Interesting new reports link religion, leadership and gender


(Charles Krupa/AP)

For years, of course, American leadership has been dominated by white Anglo-Saxon protestants. According to the Times’ chart, there was not a non-Protestant or non-white Speaker of the House until 1961. The Supreme Court was dominated by white Protestants until 1994, when for the first time five of the nine justices were non-Protestant or non-white. And while there have been candidates from various backgrounds (namely Catholic) for president and vice president for decades, the number of non-whites or non-Protestants who’ve actually held those two jobs are still very few: Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s vice president, was part Native American; John F. Kennedy was Catholic; Vice President Joe Biden is Catholic; and Barack Obama is African American. (Notably, this is the first year since 1964 that there has been a non-white or non-Protestant on the Republican party ticket.)

Some of these numbers, of course, are simply reflective of politics. George W. Bush, for instance, named three Supreme Court justices, all conservative Catholics, to their post. But surely, some of it is also a sign of progress that we as a country are more accepting of other faiths and other ethnicities. For the first time in history, none of the men at the top of either ticket, Democratic or Republican, are both white and Protestant.

Although yes, they are all men.

While we may be better at electing leaders of other faiths or backgrounds, the number of women in those top 15 jobs is still woefully under-represented. Just three of those top 15 posts are held by women, all of them Supreme Court justices.


View Photo Gallery: From the American Red Cross to the Supreme Court, more and more institutions of power in the nation’s capital are seeing women take the lead.

Women hold few leadership posts in many religious faiths, too. Some of this is a result of doctrine, of course. But in a survey of 600 women released Tuesday by the Barna Group, which says it does research at the “intersection of faith and culture,” many women (74 percent) said they do not feel their opportunities are limited in their churches because of their gender. Still, one-fifth of the participants (women older than 18 who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months, excluding holiday services or special events) said they feel under-utilized in their churches. And about three in 10 report being “resigned to low expectations when it comes to church.”

Interestingly though, the survey found Christian women (Barna is not clear which denominations it surveys) are just as likely as Christian men to consider themselves to be leaders—one out of three, in both cases. Even if they weren’t holding specific leadership roles, many of the survey participants still identified as leaders, with 52 percent saying they fulfilled that role in their congregations.

More from On Leadership:

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U-Va.’s failure to communicate

The kind of leader Paul Ryan would be

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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