Another footnote to my discussion two days ago of Nicola Denzey's Bone Gatherers, a study of the roles played by women in early Christian Rome: at Religion Dispatches this week, Patricia Miller points to a new Pew Research Center study which shows that while religious attendance continues to decline among Americans across the board, it is now declining more among women than among men. Why is this the case, Patti wonders?
She notes that David McClendon of Pew proposes that women may be moving away from participation in church life because they lead ever-busier lives after they have entered the workforce in large numbers, and are increasingly well-educated. In her view, however, these observations do not adequately explain why many women — Catholic ones, in particular — are turning their backs on churches.
What McClendon overlooks is that the years that women’s church attendance began to decline are the very years when religious leaders in the Catholic Church and the evangelical movement fused religion with the culture wars, with overall attendance for women taking it’s first steep drop in the 1980s.
This drop in church attendance for women coincided with the period when the Catholic bishops began making abortion a litmus test for Catholic politicians, as in the 1984 election when Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was attacked for being pro-choice.
And Pew's own numbers appear to back this up. According to Pew, women are slightly more likely than men to say that churches should keep out of politics (55 percent vs. 53 percent), and overall 60 percent of Catholics say church should keep out of politics.
And then she concludes,
If McClendon is right and the trend of growing disaffiliation correlates to women’s decline in attendance, it’s also worth noting that Catholics make up the largest portion of the nones exiting a religion. Almost one-third (28 percent) of nones are former Catholics, which is the single largest share of any religious group.
Why have women stopped going to church? It isn’t because they’re too busy or too well educated. Maybe they stopped going when conservative politics took over the pulpit.
Meanwhile, as I have repeatedly noted here, I have heard of no national policy of the U.S. Catholic bishops to deal with the serious pastoral challenge that these disaffiliation numbers represent. For that matter, I haven't really heard of the U.S. Catholic bishops even admitting that such a serious pastoral problem exists as people exit the Catholic church right and left.
Have any of you heard of a national pastoral initiative that involves Catholic pastoral leaders listening carefully and respectfully to the many Catholics who are walking away about their reasons for walking away? If so, I'd very much like to know about it.