Does the Churches of Christ denomination inflict long-term harm on girls by prohibiting women from what many refer to as “leadership roles” in the congregation—by prohibiting women from speaking in the Sunday morning assembly, leading singing or prayer in the assembly, reading scripture for the assembly, etc.?

Yes, suggests a detailed study published in 2018 that surveyed multiple religious traditions.

2018 Study

The study by Dr. Benjamin Knoll of Centre College and Cammie Jo Bolin, a Ph.D. student at Georgetown University, published in their book She Preached the Word (Oxford University Press) found, for all types of religious congregations (combined):

For Women, Having All-Male Congregational Leaders While Growing Up Results in, On Average, …

… Lower Self-Esteem

Women who had a female congregational leader at least “some of the time” while growing up had, as adults, levels of self-esteem “consistently just as high as men’s.”

But women who never had a female congregational leader growing up had lower self-esteem than men as adults, on average.

Low self-esteem is associated with greater levels of depression and anxiety and “lower levels of relationship success, job satisfaction, and motivation for personal improvement.”

… Less Education

Women who had only male congregational leaders growing up had, on average, lower levels of education when compared to women who had influential female congregational leaders.

“[W]omen … whose most influential leader was a woman had gained, on average, a full additional year of education compared to those whose most influential leader was a man.”

… Higher Unemployment

“[T]he gap in full-time employment between men and women is present only among those whose most influential youth congregational leader was a man.  Women whose most influential leader growing up was a woman are equally likely to be employed full-time as men.”

… Authoritarian/Judgmental View of God:  Psychological-Emotional Health

Adult women who had only male congregational leaders growing up are more likely to think about God in “a more authoritarian/judgmental way” rather than in “more graceful/loving terms.”

One’s view of God has been linked to psychological and emotional health.

… Psychological and Economic Gender-Gap  

For adult women, “the gender gap in psychological and economic empowerment is present only among those whose religious congregational leaders growing up were exclusively men.”

… Causation of Long-Term Comparative Harm to Girls in the Congregation

The study explained this is likely not just correlation.  “[T]hese results held true even when controlling for a variety of other potential mitigating factors including demographics and individual/family socioeconomic background,” per the study.

Thus, this study found, having only male congregational leaders comparatively worsens, on average, future levels of education, employment, health, and psychological and economic empowerment of young women and girls in the congregation for the long-term.

Of U.S. adults who attended religious congregations growing up, nearly two out of three never had a female congregational leader.

“Successful” Women?

The study did not indicate that no girls who grow up with only male congregational leaders become “successful” women.

It suggests instead that a girl who grows up with only male congregational leaders likely will have, as an effect of doing so, (1) lower self-esteem (associated with more depression and anxiety), (2) less education, (3) higher unemployment, and (4) more of an authoritarian and judgmental view of God (associated with negative psychological health), on average, than she would have had if she had grown up under the same conditions except having an influential female congregational leader, for example.

That is, the study suggests that even women who one might label “successful” were likely negatively impacted by having only male congregational leaders growing up.

In Church of Christ Congregations

Turning from the 2018 study’s results, which were based on data from multiple religious traditions and were for all types of congregations, to considering their implications for girls in the Churches of Christ denomination—


The Churches of Christ are on the extreme end of male congregational leadership.  Even beyond being barred from serving as a preacher, women are barred from reading scripture to the worship assembly, leading the assembly in singing or prayer, making communion remarks, assisting at the communion table, and teaching adult (and even middle school and above) Sunday School in the vast majority of Churches of Christ.  They are also barred from serving as an elder or deacon.

Absent for Children Over 10

In many Church of Christ congregations, girls and boys under 10 regularly see women in active congregational service as teachers in Sunday School.

But those over 10 generally see women (besides those in their family) in such service only on infrequent youth-trips, projects, or events or in the kitchen or the nursery because women are barred from teaching classes that include baptized males and because women are barred from speaking in the worship service.

Generally, for girls and boys 10 and over, in their church classrooms and worship services:  Women become absent for them as religious teachers.  Women are absent for them as readers and students of scripture.  They do not hear women praying to God.  Women are absent as showing joy in leading the congregation in song.  They do not see women serving communion.  Women are absent in the group assembling up front to lead the service.  They do not hear women giving the communion address.  Women are absent as being designated servants of the church, aka deacons.   Women are absent from leading the congregation.

“Women’s Roles” and Discrimination Taught as OK

Children over 10 become aware of women going absent for them in active service in the classroom and of women’s absence from congregational leadership in the assembly.  Indeed, in many Church of Christ congregations, almost everything touted as women’s roles (e.g., work with young children, tend nursery, teach “ladies classes,” cook meals for the sick, etc.), is not done for or is largely invisible to most children over the age of 10.

Particularly when those children become aware of such “women’s roles,” they also become aware that women and girls—-including their female friends in the youth group and their own mother and grandmother, and themselves if they are a girl—-are discriminated against in the church based on their sex, restricted from roles in their classrooms and the worship service while men and boys are not.

They are thereby taught by their congregation that sex discrimination is acceptable.  This is taught Sunday after Sunday after Sunday by the actions of the entire congregation.

Didn’t Need a Survey

Did we need a survey to realize this prohibition is harmful to girls and young women?

Not only does scripture (like 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12) not require prohibiting women from doing so, scripture asks women to speak and actively serve, in the assembly and elsewhere, as discussed in the article at this link.  Women in the Bible (for a start):

  • told by Christ to speak to and tell assembled men about the risen Christ and to tell the assembled disciples what Christ wants them to do next (Matt 28:8-10; John 20:17-18)
  • speaking before men and women, in the assembly and elsewhere (Luke 2:25-38; 1 Cor 11:5, 16; 1 Cor 14:5, 12-17, 23-25, 26, 27-33, 39; Acts 21:8-9; Acts 2:17-18)
  • spoke and prayed before the whole church (1 Cor 14:5, 12-17, 26, 27-33; 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
  • told to speak to and teach men and women via scripture and song (Eph 5:18-20; Col 3:16)
  • told to use their gifts to serve others and to speak as if they speak the very words of God (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • prophets (Luke 2:25-38; Acts 21:8-9; Acts 2:17-18; Judges 4-5)
  • taught assembled men about scripture and God’s message (2 Kings 22:11-20)
  • taught men about the way of God (Acts 18:24-26)
  • told to teach what is good to all, both men and women (Titus 2:3), especially to younger women (2:4-5)
  • given authority over men (Judges 4-5; Ephesians 5:21)
  • the first evangelist (John 4:1-42)
  • deacon (Romans 16:1-2)
  • apostle (Romans 16:7)
  • risked their lives to help spread the Gospel (Romans 16:3-4)

Growing Number Ask Women to Speak in the Assembly

A growing number of Churches of Christ—after studying scripture, including realizing 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 do not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly—ask women to speak in the assembly, teach adult Sunday School, etc.  A (incomplete) list of them, as well as links to scripture-study materials from some, are at the end of the Sources and Notes (below).

Most colleges affiliated with Churches of Christ, recognizing scripture does not bar it, also no longer prohibit women from speaking in worship chapel.

Conclusion: See the Mirror

These are probably the most important points

Women are gifted by God, and God asks them to serve.  And we block them.  You will block what God has asked?

And, this study suggests, we inflict long-term harm on girls—we inflict long-term harm on our daughters and granddaughters, and we inflict long-term harm on the daughters and granddaughters of others in our church—by our inaction and silence on this issue and by our going along with the exclusion.

What, exactly, is worth harming these girls even one more day?

You Can Do Something About It Now

You can ask your elders and congregation to reconsider, and you can visibly support them as they do.

Or inaction, silence, and going along with it will continue, as will the harm to the people around you.

Part 2 of this article addresses several important points.  Click for Part 2:  here






Sources and Notes

Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, She Preached the Word, New York: Oxford University Press (2018).  Pages 119-194 report the results of the study.  Pages 195-218 provide Dr. Knoll and Ms. Bolin’s conclusions.  Pages 219-235 describe further details of the study.  The book is well done and dense with information, much more than is reported here and also on other, related topics.

The quotes in this article come from two articles by Dr. Knoll and Ms. Bolin based on their book and study:  Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “It’s good for girls to have women in the pulpit,” Religion News (July 17, 2018), visited November 24, 2018; Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “Ten things to know about women’s ordination in the United States,” Oxford University Press Blog (June 2018), visited November 23, 2018.

Not only does scripture not require prohibiting women from doing so, scripture asks women to speak and actively serve, in the assembly and elsewhere.

For a discussion about relevant scripture, see Steve Gardner, “20 Scripture Passages Telling Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men in the Assembly and Elsewhere,” (September 3, 2018).

A discussion regarding the Church of Christ college chapels is here:  Most colleges affiliated with Churches of Christ, recognizing that scripture does not bar it, no longer prohibit women from speaking in worship chapel.

A (incomplete) list of some of the Churches asking women to speak in the assembly is here.  Links to scripture-study materials from some of the Churches of Christ explaining why scripture does not prohibit women from actively serving in the assembly, etc.: