Newsweek misses church ladies, again

A  Gardner   Newsweek   11 24 1952The new issue of Newsweek is out, which means that I, once again, have waited a bit too long to make a comment on the previous issue. I think I'll do it anyway, since it appears that the magazine is going to do the same cover story every year about this time. The topic, once again, was women and leadership (visit Newsweek's site to see the current illustrations), and here is the way the package was described in one of the main headlines and second decks:

Leading the Way

These women are poised to be the next generation of leaders in their fields -- whether it's sports, business, finance, politics or the arts. In their own words, they tell how they got where they are and where they hope to go next.

All of this was very similar to last year's cover on the same basic subject, the one with St. Oprah on it, under the headline "How Women Lead." Click here if you want to flash back to what this blog had to say about that one. It would be good if you did that, since I really need to write the same post all over again.

Last year, I was amazed that Newsweek could produce a massive neo-People package about American women in leadership roles and almost totally ignore the gigantic role that women play in pews and now pulpits in organized religion. Yes, the magazine's leaders missed the church ladies. They even missed the proudly feminist elements of the liberal mainline Protestant world, which meant that they sure as heck missed the huge role that women play in conservative religious groups. Take the pro-life movement, for example.

Well, this year's cover was different.

This year, Newsweek -- as best I can tell -- completely ignored the role that women play in religious life.

It's amazing. I didn't think it could be done. The cover package contains all the usual topics, such as "Twenty Top Women on Leadership," "Women Leaders: Lessons We Have Learned," "Moms Mean Business," "Science and the Gender Gap" and "Women Leaders: 10 Power Tips." You'd think there would be room for faith in there somewhere.

Last year, some of the women featured talked about the role of faith in their lives, at least a little bit. This year, I couldn't even find a few secondary references. Did I miss something?

So I'll end this somewhat cynical tirade with a flashback to a 2005 Wall Street Journal piece by Christine Rosen that stated the obvious:

This fall, the entering class of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution, is 34% female. At Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary, women are nearly half the student body. At many Protestant seminaries, women pastoral students now outnumber men, and between 1983 and 2000 the number of women who identified themselves as clergy tripled. It seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles's prediction of a few years ago, that "the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation," may soon prove true.

Pulpits aren't the only places that women dominate. According to a recent survey, the typical U.S. congregation is 61% female. Women are also the force behind most lay organizations and volunteer activities and make up the majority of church employees.

And I will say once again what I said then. This trend is linked to at least three of the biggest stories out there on the religion beat. You'd have to be blind not to see the links. And those stories? The declining number of men in mainline pews. The general statistical decline of the liberal mainline and the groups that feature the largest numbers of women in ordained leadership roles. The rise of the new evangelicals and other conservative forms of faith, with strong -- but less obvious -- leadership roles for women. A new question: Have the evangelicals leveled off in growth, especially among men?

These stories are still out there. Does anyone at Newsweek know that?

Wait a minute! In the Newsweek illustration of Martina Navratilova, is she wearing a cross? There's the religion element of the cover story. I missed that, at first. Go to the website and check it out.

UPDATE: Newsweek instructed us to take down the illustrations, even though I tried to attribute them as part of our coverage of the package. I did the best I could to find a fitting substitute.

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