Inclusion of women in ministry has been on the rise for several decades; however, there are still several denominations and churches that refuse to accept women into leadership positions.
Logically, women have the same skillset, experience and education as men, but logical explanation does not appeal to all Christians. Instead, emotional reasoning influences Christians to oppose women in ministry.
According to a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, emotional reasoning is when “human beings tend to use their emotions as significant information to express evaluations and judgments about the world rather than refer objectively to reality.”
Without objectivity, beliefs will be tied to emotions, not logic. Education and knowledge are discarded for emotional stances. The patriarchal context of passages in the Bible and progress of women’s rights in society are ignored because they appeal to logical thinking not emotional thinking.
Another study, “Reasoning About Emotional and Neutral Materials: Is Logic Affected by Emotion?” by Isabelle Blanchette and Anne Richards, researched the process of emotional reasoning by outside circumstances.
Blanchette and Richards studied whether participants would have an emotional response to a certain word, paired with positive, negative or neutral images. For example, participants were given the word sandwich shown next to five negative images, conditioning them to associate a negative emotion towards the word sandwich.
The researchers noted, “Clearly, we did not expect the word sandwich to become traumatizing for participants by being paired with five negative images. Thus, even relatively small changes in emotionality have systematic and significant effects on the way people reason logically.”
Often, a congregation will oppose women in ministry because of the emotional connection to the traditional belief. Unconsciously, a church seeks to maintain homoeostasis, or balance, no matter how toxic the environment.
Edwin H. Friedman, author of Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, defines homeostasis as “the tendency of any set of relationships to strive perpetually, in self-corrective ways, to preserve the organizing principles of its existence.”
A human tendency to maintain homeostasis is by using emotional reasoning. The sense of belonging and safety is a core emotional need for a church, so if the belief of women in ministry threatens this, then congregation members probably will not support it.
The perceived threat of changing their convictions creates emotions that were not originally there.
Before the perceived threat, opposing women in ministry creates emotions of safety and belonging to other congregation members. However, when congregation members perceive women in ministry as a threat, it creates emotions of anger and insecurity.
To build the sense of unity within the church, emotional reasoning will excuse actions such as driving away members who support women in ministry, discrediting varying perspectives, and firing ministers proposing the new belief.
In other circumstances, churches discussing women in ministry might not have a similar experience. Friedman explains: “In an emotional atmosphere that is calm and positive, issues that under other circumstances could be lethal are handled objectively.”
When congregation members know the security of the church is not at stake, arguments on women in ministry will become conversations.
The mention of change indicates potential risk, generating emotional reasoning. The problem itself is not actually women in ministry; it is change.
For a congregation to actively discuss women in ministry for the first time, church members must know their environment is emotionally safe. If it is unsafe, chances for change will be unlikely.
A church needs a safe place where they can discuss, ask questions and grow. In a time of uncertainty, a church will likely look to leadership. For ministers, it means taking extra steps and creating a safe atmosphere.
A minister must selectively choose their words, tone and body language. The appropriate communication style matching their congregation will lower uncertainty.
Additionally, ministers must set boundaries, which are clear lines for themselves and others for what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate as they approach a transition.
Every church will transition at their own rate. With emotional stability, congregation members center on women in ministry. Minds focus on the topic at hand, not whether their church community will collapse from the discussion.
Nevertheless, growth is not always synonymous with joy. There will be emotional ups and downs as congregation members decide on supporting women in ministry. They must adapt to new emotions from watching their church change and learn.
Once the congregation has made the transition, the emotional balance will return to normal. Through emotional growing pains, churches will remember and celebrate welcoming women into ministry.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to [email protected].
A current Master of Divinity student at Campbell University Divinity School.