Women clergy pose psychological problems for parishioners such as coping with sexual attraction, female authority and feelings of competition, a Southern Baptist consultation was told here.
"For any person to function effectively in ministry, that person must be seen by others as a person both possessing and deserving authority. This creates an immediate problem for the woman who is attempting to minister," said Andrew Lester, associate professor of psychology of religion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He told some 300 people attending the Southern Baptist-sponsored Consultation on Women in Church Related Vocations that the cultural myth that women are inferior affects parishioners' willingness to view clergywomen as authorities - and also affects the willingness of women in ministry to claim authority.
Commenting on the problems of sexual attractions, Lester said "many males have unconsciously thought that ministry was a sexual or neuter. Since all ministers have been male, they have rarely had to think otherwise. However, when they run into a female minister, they must encounter this largely unconscious assumption and that can be threatening . . . Men have almost no experience relating to women in the role of minister, which creates problems concerning normal sexual attraction," he said.
"Men are not surprised to find themselves sexually attracted to the females who teach their children, greet them in offices, pour their coffee or nurse them in hospitals," he said, "but to feel sexual attraction to someone who is a minister seems somewhat shameful, even sacrilegious."
Lester said "some still believe that religious professionals - those closest to God - do not, or at least should not, have sexual thoughts and feelings. Therefore, to experience a minister as sexual and, furthermore, to be attracted to one can be a disturbing experience."
On the other hand, Lester said, clergywomen seem to have a "positive psychological impact" on both men and women to whom they minister. He said many women respond warmly to the clergywoman because they "feel that men can't understand their situations." Men, on the other hand, find it difficult "to reveal themselves to other males at deeper, personal levels," but are able to talk to a clergywoman.
Many clergywomen have responded to the sexual stereotypes by organizing their own thoughts and feelings into "a healthy theological and psychological framwork." Lester said. He said the framework includes perceiving sexuality as a part of personhood, and the need for both men and women to take responsibility for their sexual thoughts and feelings.