The role of Christian women has been traditionally associated with wifehood and motherhood. Although society has changed quite a bit in the last several decades, Evangelical Christians still hold fast to more traditional ideas of the family. They are more likely to bolster women who get married, have children, and stay at home to care for their family while minimizing professional Christian mothers. As a result, Christian women who step outside the boundaries of the traditional mother role face a unique set of challenges both within the church and in the workplace. The difficulties in the church stem from their professional job, while the obstacles in the workplace stem from their Christianity.
Christian Working Women’s Challenges
Professional Christian women must strive to assimilate within the church community and to become part of the church family. Here are a few of the reasons this is not always as simple as it sounds.
She does not fit the “traditional” role
The longstanding traditional role of women, especially within the church, is that women should marry and have children. In fact, many Evangelicals promote motherhood as the highest calling. If Christian women are already mothers, but also have a career, then they won’t fit very neatly into that traditional role. Their position in the home will be obviously different from that of the stay-at-home mother.
The church is not altogether against the idea of professional women or women in power. Studies reveal that 77% of Evangelicals are comfortable with a woman in a power position in the workplace. However, this isn’t as high as it could be. After all, the general population is at 94%. This may explain why there is still a bit of hesitancy to embrace working mothers. The question about who is caring for the children looms in the forefront of the debate. Men sometimes fill the stay-at-home role—this further confounds the traditional ideas of the Christian family.
Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group, implied that Evangelicals may push back some on the idea of working mothers as a way to combat the influx of feminist thinking, which she feels counters the traditional family. Working mothers may discover they are slightly out of sync with the predominant thinking in their own church because they don’t fit the preconceived traditional role of a mother.
She isn’t in the stay-at-home circles
If you’ve ever been in a large group of people, you may notice that people tend to gravitate towards others with similar interests or lifestyles. At a big church picnic, you may see all the men who like to fish start talking about fishing, and the ones who love sports talk about the last big game, and so on.
The same thing happens with the women, too. The stay-at-home moms have things in common that drive their conversation and activities. They probably went shopping at Hobby Lobby within the past month or redecorated one of their rooms (or are getting ready to). Maybe they discovered an awesome new craft on Pinterest or their child just crossed some big milestone.
Working Christain women may find herself struggling to connect. Her interests and activities are often professionally oriented making her feel like an outsider. This is especially true if she is one of very few who works outside the home.
She’s excluded from leadership positions within the church
Women, in general, are high on the list for leading many of the church programs and activities. When it comes to organizing the Vacation Bible School, community picnics, the food pantry, or the annual Christmas program, women run the show. In fact, women tend to lead the way in church attendance, prayer, and overall religiousness, according to Pew Research surveys. However, many times working women are not asked to lead these activities. Why is this occurring? There aren’t any definitive answers but it further isolates working Christian women from the church community.
The individuals in charge of handing out the leadership roles may think that career women are too busy to take on another task. Or they may think the stay-at-home mothers will be more available and flexible. Then, once mothers start doing these jobs, it becomes a routine. They simply keep picking the same people who have “always done it.”
Why don’t the other mothers invite working moms to help with some of the tasks? Remember they are not totally connected with the stay-at-home moms who would be in charge. So, these women are not top of mind. This is a loss for the church since professional women have many skills that would be an asset. It’s also a loss for the women because if they were more involved, they might have a greater sense of fellowship within the church.
Challenges at Work for Christian Women
There are not only struggles to deal with in the church, but whether Christian women is married or single, being a Christian in the workplace can be complicated, too. You may have to deal with any one of these situations:
Anyone who has ever worked in a professional setting before knows that sometimes people do business dishonestly or unethically. Often times, a person in a lower position of power is pulled into a compromising situation by a boss and may go along with it. A study conducted by the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) discovered that “9% of American employees said they had been pressured by managers to undertake a task that compromised their ethical beliefs.” Furthermore, 21% who reported the issue were fired.
Christian women are going to feel uncomfortable about compromising their values, whether it is to lie for their boss or to fill out a form falsely. They will need to make some tough decisions about how to handle these types of situations.
However, there was a bit of good news in the ECI study for the Christian. The research discovered that employers were less likely to ask employees to compromise their ethics IF there was any type of indication they had religious or strong moral feelings (i.e. they had religious symbols in their office, their email signature had a religious or moral quote, etc).
Although society as a whole has become more tolerant of others and their beliefs, religious freedom is one area that seems to be suffering—at least that is the perception and feeling of many Americans.
According to a survey by the Barna Group, more than four in 10 adults feel that religious freedom is in jeopardy. This isn’t just coming from the older generation either. Even 34% of millennials expressed concern. Of course, Evangelicals far outweigh the general population with a full 77% who feel that religious freedom has taken a downward turn in the last decade. Whether this is perception or reality is another debate.
Many companies are putting new rules in place because of lawsuit battles over employees’ religious expression. However, employers found out they had to walk a fine line between allowing employees to express their religious beliefs without infringing upon another person’s beliefs. This is pretty simple if the religious belief has to do with an outward expression. For example, wearing certain attire that is in keeping with a person’s religion doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights and is easy to solve. But it can get a little trickier if a person’s religious belief directly involves other people.
Women in any profession may face some religious intolerance or the perception of it. They may even be accused that their religious beliefs infringe upon someone else’s beliefs. Some employees are finding it best to keep quiet about the more controversial beliefs within the Christian faith (if possible) and stick with speaking about only the positive, which may be a wise choice.
Backbiting & office gossip
It seems that almost every workplace has a bit of either backbiting, office gossip, or both. The people who engage in this type of behavior stir up division in the office. As a Christian, you don’t want to get involved with this type of talking. It can be awkward if someone you like begins to disparage someone else who is not present. When you refuse to “help” the conversation along by sealing your lips, changing the subject, or removing yourself from the room, you will find the talking dies out on its own. People don’t usually like to talk to themselves. If you keep up this practice, the problem may resolve itself.
When professional Christian women recognize the challenges they may encounter in the workplace and at church, they can prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, and practically.
As they develop strategies to deal with the complexities of Christian women, their input will be valuable to future generations.