When I was a student at Biola I recall hearing a peer railing against what he called the “feminization of the church.” The problem? There were many more women at church than men and many more women who were strong, active Christians than men. He concluded it was the fault of the women who were taking too many leading roles (not pastoral mind you) and the fault of the churches for making services “girly.” Having never heard this before, I raised my hand and asked him why this was the case if “men were the natural leaders.” Not necessarily the most awe-inspiring comment from me. Still, I kept hearing about this problem and, for a while at least, hopped on the band wagon.
Currently I believe it is a great problem that there are so many men missing from our churches–just as I see it as a great problem that there are so many women missing from the leadership within the churches. But what is the real issue here?
A while back (a year?) I came across an article in the Biola magazine titled The Feminization of the Church: Why Its Music, Messages and Ministries Are Driving Men Away.” It is claimed that “the result of this feminization is that many men, even Christian men, view churches as ‘ladies clubs’ and don’t go.” The solution? “Restore the male ethos.” All of this is said to resonate with how men feel and why they hate going to church. While the article does share some helpful information (ex: it lightly covers the industrial revolution), it seemed as though much of it bought into the very mentality that is fueling the lack of male attendance. Why do I say this?
Before the industrial revolution there was less separation between the genders in terms of the private and public spheres. Livelihood came from the home and/or farm. Since women were seen as morally compromised, childrearing advice was directed at the father. After the industrial revolution men ended up working away from home and women were more encouraged to stay within it. Doctrines ended up affirming this new setup as men from the white middle class increasingly withdrew from the home and women specialized in it. The “Doctrine of Separate Spheres” was born.
Men were to be involved in public life and now the woman was seen as having a special spiritual nature and sacred calling to the home. Matters of faith became personalized, subjective and emotional—all thought to be female characteristics—rather than stereotypically “masculine.” How does this square with the article buying into the mentality that fuels lack of male attendance? The article sees the main problem as an actual feminization (and this is treated as a threat). They have bought into the created stereotypes that have made church unattractive to men in the first place. Their solution is to just make church more stereotypically masculine. While I agree that cultural sensitivity is important and would personally more resonate with more warrior type lyrics, to me it seems more like a case of treating the symptoms to the neglect of the root cause. I think the problem just might be that we (as a society and subculture) have created improper portraits of what men and women are and then have been surprised when men or women react against it.
What would happen if we tried to gender God? What would happen if we started really pushing male culture? This has already started happening and many disillusioned women are leaving evangelicalism. Surprised?
Another interesting thing about this article was how it described the lack of opportunities for men! This is even after admitting that over 93% of the church’s leaders are men! It is also curious that these places lead mostly by men have a 300% higher abuse rate against women. I suspect they are right that there are more official things for women to generally participate in. But what are these things? Consider this: In my denomination it has come to people’s attention that women are absent from key decision making and taking initiative. In response the women’s group is trying to encourage this. Only just now have we moved the special “woman’s day” away from the exact day when everyone else is deciding the course of our churches. My only point is that there is a lot more to the overall situation than “feminization.” Such a characterization is laughable (yet eerily culturally understandable) in light of rampant abuse, and a continued lack of representation in leadership.
That said, this article calls the pastors of our churches (evangelical generally?) “Girly-Men.” Having had many male peers in seminary at Trinity and Biola who are aspiring to the ministry and many who have actually become pastors, I am disgusted by this characterization. This could not be further from the truth (even when going by stereotypical standards).
Curiously, the article had many telling remarks about these “girly men” pastors who were probably once youth pastors as my father was. Supposedly leadership is viewed primarily as therapy. I don’t know any pastors personally (Complementarian or Egalitarian) who would ever say this is how they would primarily define leadership. However, they will admit that much of the job does involve pastoral counseling because guess what: people die, people grieve, and people have issues. The article also hinted at a dichotomy that curiously reflects the old stereotypes that once reinforced the idea of the separate spheres. “He’s really into relationships, very motivating, but is he teaching good apologetics? Is he teaching youth to use their minds and to understand deeper theological truths?” This sounds a lot like the old: women have their sphere in the relational and men in the public. Women are emotional and men and intellectual. Why do these have to be opposed? As a lover of apologetics I want more apologetics taught in church, but why are we making relationships into something purely feminine and a true sign of the dreaded girly man?
The situation is apparently even more dire, because the church is at risk of becoming even more feminine (despite the fact that males have dominated in leadership all these years even before the waves of feminism and have still managed to produce “feminized” churches):
“Yet, much of the church is seeking further feminization, through attempts to increase female clergy and to create gender-neutral Bibles and hymns…Johnstone believes the feminist movement in mainline churches has contributed to the decline in male membership.”
So, church attendance is dominated by women and has been for many, many years (one speculation was since the 13th century)—it has been “feminized” and this has somehow happened even though men have already been the dominant leaders—even before the waves of feminism—what is the proposed solution? How do we stop the feminization of the church? Balance must be restored. A masculine spirit must be pushed. Lest some people (apparently women) be concerned that “unilateral male leadership” is being pushed here, “He said he is not seeking male dominance, but male resurgence.”
*We can all rest assured.