Maybe Men’s Problem with Christianity Is Masculinity

man church

The Art of Manliness is publishing a series on Christianity and masculinity (here and here). I wrote my senior thesis on the question of gender and spirituality, particularly as it relates to the so-called “feminization” of the church, and then I wrote a long Facebook comment about it, so, obviously, I’m qualified to share my opinion.

To get you up to speed, there is a crisis (again) of men failing to come to church because the church is too “feminine.” Men aren’t interested in touchy-feely small groups and ooey-gooey worship songs. Women (apparently) are. Therefore, men don’t come to church because it’s too feminine, and that’s a problem.

Of course, I sympathize. Singing “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” might make anybody squirm on a Sunday morning.

But might I point out, manly men, that a man penned those lyrics? That, in fact, many men write the most notorious of sappy worship songs? And that many male worship leaders choose to sing these songs? And that, also, many women cringe and walk out on emotion-driven sap (been there, done that)?

Despite anatomical differences that lead to hard lines between “masculine” and “feminine,” men and women share overlapping personalities, convictions, and preferences.

As an intelligent, educated, strong woman who likes her Christianity meaty, I take issue with the Art of Manliness and any other book, ministry, or blog even asking questions like, “Is Christianity Inherently Feminine?” — and then equating “feminine” with everything weak and cheesy.

Don’t blame my girlfriends and me for the ooshy-gushiness of some churches. We hate it just as much as any man.

The ultimate problem is not “feminization,” and the ultimate solution (sorry, John Piper) is not “masculinization” — especially if your idea of “masculinization” means playing more Skillet songs at the men’s conference.

The problem with sappy churches is that they’re just that — sappy, trivial, dorky, and irrelevant. And that has nothing to do with women. Women are not the problem. Sappiness is. So stop being sappy.

But there’s still a gender gap, even in churches that aren’t sappy. How do we explain that gender gap?

I hypothesize that so-called masculinity might be the problem, not femininity or Christianity itself.

When Christ walked this earth, he targeted the opposite of the culture’s masculinity — women, children, the poor, the weak, the uneducated. He did not glorify the Roman culture of masculine brutality; he said to turn the other cheek. He did not show any interest in elevating the rich and the privileged; he lifted up the downtrodden. The rich, both materially and spiritually, and the powerful were told to be as little children.

Yes, Jesus flipped tables, and one table he flipped was patriarchal and hypermasculine. No wonder women, children, and the poor — the oppressed and subservient — flocked to him, while the rich, powerful, and spiritually literate wanted him dead.

All that to say, the social constructs of gender can play a role in who goes to church when that social construct stands antithetical to Christianity and when an individual internalizes that social construct. In other words, maybe men don’t want to go to church not just because of sappy worship songs and kumbayah circles, but because core tenets of Christianity and its spirituality fly in the face of what’s considered “masculine.”

Real men don’t cry, remember? Real men are tough, proud, independent, and dominant, so maybe they don’t want to lay down their lives, turn the other cheek, or stand strong for embarrassing virtues like chastity.

The fact is, many good churches preach the gospel, hold to sound tradition and practices, and offer meaningful human interaction — and still some men won’t come. Still some men will interpret virtue as girliness.

The solution isn’t making the church into their hypermasculine image with whatever passes as “manly” today — Skillet and ripped jeans or whatever. The solution, insofar as the church has any control over this, is breaking Christianity out of these silly gender games and remaining true to the God who created both male and female in His image.

True spirituality targets humanity, not masculinity or femininity.

And you know what? I know for a fact many women dislike the sappy status quo in churches too — the women’s ministries and the dorky romance worship. Women as a whole might stay in a sappy church because they’re raising their children as single moms and need support, or they’re the primary caregivers and want to give their kids an opportunity to learn about Jesus.

Women as a whole might feel uncomfortable in a touchy-feely group situation, but more comfortable than men, because our society allows women to hug, cry, and emote in public.

Women as a whole might be more attracted to church because certain gregarious personalities tend to be associated in larger numbers of females.

Women as a whole might associate sappiness with Christianity because they’ve never seen Christianity without sap. For instance, I, as a woman, closed my eyes and raised my hands and tried to cry during worship, because I thought all spiritual people did that. I quickly abandoned that after I knew better.

But churches, as a whole, might be marketing a “hyperfeminine” spirituality to women because they think that’s what women want — even when we’re all gathered in the back after service wishing for better sermons and fewer scrapbooking retreats.

So women, as a whole, might be more inclined to attend church. But women as individuals? We attend and we leave church for a variety of reasons, many identical to men’s — we’re sinful, Christianity’s challenging, people are awkward, and we hate the worship music too.

Your thoughts?

11 thoughts on “Maybe Men’s Problem with Christianity Is Masculinity

  1. korie

    I feel like the entire culture of the church is so peculiar, to be honest. Sometimes I wonder why anyone attends church services at all. I haven’t attended a typical church service in about 6 years, save for weddings.

    And I was soooo done with scrapbook women’s retreats, and my husband was so done with men’s pancake breakfasts.


    • Bailey Steger

      “Peculiar” is a good word. Sometimes I feel, perhaps too critically, that much of the American church is just bad at Christianity. It seems to offer so much but so little. I can’t quite phrase the words, but I think I catch the drift of your sentiments.


  2. Steph E

    I’ve been thinking about the rich man who went away sad when Jesus asked him to give everything up and follow him, and Jesus’ comment that it’s so very difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven (not impossible, though, Jesus does impossible). I’ve been thinking about how that relates to social privilege as a whole… when everything in society is catered towards you, you become blind to your real need and the reality of what’s going on around you. The law-keeping rich man walked away sad and rich, but the wealthy tax-collector sleaze-ball Zaccheaus experiences salvation (and gives all his money away as a result). Zacc was lucky because even though he had it all, I get the sense society hated him, so he was looking. Whereas the rich man was pretty satisfied with the way things were. I originally was thinking about this pretty much in socio-economic terms, but after reading your post I think it applies to masculinity as well, and the privilege that goes along with being male makes it harder to critique masculinity/transform it. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!


    • Bailey Steger

      I was thinking about Jesus’ comment about the rich entering heaven the entire time I wrote this article. There are real problems in the church, certainly, but the gospel will always be a stumblingblock to us who are privileged and satisfied. Thank you for bringing that and your thoughts into this discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebekah

    A lot to think about! I just wanted to say that I hate the fact that our culture doesn’t “allow” men to cry, be emotional, etcetera. How often do they bottle it all up and then it explodes? (I know, I, as a woman, do that way too often!) Anytime, I’ve ever seen a man cry, I’ve always respected them for it. When someone is open and honest, and they share their heart, that’s an honor.


  4. Unintentionally Sappy Worship Leader

    Your criticism of what you call “sappy” or “ooey-gooey” aspects of Christian music and teaching is agreed upon by most men and women alike, but that isn’t really the subject at hand. The argument is not that women are big fans of sappy drivel and that men want a faith that is “meaty” and substantive, but that the emotional aspect of one’s life and faith is stressed far more in the church today than the physical and mental aspects, often coming from a misconception that there is something inherently spiritual about one’s emotions. But human emotions are fickle and while talking about emotions is great for therapy, it’s not the primary mechanism for living a godly life.
    Another mischaracterization on your part is that of masculinity. Skillet and ripped jeans have nothing to do with masculine nature and neither does the “masculine brutality” of the Romans.
    None of the core tenets of Christianity fly in the face of masculinity, and if you look at the type of masculinity that is being addressed by The Art of Manliness in any of its other articles or material, you would see that it has nothing to do with brutality and “alpha-male” competitiveness. In fact, much of its material speaks to the opposite. Masculinity is discipline, self-control, honor, courage, humility, and loyalty, qualities that are central to the Christian faith.
    I think that “breaking Christianity out of these silly gender games” is about the worst thing we could try to do in our society. Men and women are both created in God’s image, but are created differently, with biological proclivities towards certain behaviors or tendencies. This is because God created men and women to fulfill distinctly different roles. Ignoring our differences and pretending that we’re all the same is to deny God’s intent in creating man and woman.
    It’s biological fact that women (by-and-large) are more emotionally competent than men, and that men are more physically competent than women. Down to brain structure, women have a greater capacity for empathy and have a greater amount of their brain allotted for emotional processing. Men’s brains are more hardwired for spatial reasoning and problem-solving.
    This excerpt from a PsychologyToday article sums it up pretty succinctly: “Males tend, after reflecting more briefly on an emotive memory, to analyze it somewhat, then move onto the next task. During this process, they may also choose to change course and do something active and unrelated to feelings rather than analyze their feelings at all. Thus, observers may mistakenly believe that boys avoid feelings in comparison to girls or move to problem-solving too quickly.”
    In this sense, I think that the church doesn’t just need to edge away from sappiness, but also from placing emotions and the emotional experience as a Christian on a pedestal while diverting less attention to the mental processes and physical aspects of the Christian life.
    I apologize for the massive comment, and I urge you not to see it as some sort of attack. If nothing else, I hope my opinion on the matter can help you better understand and defend your own. In the end, we’re all beggars in the same bread line, and none of us can pretend to have it all even remotely figured out. Blessings in Christ.


    • Bailey Steger

      Hi! Thanks for commenting. I just wanted to clarify a couple things: men complaining about this issue *have* defined it as a sappiness. They *have* suggested that making church more manly involves Skillet and ripped jeans. I’m responding to those characterizations. If I thought masculinity and femininity were helpful binaries for this conversation, I wouldn’t choose to define masculinity as jeans and Skillet either. ;)

      This is an egalitarian blog, so we don’t find typical complementarian arguments convincing. :) Even if 80% of women are more empathetic than men, what about the 20% who aren’t? Are they unwomanly? Should they be forced into roles that don’t match their biology or way of processing just because a majority of women are empathetic? That line of argumentation does not work when real women don’t fall into feminine stereotypes, or real men don’t fall into masculine stereotypes…like the many men promoting the emotionalism and/or sappiness you and I both dislike.

      One last thing: “Masculinity is discipline, self-control, honor, courage, humility, and loyalty”? And femininity’s…not? ;)


  5. Jane

    Just stumbled on this. Your article is spot on. Christianity is in real danger of becoming nothing more than a narcissistic cult of masculinity.Loved the commenters who related the rich man parable to the sense of grievance that some men have about not being centre stage as in the past. Hadn’t thought of the parable in this way. Had to laugh also when the complementarian guy named virtues such as courage as masculine.No idea of the real world.


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