I was taken aback at the vehemence with which a pacifist Methodist minister attacked me for daring to suggest, in a comment on his blog, that
men leave the church … partly because the church has too much of a feminine ethos.
I made it very clear that I did not support the controversial assertion that A church should have a masculine ethos; rather I stated that
the church should be balanced in these matters.
Nevertheless Dave Warnock has responded with
There is a frequent and loudly stated view that men leave the Church because it is too feminine. … I believe this is complete rubbish and have done so for a long time.
Another Methodist minister, Pam BG, writes that she is
genuinely trying to understand the … comment … that the church has been ‘feminized’ and so it is unattractive to men – that’s why men are staying away from church. … I am puzzled by how an institution dominated by men can be either ‘feminized’ …
I must say I am puzzled by Pam’s puzzlement, and consider part of Dave’s response to be complete rubbish.
Both Dave and Pam make the point that the church is for the most part led by men, and so cannot be feminised. But by what kind of men is it led? Men who are widely perceived as being weak wimps, and often in their pronouncements seem to do their best to perpetuate this stereotype. Men who like to wear brightly coloured dresses, at least in my own Anglican church. Men who are often rather camp, feminine in their behaviour, and perceived as very probably either gay or paedophiles while often being hypocritical in condemning such people. Men who seem happy to spend their time doing feminine style things, i.e. most church social events, with groups of mostly women. Men who gladly consume the typical church diet of quiche with weak milky tea, who are therefore not real men.
There are of course among actual church leaders huge numbers of exceptions to these stereotypes. But sadly there are also far too many who fall into this kind of behaviour pattern, perhaps partly because they feel it is expected of them, by society in general and by their majority female congregations.
Anyway, I’m sure Dave and Pam have realised by now, even if they don’t want to admit it, that at the local level churches like theirs are not really controlled by the mostly male official hierarchy, but by the armies of mostly women volunteers who keep their churches running, and who exercise their control by implicit threats to quit their activities if the minister dares to do anything which they disapprove of – which would probably include almost anything likely to attract men to the church.
So the problem is a self-perpetuating one. Dave may be right that it originated during the time of the world wars. But the vast majority of the men who don’t go to church now are too young to have fought in them, or indeed in any protracted war except for the recent Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. The men of this generation have not so much left the church as never been there, at least for any regular service. Why? Because several generations ago the church was feminised and has remained so.
So what can be done about it? Here, I am glad to say, Dave does much better. He writes:
If we want men in our church, we don’t need to become more masculine, instead we need to:
- become more Christlike
- support discipleship that is routed in the teaching and behaviour of Jesus
- build strong faith that understands how God will be in the shit with us
- build our understanding that God is found in the shit
- build strength and depth to our faith and discipleship so that it can survive hell on earth
- be courageous in following the teaching that Jesus actually gave, not a version built on our cultural preconceptions.
- tell and celebrate the stories of people who found Jesus in adversity, in pain, in suffering, in hell on earth. There are plenty of inspiring tales of people who gave their lives for others; of people showing love, & forgiveness; of lives changed for the better; of courage, steadfastness and determination of faith.
- work at honest and integrated lives that reflect the life & teaching of Jesus ie be authentic.
- do all this within a community that is strong enough to carry us when we can’t hear Jesus and accompany us carrying the Christ light when we are stuck in the shit of life and can see no light, no hope and no God.
And by the way if we got these things even half way right we might well see more women in church as well as men.
Indeed, Dave. But this is largely what I mean in practice by becoming more masculine, in the stereotypical way. For a start by using the s**t word, three times in this extract, you are being masculine, as people understand it, and certainly breaking that stereotype of the feminised minister. Actually, apart from the poor exegesis of 1 Corinthians 16:13, this is not all that different from the thoughts which originally raised your blood pressure.
Of course what we are talking about is not a matter of real masculinity. But those “real men” types will not go near a church which they perceive as feminine.
Dave, I join you in objecting to the stereotypes of masculine = courageous, feminine = wishy-washy like church tea. But these ancient identifications (going right back to the etymology of the controversial Greek word in 1 Corinthians 16:13) are still with us in popular culture, and are still a major barrier to a greater penetration by the church into western society today.