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Published Date: September 30, 2021

Book Info

Book Review: Preacher Woman: A Critical Look at Sexism without Sexists

Katie Lauve-Moon takes an in-depth look at congregations in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) as a case study highlighting the continued gender bias leading to underrepresentation of women in church leadership. Preacher Woman explores why congregations with inclusive theology and committed to gender equality continue to see poor outcomes for women in leadership. Many churches, including the CBF, are fully egalitarian yet only a small percentage of senior pastors are women (5 percent in CBF). Many assume that if a church holds egalitarian theology and hires women as pastors, issues of sexism and gender bias are no longer present in the organization. However, the data clearly shows that gender inequality continues to be a significant issue despite the good intentions of many churches.

While much research has gone into exploring and addressing the barriers that women encounter in the workplace, Lauve-Moon brings together this extensive research as a lens to analyze similar issues for women in pastoral leadership. Preacher Woman offers fresh insights for pastors and churches who desire to move in the direction of gender equality yet are not aware of the many underlying issues that keep women in the minority in church leadership. As a professor of social work and gender studies, Lauve-Moon brings a depth of knowledge and applies it to her research in the church. She highlights the persistence of gender inequality in church leadership and uncovers multiple layers of barriers that female pastors encounter. She uses Joan Acker’s framework for looking at how gender is embedded in five organizational processes: organizational logic and culture, symbols and images, division of labor, interactions, and construction of individual identities. Her analysis shows that women face not simply a “glass ceiling” but a labyrinth of sexist barriers. Lauve-Moon draws out the unconscious and unidentified gender bias that is salient throughout the life of a woman pastor, from childhood, to calling, to seminary, to hiring, to growth in leadership, and to the daily work and relationships in pastoral ministry. According to Lauve-Moon, many in the church are still blind to the conscious and unconscious barriers that female pastors encounter, and she says that the first step is to see. In an attempt to provide concrete action steps for churches and pastors, in each chapter she gives steps for change and questions for discussion.

Lauve-Moon uses quantitative and qualitative data from surveys and interviews to look at the lived histories of women pastors, hiring processes, perceptions of women’s bodies, congregational expectations for women, organizational policies, the devaluation of feminized positions, and barriers created by male pastors. By using excerpts from her interviews, Lauve-Moon paints a picture of the ongoing challenges of female pastors. While her steps for change presented at the end of each chapter are weak, the book so astutely brings to the surface the barriers encountered by women in leadership that readers will certainly be more equipped to address similar issues in their own contexts. Lauve-Moon at times speculates about similar barriers that LGBTQ individuals might face in the church, though this is not a primary point of discussion in the book.

Preacher Woman is an academic work, yet it is a must-read for anyone in church leadership who desires to empower women in leadership and is willing to take a critical look at their own church culture. Preacher Woman brings to light the extensive barriers that women pastors encounter and strategizes how these barriers might be removed. This book has the potential to have profound positive impact on the lives of women in the church. Changing systems of patriarchy and sexism that have been ingrained is difficult, but with resources like this research by Katie Lauve-Moon, we can keep moving in a direction that frees women to serve and lead in the church.