Only A Feminine Touch Can Fix The Church Before It Becomes Extinct

the Church

Feminist theologian Dr Niamh M. Middleton has repeatedly warned that both the Church of England and Catholic Church, which have seen dwindling congregations for decades, face extinction within 30 years.

That is, unless they radically reform to give equal standing to women.

Dr Middleton, author of Jesus and Women, tells The London Economic (TLE) digital newspaper why the Church’s future is important, and why it must be in female hands.

Why the Church is important

TLE: In an increasingly secular society, why do you think the Church is still important?

Middleton: A strong argument can be made that the gaining of female rights and freedoms in the West has its roots in Christianity.

It is also generally accepted that democracy could only have emerged in a culture grounded in the Christian belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

It was successive movements engendered by Christianity – both lay and religious – that gradually transformed the West into the society and culture that it now is.

Interestingly, Martin Luther’s emphasis in the Reformation – which was initiated by him – was on the importance of individual religious and moral autonomy.

That is considered to have been a significant factor in the emergence of liberal democracy along with the separation of Church and state and emphasis on individual rights and freedoms.

It’s a mistake to perceive the Reformation and the Enlightenment as events that happened in opposition to the Church.

Rather, the Church, in its upholding of and teaching of Christianity, generated these events due to the supremely high ethical standards it has always preached and the calibre of the education it provided.

The internal dialectic within the Church reflects Jesus’ battle with the religious establishment of the biblical era and his efforts to reform Jewish legalism.

In such a context we can postulate that the establishment of Christianity in the Empire was the second move in this battle.

It took 1,800 years to reach the Enlightenment and 2,000 years to the first gaining of female rights.

The current falloff in church attendance can be defined as an important initiation of the next move, which has the potential to so furtherly progress the Christian West and to resolve Church schisms.

By doing the latter it will finish or change the role of the Roman Empire in the Church.

Overall falloff in attendance

TLE: While the major Christian branches in the UK, the Church of England and Catholic Church, have seen big falloffs in their congregations, there are many other smaller Christian sects. Are they in the same precarious situation and facing extinction?

Middleton: Overall, due to the increasing proportion of the young who claim they have no religion, in the UK church membership is forecast to decline to just over four per cent of the population by 2025.

Interestingly, the smaller Christian sects are closely related to the reformed tradition because they don’t have hierarchies, and in many the congregations are autonomous.

It’s reported, however, that in most there is still a falloff in church attendance – though not as high as in the largest UK churches, Anglican and Catholic.

There is one new Christian denomination that is said to be increasing both in the UK and throughout the world: the Pentecostal Church, says Middleton.

This denomination focuses on individual spirituality thanks, it says, to the love and action of the Holy Spirit.

There are, however, large falloffs in Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations.

The reasons for the decline of Methodism are considered by its leaders to include the increased secularisation in the West and the intellectual changes in British culture with the rise of science.

This is a serious concern as the renewal of Christianity is necessary for the full possible progress and survival of our world.

Hierarchical inequality

TLE:  How did gender and social inequality manage to seep into the Church hierarchy?

Middleton: Evolutionary biologists have discovered and described how religion and politics evolved in tandem with one another as a means for creating male patriarchal power structures to support male domination of the world and of women.

As a result, religions are forces for social control, especially of women.

For this reason, the distinction between religion as a phenomenon and the forms individual religions take while under the control of their founders must be kept in mind.

In the early Church, women and men were equally involved in Church ministries.

With its change of status into the state religion of the Roman Empire, however, it became highly patriarchal.

It was shaped by Roman political structures for several centuries and still remains under the influence of its imperial past.

The Vatican is a political state and the papacy itself is an absolute monarchy. Popes are supported by a hierarchical power structure of its ordained males that equates to an aristocracy.

As I discuss in detail in Jesus and Women, the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women is in stark contrast to that of the institutional Church, transcending time and place to such a degree that it provides further evidence of his divinity.

Women are vital

TLE: Your latest book, Jesus and Women, argues that women are vital to the survival of the Church in the 21st. century. What led you to this conclusion?

Middleton: Women were always the main supporters of Church attendance and in the early Church – as well as in Jesus’ ministry – overall, the most drawn to his preaching and teaching.

The beginning of a large falloff in Church attendance in the mid-20th century was partly due to male and female disillusionment with hierarchical political and religious institutions stemming from the Second World War.

However, second-wave feminism was the main cause of church attendance falloff for women – due to the sexism of institutional Christianity.

There are female campaigns now for the achievement of equal female ministries in the Church, and also great female theology to guide it.

Due to Jesus’ lovingly egalitarian treatment of women, the Church must eliminate its sexism by granting women equal authority.

If it does, there will not only be a massive renewal of church attendance, but a modern version of the ideal Pauline church whose communities were totally equal, regardless of social class or gender.

Such a reform will pave the Church into a much more spiritual and loving version of Christianity.

A version that will also impact on the public sphere to gain social justice for all and will be as lovingly liberating for males as for females. Read more

  • Timothy Arden is a writer for the London Economic
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , ,