Myrtle Fillmore and Her Daughters: An Observation and Analysis of the Role of Women in Unity

TitleMyrtle Fillmore and Her Daughters: An Observation and Analysis of the Role of Women in Unity
Publication TypeBook Chapter
AuthordeChant D
Book TitleWomen's Leadership in Marginal Religions
PublisherUniversity of Illinois Press
CityUrbana and Chicago
Call NumberBL2525.088

A summary of the chapter is given in the the second paragraph:

[T]his chapter supplies a brief sketch of the history and primary literature of Unity; surveys Unity's foundational theological assertions with special attention given to the relationship between these assertions and female leadership; discusses Unity's current institutional structure; and in conclusion, comments on the emergence of an institutional structure in Unity that seems to contradict the ideals of its cofounder, Charles Fillmore, and that calls into question the equal leadership of Unity women. p.102

deChant describes the male-dominated leadership of AUC as he observes it in 1993 and explains how this evolved over time from the formation of AUC in 1966. He asserts that strong male-dominance in leadership has given rise to strong institutional clericalism ("In Unity the laity is powerless both politically and in terms of official religious leadership") and a religious movement that "does not conform" to the "statements of Charles Fillmore." This is stated most strongly in the following passage:

Unity conforms to the clerical model of leadership, in which members of a professional class (clergy) monopolize knowledge and power in such a way as to disempower nonprofessionals (laity). In Unity the disempowerment of persons is predicated on their political disenfranchisement. Since only churches led by ministers sanctioned by the AUC are recognized as Unity churches, and since political power within the AUC can only be exercised by the ministers, the laity is wholly dependent on the clergy. This dependency is most obviously a political dependency since the laity has no voice in the movement beyond the voice of its clerical representatives. Political dependency broadens into religious dependency because church membership in the Association of Unity Churches is contingent on clerical leadership. One cannot be part of a Unity church, and hence a public participant in the religion, unless the church is led by a member of the professional elite of the AUC; and since this professional elite has exclusive control over formal religious activities and services, the public religious life of Unity members is dependent on their recognizing the formal religious authority of the minister who leads their church. pp.117-118

The interplay of women's role in Unity and the rise of clericalism in Unity is explained by deChant as follows:

Given the large number of women ministers in Unity, it is somewhat surprising that Unity is devoid of a feminist critique of Unity's drift toward institutional absolutism. The absence of such a critique, and indeed any sort of organized opposition to Unity's emerging clericalism, is even more curious when one reflects on Charles Fillmore's polemic against institutional religion. Clearly the vast majority of ministers in Unity are generally satisfied with its institutional course, perhaps because of the benefits that accrue to them. Since there is no doctrine in Unity and the Charles Fillmore teachings are not authoritative, his polemic is not accepted as normative. Further, the feminist critique of clericalism grows out of the rich tradition of cultural/institutional criticism which has been a mainstay of theology especially in recent years, and since Unity ministers and educators are neither theologically literate nor conversant with the the critical horizons of the theological enterprise, they are most likely unaware of this critique. The paradox of Unity's developing clericalism can, in part, be understood as the consequence of male domination of the Association of Unity Churches. Although the majority of Unity ministers are women, and although women have historically been recognized as legitimate religious leaders, their impact on the institutional development of the AUC has been considerably less than that of their male colleagues. p.114

This chapter is important because of its characterization of the AUC as observed by the author in 1993. It may be that much of the dissatisfaction seen in Unity in present times (2015) is the result of diminished power of the ordained ministry.

This might be supported by an interesting fact asserted in the chapter that there were 545 Unity ministers and "nearly eight hundred locations worldwide." If these numbers are correct, this ratio of .68 ministers/church would be substantially less than a ratio calculated from the current Unity Yearbook. If power were truly monopolized by the ordained ministry, one would expect a substantial increase in the number of people who were pursuing ordination but who did not have an interest in carrying on congregational ministry. This would then give rise to an increase in the number of ordained persons compared to the number of active congregational ministries. "All hat and no cattle" is a term that describes a person who desires the social prominence of ordination but is not willing to carry on a meaningful ministry. As of 2015, there are certainly more than 545 ordained ministers and there is a substantial increase in the number of licensed Unity teachers. The number of congregational ministries, however, has fallen from the number reported by deChant in 1993 (800) to approximately 600 today.