Aug 21, 2012

From the Archives

Christian Women Today, Part 3 of 4: Women Give Themselves an Emotional and Spiritual Check-up


<< Read pt. 1 / Are Women Happy at Church?
<< Read pt. 2 / What Women Want
Read pt. 4 / Who Will Women Vote For? >>

View the full part 3 infographic

A Fulfilled Faith

On the whole, it would seem Christian women in the U.S. are doing just fine. When asked to evaluate their faith and the condition of their interior lives, most projected a confident, composed opinion of themselves. In this, the third of a four-part series, Barna Group explores the state of Christian women. As noted in Part 2 of Barna’s State of Women series, women give their personal spirituality high marks. The vast majority say they are either extremely close (38%) or pretty close (43%) to God and say they evaluate their relationship with God on a daily basis (52%).

Such confidence continues when women were asked to describe the characteristics of their faith. Women, almost without exception, assign positive attributes to their spiritual life. Nearly three quarters (73%) of women say their faith is characterized by joy. The same can be said for spiritual freedom. Three out of four women say they experience a lot (72%) of spiritual freedom in their faith. The numbers dip slightly when it comes to feeling fulfillment in their faith—67% of women say they feel a lot of fulfillment in terms of their spiritual life.

When it comes to negative characteristics, Christian women are much less likely to admit to any of them. In fact, the numbers are almost exactly reversed as those for the positive attributes. Only 3% of women claim to feel “a lot” of fear, doubt or confusion in their faith. Only about one quarter of women claim to feel “some” of these negative emotions in connection with their faith.

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A Different Kind of Sin

Churches have long taught the seven deadly sins or modern interpretations of them: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. For women, these traditional sins do not seem to be a problem; they claim instead much more “modern” struggles. In fact, when asked what they struggle with, women most often point to disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%).

As for the traditional sins, women are least likely to admit to lust (8%). And, against common stereotypes, women also say they rarely battle jealousy or envy—less than one in eight women (13%) admit to feeling envious often or sometimes. When it comes to other negative behaviors and attitudes, about one third (36%) admit to feeling anger, one quarter say they struggle with selfishness (25%), one in five say they are prone to excessive arguing (19%) and just over one-sixth (16%) say they can be arrogant.

Women’s Biggest Hurts

For most people, it is fairly easy to come up with the single biggest disappointment they have faced in life. And, at least when it comes to women, movies may have it right. Most Christian women point to relationships as being the cause of their most significant heartache.

The permanent loss of a relationship—the death of a loved one—was highest on women’s list of disappointments. Nearly one third (29%) say losing someone they loved was the hardest thing they have faced. For one in five women, their family or children have caused the most hurt in their life (20%). An additional one in 11 women (9%) point to a divorce or a bad marriage as the biggest disappointment in their life.

The numbers fall significantly after that. About one in twenty women say their major disappointments have come from health. Then came other relational, financial and moral disappointments. Career and faith came in last on the list, with only one in fifty women pointing to either as the cause of their biggest life disappointment.

What it Means

When asked about this research, president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, points to possible explanations for women’s self-perceptions. “Some of the study’s findings are encouraging. To think half of women claim to evaluate their relationship with God consistently—that shows women would like to be very intentional in their faith pursuits. On the other hand, are some of these self-assessments believable? Do so few women really struggle with fear, doubt and confusion? Do they really think disorganization is their biggest sin? Or are women reluctant to admit their shortcomings—even in an anonymous survey?”

If that’s the case, Kinnaman says the real question then is why? “Why would women be motivated to put themselves in such a positive light even when promised complete privacy in a telephone survey? When there is a strong sense that social desirability is affecting the results, it is helpful to address possible underlying reasons. For example, perhaps Christian women are reluctant to admit their struggles because they might experience shame and guilt by giving a more honest response. Perhaps women need to learn to have grace and compassion for themselves and one another.”

Kinnaman adds that another explanation is that “most Christians have created a comfortable bubble that surrounds their faith. Some of George Barna’s work on the barriers to spiritual transformation and the 10 stops on the spiritual journey show that most Christians in the nation—women included—feel they are much further along in their spiritual development process than is probably realistic. This current study shows that most women tend to offer one-dimensional, emotionally guarded responses about their spirituality. This is not because they are trying to be misleading; they simply don’t know what is missing. Christians need better tools for self-assessment, especially through the lens of the Bible. Guiding people to a more accurate understanding of their spirituality is a tough task, but one that is sorely needed to help today’s stuck-in-neutral Christian.”

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About the Research

The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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