural devotion may be all very well to attract us to Jesus, to make us feel His fascination, but it will never make us disciples. Natural devotion will always deny Jesus somewhere or other.”

Let the Church Rise