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.