Exit, Loyalty, and Voice: College Students’ (Lack of) Persistence in the Church in Light of Pastoral and Doctrinal Responses on Gender
Thesis for the BA in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School
Gender relates to many of the concerns—from gay marriage to women’s roles—around which emerging-adult American Catholics differ with their hierarchy. Ministers on college campuses responding to such concerns, and to widespread exit from the Church, often propose responding pastorally (in personal terms), and distinctly, responding doctrinally (in political terms). But, through interviews with Catholic undergraduates and campus ministers, I find that that approach’s immediate accessibility belies long-term harm to students’ sense of the Church, and their membership in it.
I find that students face gender-related issues at once personally and politically, in ways that undermine their address in campus ministries. Meanwhile, I find that campus ministers who respond pastorally without addressing tensions in official doctrine to their pastorality, and campus ministers who respond doctrinally without expressing pastoral concerns about official doctrine, reinforce students’ sense of the Church as delimited by intellectual agreement with its doctrine, and more generally, students’ sense of the Church as defined by its hierarchy rather than all of its members. Students are then left without appreciation of potential for their voice to matter in the Church, leaving them without a way to be loyal to both their Church and their socio-morals. So, more and more, they exit.
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