Adam J. Copeland recently transitioned from serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hallock, MN to serving as mission developer of the ELCA affiliated Project F-M, which is a new “faith community for young adults and the young at heart” in Fargo-Morehead area. He recently blogged about the limitations of gender-segregated groups, suggesting:
Gender-segregated groups seem very old school — glass ceilings are being broken left and right, though we still have a long way to go. While it once may have been true that police officers were male and nurses were female, that is no longer the case (and thank God!). Men are often primary caregivers for children, and gender-segregated workplaces are increasingly rare. The world is moving towards a less rigid view of gender and sexuality, breaking down stereotypes and claiming a new freedom that one’s gender is neither one’s destiny nor the primary determining factor in who they are. Why would the church promote anything else?
Gender-segregated groups can promote sexism — now I say “can” not “always do,” but in my experience I find that many guy groups easily fall into accepting groups for sexity quips. Some such quips are demeaning to women, and others crack on guys who do their fair share of housework or who prefer baking to fishing. We have to fight these annoyances enough in other settings and the church should not add to the fray.
Gender-segregated groups may be extra-tricky for GLBTQ folks — This is just a more specific outcome of the previous critiques. I do know one Presbyterian church at which the guys group is made of up a significant number of gay men, but mostly I see gendered groups as tending to uphold heterosexist norms and assumptions. And, of course, gender-based groups may be particularly challenging for a transitioning transgendered person (assuming the group isn’t fully welcoming — I suppose the opposite could be true if it was fully welcoming. That’d be great!).
Gender-segregated groups prefer gender-sameness over common values — at a recent workshop I was reminded that when we meet new people, we first search for commonalities and then probe for differences. I suppose gendered groups do this too, using the sameness of gender for the basis of relationship. But, this seems odd to me. What about, instead, groups organized by neighborhoods, or hobbies, or family structure, or interests? I much rather gather with friends who share my love for books than guys who share a love for beer and burping.
Church groups are changing. Many congregations have already made a transition in adult Christian education/formation by moving from “Sunday school” classes held on Sunday morning to small/growth groups held at a variety of times and locations. The move away from gender-segregated groups has not happened as quickly. I suspect the primary causes for the slow shift are generational and denominational. Since older age groups tend to be overrepresented in mainline denominations both in number and power and have long histories with such groups, many congregations are unlikely to give serious consideration to ending ongoing gender-segregated ministries. And, since denominations continue to provide the framework for these groups, including study resources, churches with strong denominational ties are likely to embrace these denominationally branded options.
In my experience, there is limited interest in gender-segregated groups among those in their twenties and thirties. This limited interest is apparent by the underrepresentation of the age cohort on the membership roles and in attendance at gender-segregated group gatherings. In effect, the groups function as age-and-gender-segregated ministries.
- Does your local congregation have one or more gender-segregated groups? If so, are the vast majority of participants fifty years of age or better?
- Copeland offers the following conclusion: “same gendered groups just strike me as an overly simplistic and out-dated model of church association.” Do you think that the era of gender-segregated church groups is drawing to a close? Why or why not?