US Presbyterians comfortable with both genders in pulpit

Most Presbyterians have been part of a congregation that was led by a woman in some capacity and most have no preference over whether the person preaching in the pulpit is a man or a woman, a survey has found.

At least 87 per cent of members, elders and ministers of Presbyterian churches across the country indicated they have "no opinion" on whether they prefer a man or a woman for most congregational roles, such as a deacon, an elder or a committee chair. But when asked about the gender of their pastor, a smaller majority, at least 63 per cent, said they have no preference, the latest Presbyterian Panel survey showed.

Among those who did express gender preferences, 37 per cent of members prefer a man as pastor while only one per cent prefer a woman.

Of male members, 41 per cent prefer a man as pastor and one per cent prefer a woman. Similarly, 34 per cent of female members said a man would be their choice for the pastoral role and only one per cent said they prefer a woman.

Female elders were slightly more supportive of women in leadership, with three per cent preferring a woman as pastor and 27 per cent preferring a man. No male elders indicated that they prefer a woman as pastor.

Still, most members and elders would support calling a woman the next time there is a pastoral vacancy in their congregation.

A large majority hold no opinion regarding the gender of their presbytery's leaders - moderator, stated clerk, executive/general presbyter. But of those who do have an opinion, 12 per cent of members prefer a man for the role and only one per cent prefer a woman.

Regarding personal preferences on national church roles, such as the head of the General Assembly, which is the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 88 per cent responded with "no preference" and laity and pastors with a preference prefer a man over a woman.

Overall, the majorities of members and leaders in PC(USA) churches believe their fellow congregants would be "very comfortable" with a woman in various lay congregational roles. But somewhat fewer think that would be the case for the role of pastor, according to the survey.

In other findings, large majorities of members and leaders agree that "as a child I pictured God to be of male gender" and that "using male terms for God seems natural to me".

Nearly half of members and elders agree that "God is best understood in masculine terms" but far fewer pastors and specialised clergy (ministers who serve outside the congregation) agree with the statement - only 11 per cent. Most pastors and clergy say "God is the creator of gender, and not subject to it".

The survey is based on responses from a questionnaire distributed in November 2007 to a representative sample of 5,000 Presbyterians (members, elders, pastors, and specialised clergy) who serve for a three-year period on the Presbyterian Panel, which is part of the PC(USA). The Panel provides a way to listen to and collect information about the practices, beliefs and opinions from both clergy and laity. The latest survey provided a snapshot of Presbyterians on "Women in the Church".

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