The dense smoke rising from the women’s ordination debate may be clouding our view of an important factor—one that should concern us no matter what our position on ordination: there is a woeful lack of self-respect among an entire category of Christian women.

Gary Bredfeldt, chair of the Ontario Bible College Department of Ministry Studies, recently demonstrated that entering women students at nine Canadian Bible colleges were seriously lacking in measures of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of personal competence. In the general population, women of the same age rank about 7 percent behind men on a standard measure of feelings of personal competence. In the Bible college sample, the gap was an appalling 40 percent. The Bible college women rated 20 percent lower than women at secular institutions, while the Bible college men rated 15 percent above their secular counterparts. Although Bredfeldt’s study gives only preliminary results, it ought not to be ignored.

Students of women’s psychology have long noted the confidence gap between men and women. The title of one study seems to say it all: “What’s Skill for the Male Is Luck for the Female” (Deaux and Emswiller, 1974). Or as Rosalind Barnett and Grace Baruch noted in The Competent Woman: “When failure occurs, women are the ones who tend to believe their abilities inadequate, men to believe their efforts insufficient. When success occurs, on the other hand, women tend to think that the task must have been easy, or that luck was with them; men credit their own abilities.”

Granted that this confidence gap exists, we must wonder why it is exacerbated in some Christian circles. What is it about the churches that send their young adults to Bible colleges that widens this ...

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