She Preached the Word explores data around who supports women’s ordination in the United States, why, and the effects of women in ministry on those in the pew. Because of the nature of the content, the authors do not address theological arguments about women’s ordination or who changes their minds about this issue. The survey at the heart of this book also crosses religious contexts and does not specifically apply only to Christians, though the majority of those surveyed identified as Christian. Thus, this book is not for anyone seeking answers about whether to ordain women.
Instead, the study addressed in She Preached the Word serves as a useful tool to understand congregants’ views on women’s ordination in determining how to move forward in 2018. For example, as egalitarians may find predictable, the authors found girls exposed to women leaders in a religious context often obtain higher education, stable jobs, and general happiness later in life. However, contrary to popular opinion, women can be the least supportive of women in head leadership, though the specific reasons for this are unclear. Interestingly, the authors concluded that merely allowing women to be pastors had a statistically similar effect on the congregants as actually having a woman in that role. This is especially relevant for rural and small churches who can only afford a solo pastor and may not have a woman in that role. In addition, the authors found that one of the greatest indicators for the support of women in ministry is exposure to a woman pastor, even if only once and long ago.
Because the book focuses on statistics, much of the book also explains the authors’ methodology. Though dry, this discussion is important to understand the underpinnings of the study. The authors tested and discovered that the study respondents were overstating their backing of women in head religious leadership positions and concluded support was closer to 55% than the reported 71%. The authors also address a disconcerting link between politics and religious views, including that politics sometimes drive people’s theological convictions rather than the other way around. Moreover, the authors acknowledge that people searching for a church use women’s ordination as a litmus test, meaning congregants self-sort before ever attending a church with a woman pastor. All of these factors contribute to understanding the study’s findings.
Overall, though the statistical discussion could be dense, She Preached the Word is a worthwhile read, especially for advocates who want to find the most effective strategies to change opinions about women ministers. This book also offers a good starting point for Christian egalitarians to explore other questions: What, besides hearing a woman preach, makes someone more likely to support women’s ordination? Will Christians who support women’s ordination leave or stay in a church that does not allow a woman to preach, and where do they go if they leave?