The Author – Dr. Heather Heflin Hodges
Photo “My Loneliest Place on Earth

Author’s note: This research was birthed out of my own trauma as well as my experience ministering to other women in our tribe who are hurting and who report that their pain is directly related to being in churches of Christ. While we continue to discuss what a woman’s “role” in the church can or cannot be, I want to spend a short time focusing on the repercussions of how we have treated women in churches of Christ.

The research is crystal clear, how churches of Christ have treated women has caused trauma. Regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored, rewritten, or taken from them. I want this research to speak for itself, knowing that within every study or survey exists many flaws. This research is flawed but embedded within it is Truth. I embarked on this journey out of shear curiosity. I was not trying to prove or disprove a theory but to simply ask, listen, and learn. My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, may read on with the same curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. May we never stop asking hard questions nor be afraid of challenging answers. Soli Deo Gloria! – Heather

Summary

In September of 2018, data were gathered from 516 women to evaluate their self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of being part of churches of Christ. Of the women surveyed 52% reported none to mild trauma symptoms while 48% reported moderate to extremely severe symptoms. The research found that 78% of all respondents experienced one or more trauma symptoms within the past month of the survey as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.”

Methodology

The instrument used for the research was the civilian version of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-C.) The PCL-C is a 17-item self-report checklist of PTSD symptoms based closely on the DSM-IV criteria. Respondents rated each item from 1 (“not at all”) to 5 (“extremely”) to indicate the degree to which they have been bothered by that particular symptom over the past month. A total symptom severity score (range = 17-85) was obtained by summing the scores from each of the 17 items. This research assessed the respondents’ scores in the following manner:

  • 0 – 17    No Symptoms
  • 18 – 31   Mild
  • 32 – 44   Moderate
  • 45 – 57   Severe            
  • 58 – 85   Extremely Severe

Please note: The gold standard for diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The PCL-C was used in this survey as a research tool and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms.

The respondents were given the following information about the survey, “This survey is designed to explore self-reported trauma and stress by women as a result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ. This is an independent social sciences study conducted by Dr. Heather Hodges for the purpose of researching the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.”

Findings

Of the 516 women surveyed, 71% have been part of churches of Christ for over 20 years, 25.53% have served as a paid minister for churches of Christ, and 21.3% are or have been married to a church of Christ minister.

When asked to self-report any trauma symptoms 22.09% reported an absence of trauma symptoms, 30% reported mild symptoms, 18.41% reported moderate symptoms, 16.08% reported severe symptoms and 13.37% reported extremely severe symptoms.

Results of PCL-C survey completed September 2018, by 516 women in churches of Christ.

Conclusion

This research finds that roughly half of women surveyed report moderate to extremely severe trauma symptoms as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.” One-third of the 516 women surveyed report mild symptoms and only 22% of the women surveyed reported no symptoms.

Implications

The implications and ramifications of this research are broad and far-ranging. Part – 2 will delve more deeply into individual responses as well as suggestions for how we can help women heal who experience trauma as a result of being part of churches of Christ.

Future Research

More research is needed to accurately assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of being part of churches of Christ. I suspect that the degree of self-reported trauma is correlated to whether a woman in churches of Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not. Future research could ask, “To what degree have you felt your spiritual gifts have been utilized by the church of Christ?” “Have you ever been restricted from using your spiritual gifts because of your gender?”

An updated version of the PCL was published in 2018 and is based on the DSM-5 criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Any further research could utilize this expanded and updated tool.