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Do We Really Want Gender Equity?

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by Deb Coe | Coordinator of research services for the Presbyterian Mission Agency

Most Presbyterians believe that discrimination is still a problem for women in the United States, despite anti-discrimination laws and policies. But is this still a problem in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a denomination that has been ordaining women for decades?

Yes, say a majority of teaching elders. Most female teaching elders say they have personally experienced discrimination and/or prejudice in their church roles because of gender. About one-third have experienced sexual harassment.

While most Presbyterians will say that women and men should have equal opportunities for leadership in the church, some will add, “But not in my church. I wouldn’t want a female head of staff in my church.”

This results in a perceived differences when it comes to employment as more than half of the teaching elders surveyed say they think that women miss out on good jobs or don’t have the same opportunity for achievement in the PC(USA).

What does this mean for the church? Although some may see this as a personal preference, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on sex, race, color, religion (unless it’s an occupational qualification), or national origin, when hiring or promoting individuals.

PC(USA) congregations or other entities that intentionally eliminate female candidates on the basis of gender are breaking federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws. Additionally, our denominational policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or creed.

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