Saturday, March 1, 2014

The "Feminization" of the Church

In recent years a lot of people have been talking about why in most Christian churches there is an approximately 60-40 ratio of women to men.  This 2006 Biola Magazine article puts it like this:
There are generally more women than men in every type of church, in every part of the world. . .A traditional explanation is that women are more spiritual than men. But the leaders of [a new masculinity] movement suggest that the church’s music, messages and ministries cater to women. . . The result of this feminization is that many men, even Christian men, view churches as “ladies clubs” and don’t go — or they often go to please their wives. 
The phrase almost always used to describe this phenomenon is "feminization."  In other words, the presence of a higher percentage of women in churches is not simply a higher percentage of women-- it represents that the church is, or has somehow become, feminine.

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has this to say about "feminine Christianity":
Walk into the average evangelical church in America, and you will likely sing lyrics such as “I want my life to be a love song for you, Jesus” and “I want to fall in love with you.”

Then you might hear a sermon encouraging Christians to be “intimate” with Jesus and attend a “care group” where everyone is expected to share their feelings.

Such tactics might appeal to women, but they are at least partially unbiblical and push men away from Christianity, according to Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and assistant professor of gender and family studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

“Where are the men in our churches today?” Stinson said in a lecture sponsored by the SBTS theology school council March 29. “We have a crisis going on in the local church. Number one, men aren’t coming. And number two, when they are coming, they’ve [sic] marginalized, they’re being passive, they’re being pushed to the side.”
Christianity Today summarizes it like this:
Today a growing body of literature is leveling its sights on the church, suggesting that men are uninvolved in church life because the church doesn't encourage authentic masculine participation.
The same article quotes controversial pastor Mark Driscoll:
In Driscoll's opinion, the church has produced "a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. … Sixty percent of Christians are chicks," he explains, "and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks."
The article also quotes David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004):
"[W]omen believe the purpose of Christianity is to find "a happy relationship with a wonderful man"—Jesus—whereas men recognize God's call to "save the world against impossible odds." . . . While the church was masculine, it fulfilled its purpose. But in the 19th century, women "began remaking the church in their image" (and they continue to do so), which moved the church off course.
Needless to say, this line of thinking isn't exactly complimentary to women!  It implies that whatever is "feminine" encapsulates everything that's gone wrong with the church. A popular book on the subject even goes so far as to take the title The Church Impotent - because apparently a majority of women in the church means the church is emasculated, and therefore powerless and ineffectual. Even though men still hold the vast majority of the leadership positions.

There are several things that need to be addressed here.  First, what might be some objective reasons why there are more women than men in most churches?  Second, what does it mean to say the church is "feminine," and is that a helpful or accurate assessment?  Third, what is the best way to address this situation?

Why are there more women than men in most churches? 

One reason that is often given (and one that is less denigrating to women) is that women are just naturally more religious than men. However, if that were true, then a similar female-to-male ratio ought to hold true in other major world religions.  But it doesn't.  Christianity is the only major world religion where female attendance is higher than male attendance. As this United Kingdom study states:
Christian women reported slightly higher levels of religious activity than did the men, while among the other three religious groups, levels of reported religious activity were markedly lower among women than among men. How can we explain these gender differences in reported religious observance? Among the Jews and Muslims, there were marked differences between women and men, in keeping with observations about the roles of women and men in these traditions. These differences are also consistent with the view that men’s prescribed religious activities in traditional religion are more prestigious, and thus more likely to be engaged in. Hindu men also reported greater levels of religious activity than did Hindu women.
The fact is that most of the time in the other world religions (with the exception, perhaps, of some reformed branches), women are actively barred from full participation in many of the everyday practices of religion.  They are often kept separate from the men, hidden behind screens or walls, or required to keep silent.  Perhaps, then, another question we ought to be asking, instead of why there are relatively fewer men participating in Christianity, is what is it about Christianity that encourages so many women to participate?  As this article on religion in the United Kingdom in The Telegraph says:
One possible reason why the Church has always attracted so many women is that the theological education on offer on a Sunday is the same for both sexes. Men and women (generally speaking) have always sat together in Church and are expected to participate equally in the liturgy and in prayer. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the only other religious denomination anecdotally reported as having rising numbers of women is Reform Judaism. Its congregations are mixed whereas in Orthodox synagogues the men and women sit separately and only boys receive the rigorous schooling in the Hebrew scriptures. . . .
An often-ignored fact in all of the hand-wringing about fewer men in church is that the early church in Roman times apparently also attracted more women than men.  As this Huffington Post article on The Power and Presence of Women in the Earliest Churches states:
Some readers may find it surprising to learn that a woman shortage blighted the ancient world, with about 130-140 men for every 100 women. This is so because many female infants were left to die of exposure and because of the mortal risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Yet both Christians and their critics observed a marked overrepresentation of women in the early churches, a fact the critics used to their advantage: "What respectable group caters to women?" Why, one wonders, did so many women find the churches appealing if women's contributions were not valued?
The answer is, simply, that the early churches did value women's contributions. 
This article on women in the early church from the Christian History Institute corrorobates this:
Celsus, a 2nd-century detractor of the faith, once taunted that the church attracted only “the silly and the mean and the stupid, with women and children.” His contemporary, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, acknowledged in his Testimonia that “Christian maidens were very numerous” and that it was difficult to find Christian husbands for all of them. These comments give us a picture of a church disproportionately populated by women. . . It is no surprise that women were active in the early church. From the very start—the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus—women were significantly involved. . .The involvement of women continued in the first few decades of the church, attested by both biblical and extra-biblical sources.
The fact is that a major appeal of Christianity at its inception was that it valued and uplifted those who were marginalized in their own societies.  The same Celsus quoted above also said that Christianity was “a religion of women, children and slaves.” As Paul indicated in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor. 1:26-29
 A similar phenomenon appears to be occurring in the rise of Christianity in places where it has not had a long-standing, traditional hold, such as in China.  Christianity continues to grow rapidly in China, with up to 70% of the new converts being women. In this Christian Post article, the reason given is similar to what was going on in the early church in Roman times:
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said on its website that Christianity mainly attracts people with low social status, including the poor, the women and older people.
It said that while half of Christians had completed their primary education, only 2.6 percent of them attained a college degree or higher.
Christianity's attraction of the marginalized is one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses. On the other hand, this factor probably doesn't fully explain why there is a greater percentage of women in modern Western churches today-- especially since many branches of Christianity are now seen by society as limiting women, not empowering them.  An important question to ask, though, is how long this female-male ratio has been occurring.  The idea that this is a recent phenomenon, rising with the advent of feminism, is certainly false.  The Biola Magazine article I quoted earlier states:
The gender gap began as early as the 13th century, according to some church historians. Others say it began during the Industrial Revolution. . . Industrialization forced men to seek work away from home, in factories and offices, which created a split between the public and private spheres of life. The public sphere became secularized through the new values of competition and self-interest, and the private sphere came to represent the old values of nurturing and religion. . . Thus, religion came to be seen as for women and children and not as relevant to the “real” world of business, politics and academia, she said. Soon, in churches, women began to outnumber men. . .  So, male pastors began to adapt churches to their female demographic.
The rise in the "two spheres" concept popularized in Victorian times may be a factor, but the disproportionality of women in the church, at least in some kinds of congregations, has certainly been documented earlier than that.  American colonial preacher Cotton Mather wrote about it in the 1600s, for instance, though not all colonial churches had this issue. The book Under the Cope of Heaven by Professor Patricia U. Bonomi offers an interesting theory: that male attendance decreased in American colonial churches in inverse proportion to the increase in the role of clergy at the expense of laity:
As the ministers' rising professionalism led them to reduce the laity's power in church government, laymen proved less amenable to a a more passive role than did laywomen. . . [Therefore] Feminization appears to be linked less to the secularization of the masculine sphere than to the loss of power by lay males to a professionalizing clergy.
If this is true, then the Encyclopedia Brittanica's entry on clergy and laity in Eastern Orthodoxy could help explain why there is a more equal sex ratio in these churches:
The emphasis on communion and fellowship as the basic principle of church life inhibited the development of clericalism, the tradition of enhancing the power of the church hierarchy. The early Christian practice of lay participation in episcopal elections never disappeared completely in the East. In modern times it has been restored in several churches, including those in the United States. Besides being admitted, at least in some areas, to participation in episcopal elections, Orthodox laymen often occupy positions in church administration and in theological education. In Greece almost all professional theologians are laymen. Laymen also frequently serve as preachers.
This would also explain why, in my own church (an Independent Church of Christ), where laywomen and laymen alike participate in teaching (both in children's ministry and adult bible studies), baptizing, serving communion, collecting and counting the offering, greeting, ushering, and giving short teachings prior to the main sermon, I see roughly half men and half women when I look around the pews on any given Sunday morning.  My own church (though I have not done an actual count) doesn't seem particularly "feminized."

But this doesn't explain why in some churches where lay participation is high, there is still a higher percentage of women.  This study from 1990 states that in American Pentecostal churches the female-male ratio was at that time as high as 2 to 1, while in Baptist churches it was 3 to 2.  (This study, however, concludes that women are simply more religious for various reasons, failing to take into account that this is a Christianity-only issue, so I won't be quoting it further here.)

But there is another cause that I think is, and has been, very prevalent in Western churches for a long time, and is likely more prevalent in Baptist and Pentecostal and similar churches, because of their strict limitations on women's roles. It's a self-perpetuating stigma that, once established, is very hard to defeat: the stigma known as "gender contamination."  This Forbes article defines"gender contamination" as the idea that when something is perceived as being a women's thing, men want nothing to do with it.  It's the reason why men won't drink "diet" soda and have had to have differently-named low-calorie versions marketed specially to them.  It's the reason why men resist using lotions and moisturizers even if they have neutral, non-flowery scents, and why some companies advertise their products by denigrating competitors with such words as "precious" and "princess."  In short, in our "male mystique" focused society, boys who believe girls have cooties still believe deep-down, when they grow into men, that women have cooties too.

There are still some very deep-rooted misogynistic elements in modern Western culture-- and this, I think, has a lot to do with why evangelicals like Mark Driscoll and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are so distressed at the idea that churches are "feminized."  If churches have more women in them, then churches themselves have cooties, and it's up to the biblical manhood movement to remove the stigma by masculinizing the church.  Just as soda advertisements now insist that certain brands are not for women, and certain body washes emphasize how very manly their scents are, the answer in the minds of these Christians is to re-market the church as a manly institution.

The Christianity Today article I linked to earlier puts it this way:
These authors . . . suggest that the solution is to inject the church with a heavy dose of testosterone. In other words, allowing women to create Jesus in their image has emasculated him; thus, regaining a biblical image of Christ is as simple as re-masculating him. The masculinity movement's solution assumes that Jesus came to model genuine masculinity. . .  imply[ing] that when the church adopts the supposedly male psyche, it fulfills its purpose, but when it conforms to the supposedly female psyche, it becomes aberrant.
Which leads me to my second question:

Are these categories of "masculine" and "feminine," when applied to churches and church services, helpful or accurate?

Jeffrey Miller, in the Christian Standard's Nov. 2011 article Common Sense on "The Feminization of the Church", discusses two of the main proposals for masculinizing the church: first, that churches sponsor "manly" and challenging group activities such as hiking or kayaking, and second, that church services discard or at least strictly limit "feminine" songs about love and intimacy with Christ in favor of "masculine" songs about God's power and authority.  Here's what he discovered regarding sponsoring "manly" activities through his own church:
I wanted to test the theory that men are more interested than women in rigorous and even dangerous recreation, so I devised a stealthy experiment and formed a hiking group. Anyone is welcome to join this group, but all who express interest are told we do not take leisurely jaunts. Instead, each outing has some significant challenge, the most common being distance—our longest hike, for example, exceeded 26 miles. Other obstacles have included bitter windchills, steep climbs, sheer descents, black bears, yellow jackets, and two territorial rattlesnakes. 
I sent invitations to an equal number of men and women. The list has grown and now consists of 20 men and 20 women. I tell people we hike to stay in shape, rise to the challenge, enjoy God’s creation, and get away from it all. While all these are true, I haven’t till now shared one other important goal of mine: to track the ratio of female to male participants. After 19 monthly hikes, having invited an equal number of men and women to join in rigorous outdoor adventures, 33 men and 57 women have taken up the challenge. Surprised? Me too! I thought the ratio would drift toward 50-50.
And with regards to "manly" music, here's his response:
Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) lists the 100 most frequently used songs in its database. If contemporary praise music is problematically feminine in both lyrics and tone, as the Driscoll-Murrow crowd avers, we should expect the top 100 list to be dominated—or at least infiltrated—by women. In fact, however, the list includes 145 male and 16 female composers. Thus more than 90 percent of the composers writing today’s most popular praise songs are male!
Moreover, some of the most “masculine” songs are written by women (and some of the most “feminine” songs are written by men). Consider Twila Paris’s “He is Exalted,” Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song,” and Brooke Fraser’s “Desert Song,” all of which employ metaphors of power. In contrast, Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche’s “Above All” and Martin Nystrom’s “As the Deer” both feature elegant melodies and calming images from nature. 
Going back to the 19th century, Fanny Crosby’s lyrics are not predominantly what we would call “feminine.” And William Bradbury’s melodies are not especially “masculine.” In search of a nonscientific test for these statements, I asked my mom for her five favorite Fanny Crosby songs and my dad for his five favorite William Bradbury songs. . . My mom’s favorite Fanny Crosby songs are “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!” “Redeemed!” and “Draw Me Nearer.” My dad’s favorite William Bradbury hymns are “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Solid Rock,” “He Leadeth Me,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Judge for yourselves, but I believe the list of hymns by Crosby is more vigorous and Bradbury’s list is more intimate. 
I conclude, therefore, that a central problem with the manly music argument is that men both write and perform the overwhelming number of songs that Driscoll, Murrow, and others consider too feminine. If anyone is guilty of feminizing the church’s music, it’s not women!
In short, the categories of "masculine" and "feminine" are cultural constructs that often have very little to do with the actual proclivities of real men and women.  Women don't necessarily focus on relationship and men on power in worship, nor do only men enjoy rigorous and challenging physical activity.

Thomas G. Long's article Why Do Men Stay Away? in The Christian Century finds these categories insulting to both men and women:
Why are men and the church often at odds? Sadly, many of the answers are as insulting as they are misguided. . .They argue that men, loaded as they are with testosterone, have a proclivity to impulsive, risk-taking, occasionally violent action—exactly the behavior disallowed in the soft world of worship. Given this theory, what enticements can the wimpy church possibly offer us men when we compare it to the joys of hiding away in a man cave, stuffing our maws with pizza and beer as we watch Da Bears and heading out after sundown to rip off a few wheel covers and rumble in the Wal-Mart parking lot?

Others propose a more political and historical explanation, namely that centuries of male control of the church have yielded to an ineluctable force of feminization. Pastel worship, passive and sentimental images of the Christian life, handholding around the communion table and hymns that coo about lover-boy Jesus who "walks with me and talks with me" have replaced stronger, more masculine themes. . . 
Really? The feminine erosion of the church? As David Foster Wallace said in a different context, this is an idea "so stupid it practically drools." Even sillier are the proposed masculine remedies. One website suggests "Ten Ways to Man Up Your Church," beginning with obtaining "a manly pastor" who projects "a healthy masculinity." This patently ignores strong women clergy, of course, but it also denigrates the capacity of men to recognize and respond to able leadership regardless of gender or stereotypes.
Categories of masculinity and femininity that reduce men to biceps and women to clinging vines are hardly biblical.  None of the heroes and heroines of the faith presented in the pages of Scripture acted this way.  Nor do the Scriptures uphold these stereotypical behaviors as virtuous or godly.  On the contrary, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, " love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" include both typically "masculine" and typically "feminine" virtues that are for men and women alike.

And there's a real problem when traits associated with women are denigrated as a kind of sickness that is weakening the church.  As Jeffrey Miller put it in his Christian Standard article:
If the church manifests feminine characteristics, and if it does so more than it once did, then why would this make the church impotent? Such a claim is not only illogical, but offensive. Surely it is ungentlemanly to say to women that the problem with the church is that it’s becoming more and more like them.
How fair is it to assign categories to women that you then belittle and blame them for?  Surely it's possible to attract more men to our churches without communicating to women that they shouldn't exist?

So what is the best way to address this problem?

The church is not a product like a soda or a moisturizer, that you can market to men by claiming that it's not for women.  Nor is it helpful to bifurcate church experience so that the women get all the comfort and love while men get all the challenging calls to discipleship.  Men and women are real people, not stereotypes. Men often need comfort and love, and women have no less need for challenge.  Jesus wasn't speaking only to men when He said "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me (Luke 9:23)."  Nor was He talking only to women when He said, "Come to Me. . . and you will find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)." 

Brownyn Lea recently wrote a guest post on Preston Yancey's blog entitled  What Women Want: the Jesus of the Gospels.  She said:
Jesus is a comforter, a healer, a Savior. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild", the suffering Servant, the loving rescuer. That Jesus rightfully and perfectly holds all these titles is proof that those nurturing qualities do not belong exclusively to the female domain. Jesus IS the epitome of love, of care, of welcome.

However . . .what I want from church is this - a robust preaching of the Jesus of the Gospels. I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces fiesty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.

I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That's the Jesus I want. That's the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike.
It's a woman who is saying these things, articulating the need that Christian men and women alike feel for the whole Jesus-- neither a masculinized prize-fighting caricature nor a feminized weepy-and-wimpy caricature.  And if we don't want our Jesus to be a caricature, we ought not to be caricaturing His male and female followers.

Thomas G. Long's Christian Century article hits the nail on the head, I think:
Perhaps a clue can be found in a Christian group that attracts men and women in roughly equal numbers: Eastern Orthodoxy. . . The finding of religion journalist Frederica Mathewes-Green [is] that Orthodoxy's main appeal is that it's "challenging." One convert said, "Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it is also about overcoming myself. . ." 
Yes, some churchgoers are satisfied with feel-good Christianity, but I think many Christians—women and men—yearn for a more costly, demanding, life-changing discipleship. Perhaps women are more patient when they don't find it, or more discerning of the deeper cross-bearing opportunities that lie beneath the candied surface.
Why do more women than men go to church in modern Western Christianity?  Perhaps most women don't really care all that much for sterilized, feel-good niceness in the church either-- but women are usually the ones responsible for getting their kids to church, so they deny themselves, pick up their crosses and get out the door.  Maybe Christian leaders ought to be applauding their commitment rather than blaming them for what's wrong with the service.

Maybe rather than capitulating to worldly gender-contamination and male fear of female cooties, publicly visible male Christian leaders should stop maligning femaleness and trying to market Jesus and the church as masculine.  In fact, maybe they should stop trying to market the church at all.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Ultimately, "feminization" isn't the real problem.  Women aren't the problem.  Let's face it, in the vast majority of churches the decisions aren't getting made by women-- but Adam's tendency to blame "this woman You gave me" for his choices is still visible in male church leaders today.

I firmly believe that if churches will just preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, both its comfort and its challenge-- Christ will take care of the rest.  Men will rise to the challenge to pick up their crosses and endure the stigma of gender contamination in order to identify with Christ.  And this will in time erase the notion that church is a "women's thing."

Finally, churches do need to pay attention to who they're reaching and who they're not.  But perhaps we ought to be concentrating less on the ratio of females to males and start focusing more on attracting people of other races and economic situations.  Perhaps the real problem is not so much that there are 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but that all of them are white and middle class.

In the end, the Holy Spirit is the one who can help us most.  Let's humble ourselves and ask.


Anonymous said...

Hi, this is a great post. I agree as with other activities besides church, women are the ones more likely to take on the actual task of getting the family there.

The comments by Mark Driscoll are so unfortunate and marginalizing.

Eric said...

Great post! I wrote an article on this topic a while ago, and was rather bemused to discover examples similar to the ones you quote above going all the way back to the late 1800s. This suggests to me that those who use the "feminization" lines are not incisively analyzing current-day culture but simply repeating an old religious meme. See if you're interested.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this especially helpful post. Glad to have been made aware of your blog today. ~Jeff Miller

Mary said...

A very insightful and well-researched post .

I agree wholeheartedly.

Thanks for this.

Paul said...

All of your posts have been a big blessing to me. This one is right on target and I'm sharing it widely. I'd like to recommend a related post written by my friend Eric, at I'd also like to recommend that you write for the multi-authored blog at The Junia Project - Gail, the primary editor, would love to give you a wide audience!

Al said...

I wonder whether this doesn’t miss a few things. Here are some immediate thoughts that come to mind:

1. Although more women than men may have been in church for many centuries, what many people are trying to account for are recorded demographic shifts over the last few decades. So, for instance, in the Anglican context where I find myself, there has been a consistent and disproportionate evacuation of men from churches. The same trend is markedly seen in the ratio of men and women training for the priesthood. This isn’t just the way that the church has always been. One reason why men might be leaving at a much greater rate than women is because men were under-engaged to begin with.

2. Other research has suggested that the men seeking ministry in the current environment in the UK (where I am) tend to be rather unrepresentative of men in general in the weighting of key personality traits and to be closer to women. This is another sense in which the Church can be spoken of as ‘feminized’: men in the Church, and many among its leaders, aren’t exactly inspiring visions of masculinity.

3. The Church is feminized as its priestly leadership starts to be seen as more female in its constitution and more feminine in its styles. Church leadership is increasingly perceived as lacking in the strength of an effectively symbolized authority that everyone must take seriously and relying upon everyone being nice and empowering and recognizing and affirming the priestly leadership of women and weaker men. What people fail to appreciate is that the latter form of ‘empowered’ leadership just doesn’t carry the same weight in society and in the church as the former does.

4. When people refer to ‘feminization’ they are referring in large part to the way that biblical images of God are falling by the wayside and a more maternal vision of God is taking its place. The prominent biblical images of God as transcendent Creator, Law-Giver, Warrior, Judge, Father, Master, Lord, Sovereign, etc. are downplayed in favour of more marginal images that highlight more nurturing and intimate themes.

5. ‘Feminization’ also refers to the way that the symbolization of God’s authority in the Church has lost more ‘masculine’ elements. When people think of pastoral (shepherd) ministry, they think a lot of spiritual nurturing and not so much about fighting off the ravenous wolves and bandits, killing the bears and lions, laying down one’s life for the sheep, striking enemies with the rod, being tough enough to allow vulnerable sheep to graze safely in hostile territory and all of the other things that biblical imagery of the shepherd as a pastor figure tends to focus upon.

6. ‘Feminization’ can refer to the way that the Church functions within the world. Is the Church seen as associated primarily with the domestic and private sphere, or does it have a powerful and authoritative voice in society and the community? Does it speak effectively and with authority to areas of public life where male activity and interest still predominates: business, politics, law, medicine, etc.?

Reversing the feminization of the Church isn’t going to be solved by the gimmick of male-targeted action events, which often tend to encourage the infantilization of men which puts men off Church in the first place. If the churches want men, it should start to treat men like men. Stop treating as boys or adolescents who just need pointless testosterone kicks, or think that being masculine is being macho. Rather, present us with the uncompromising claims of Christ and call us to respond to them. Push us to work to and develop our strengths for the sake of the Church, rather than constantly discouraging masculine strength and getting men to ‘play nice’ and avoid confrontation and the sort of robust leadership that might put off women from participation. Get the godly and fearless men who have the strongest backbones and who can most effectively symbolize God’s authority to lead the church and men—and society more generally—might start to sit up and take notice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post, Kristen: I am very flattered to be quoted in this piece. Good questions and thoughts here.

Alastair's questions and points are interesting - #5 particularly. I had not thought about the "warrior" side of a shepherd before. Good food for thought.

Kristen said...

Al, of course coming from a UK perspective and looking at the Anglican church, you're going to have a different view than an American looking mostly at the evangelical churches. But I can say that we have far too many problems with authoritarianism over here for me to be interested at all in promoting the image of a shepherd who fights off wolves and strikes down bandits-- particularly since evangelical churches are generally overeager to cast one another, or mainstream churches (including Anglican/Episcopalian) as those wolves and bandits.

Most of the other things you mention as what you understand as being meant by "feminization" is not what I understand is meant by it, as it is discussed over here. Very few evangelicals are at all interested in downplaying God as Father, Master, Lord, etc. Instead, there is an overemphasis on these, and particularly Sovereignty, to the point where "God is love" can get almost completely lost. Evangelical churches don't really have women applying for the priesthood because we don't have a priesthood, and women are forbidden to be pastors in almost all churches. Churches that do call women as pastors can be disfellowshipped by their evangelical denomination.

As far as the church being seen as a "powerful and authoritative voice" - we don't have an established church here, and it just doesn't work that way. Sometimes a particular minister or church may gain respect from the surrounding society to the point where they listen to him as having some authority (such as Billy Graham), but the church in general having some kind of authoritative public voice like you describe? Not something I've ever experienced.

With regards to your last paragraph, I believe most of it is what I've already said. The church needs to present the whole and uncompromising Christ. But as for strong men symbolizing God's authority to lead the church? Um, I'm a survivor of an authoritarian, spiritually abusive church group, and I shudder at the thought of men doing anything other than following what Christ taught: "The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever will be greatest among you will be your servant." Maybe that's what you actually had in mind-- but I think the last thing we need is more men insisting they have God's authority.

That's where I'm coming from. I do recognize that things are probably quite different from where you stand.

Al said...

Thanks for the response, Kristen.

Reflection upon situations such as that within the UK can be useful because, not being American evangelicalism, it is a good test case for the sorts of general theories that people advance in this area. Those who suggest a skewed gender ratio in churches has always been the case and explains all that needs to be explained need to account for such changes, which are the sorts of things that many of those who refer to the ‘feminization’ of the Church are discussing.

You may have had problems with authoritarianism—and authoritarianism is a problem—but Christ has given ministers authority and the priestly leadership of the Church needs to be authoritative (not the same as being authoritarian). The biblical description of ‘pastoral’ ministry values thick skin, a strong nerve, and the ability to speak and act authoritatively, a person who can act as the backbone of the church, upholding God’s truth, protecting those within it, and walking resolutely and firmly into the battle with the world in a manner that others follow. The need for such a figure arises from the fact that we are engaged in spiritual warfare, that the Church and its members are vulnerable to false teaching, and that God desires the strength of his authority to be imaged in the Church.

You may find such imagery troubling, but this is imagery that the Scripture continually focuses upon when talking about the ministry of shepherding. Yes, the shepherd is to be gentle and tender with the sheep, and the image of the sheep safely grazing by still waters is a peaceful one. However, the shepherd’s gentleness and tenderness with the sheep is contrasted with his lack of pity with those who would devour them, his strength to drive back or kill all who would predate or seek to steal them, and his willingness to lay down his life in this duty. The only reason why the sheep can enjoy peaceful pasturage is because the shepherd is driving off or killing all who would harm them, the strength of his rod and his power in the use of it being a cause of comfort to them.

By defining ‘feminization’ the way that you are, you seem to be dodging the sorts of issues that really are pressing in the broader Church debate around these issues. These issues may not be so pronounced in your quarter of the Church, but they really are elsewhere and they are some of the major reasons why Christians in various quarters of the Church are speaking about its feminization. Although these claims about feminization may perhaps be less justified in your context, they are definitely issues elsewhere.

There may be overemphasis upon sovereignty in some circles. However, this is not the norm, nor are those areas the areas where the feminization being discussed is really being expressed very strongly. The tendency to pit God’s love against the fact that he is Father, Master, Lord, King, Judge, Law-giver, Warrior, etc. is unhelpful. While these names for God can be discussed in a manner that loses sight of love, biblically such names shape our understanding of what God’s love means and vice versa.

While most evangelicals may not be calling women as pastors, many other churches are and the effects can be seen. The feminization of the pastoral leadership of the Church is a real and a dangerous thing. I think that there are a number of former evangelicals who would sleepwalk right into it, without realizing what is involved.

I support women in formal pastoral roles over other women in the Church and women involved in such things as the theological education of both men and women. However, the pastoral leadership over and authoritative teaching of the Church more generally and the symbolization of God’s authority that it requires needs to be not merely carried out by males, but carried out by men with real backbone.

An unestablished church can definitely have a powerful voice in society and the American church has at various points and contexts in its history exercised just such a voice.

Al said...

In speaking about ‘feminization’, another thing that might be worth attending to is the relationship between this and the exaggeration of ‘neotenic’ or juvenile traits within the Church. Neotenic traits typically cause fewer problems for women than they do for men and are typically more pronounced among women than among men (both naturally and culturally). Men are expected to be thick-skinned, responsible, able to stand up for themselves, without need of protection or special treatment, and strong to a degree that women are typically not.

The realm of childhood is a realm typically dominated by women and children and their modes of community and behaviour. My suggestion is that the Church has moved towards becoming such a realm. As becoming a man involves a sharper separation from this realm than becoming a woman does, men can’t easily find their place in a Church that has this character. Certain neotenic traits of women will also tend to be exaggerated in such contexts, making it difficult for women to act as mature and responsible grown-ups too. Given the sharper breach between them and the realm of childhood, men’s active presence can provide an impetus towards maturity in a community and their absence will often lead to a contrasting effect.

Some of the things to which I am referring here:

1. Emphasizing childlike and romantic intimacy as the model for Christian subjectivity (in contrast to Scripture).
2. The downplaying of people’s spiritual agency and responsibility and the emphasizing of weakness.
3. A sort of narcissism and narrow attention to one’s own subjectivity, rather than to one’s responsibility to and place within a world beyond oneself. Such churches can be inward-looking and overly focused upon the personal dynamics of the community itself, oblivious to the pettiness of these issues in the larger scheme of things.
4. Hyper-sensitivity, thin skins, a focus on protecting people’s vulnerable feelings, and an inability to cope with adult confrontation.
5. Sentimentalism.
6. A resistance to institutional authority and inequalities of power and a narrow focus upon affirming subjectivities. A homeostatic maintenance of some status quo, rather than the development of power and structures to act powerfully into the wider world. Failure to engage forcefully and effectively with the wider world.
7. Mission narrowly focused upon the domestic realm—women, children, and the elderly.
8. Scrupulous avoidance of confrontation, dispute, and the more military metaphors and models of Scripture.
9. Leaders without backbone who do not possess any natural force of authority.
10. A constant emphasis upon ‘playing nice’ around weak people that leaves no space for people truly to play to their strengths and the sort of grown-up hammering out of issues that is required.
11. A preoccupation with trivial and juvenile activities.

Retha said...

Al, you seem to mention 2 kinds of things in your previous comment:
1) Bad qualities that are associated with women. Sometimes this is because our society does not value women and want to believe the worst of them. Sometimes it is because certain qualities are conditioned into them. For example, you mentioned the importance of an assertive leadership style. Whether or not I agree with you, women are taught one-sided submission, and the church is thus creating the problem/ “problem” it accuses women of.
2) Good qualities which you think of as bad, because they are “feminine” in your associations.
Regardless of which of your points it which, in both cases you seem to believe the solution is more “manliness”. I – and it seems Kristen's view is rather close to mine – would say the solution is:
1) Stop associating any quality, bad or good, with femininity and masculinity. Qualities are either Christ-like, or not. If they are Christlike they are should be encouraged in men and women. If not, we should discourage them in both sexes.
2) Teach the church the spiritual maturity to stop judging people by petty outward things, the kind of thing which say, for example, that you would rather listen to a more macho leader. Judging by masculinity is like judging by riches, poverty, age, or looks – these are not the things by which God judges.

Retha said...

Oh, and another thing, Al: Where do you get your notion that any earthly human should “symbolize God's authority”? I thought God's authority is by nature sovereign. He rules alone. You cannot symbolize ruling alone, and thereby point to a God who rules alone. If you come anywhere close to ruling alone, you are underminining, not symbolizing, the One who said: 24 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, and And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
Come to think of it, the same God who said that also did not want a king over Israel – He was King enough, and he chose not to share the spotlight.

believer333 said...

I think KR put forth a statement to the effect that men have been under engaged in activities of church labor work, and over engaged with church leadership services. It seems this has been a long tradition. IMO any idea of what is representative of masculine men is pretty bogus. Masculinity is determined by hormones and genes, not sports, wild in nature, muscles or any other such interest. It is also bogus that a large mixed group can be classified as feminized. This is all nothing to do with Christ and living a humble life, serving God and ministering to those in need.

Donald Johnson said...

There are plenty of women in Scripture that "showed backbone" in defending the faith. I suggest that Al needs to read up on them and then report back. Jael, Deborah, Esther in the OT and Priscilla, Junia and Phoebe in the NT are just some of them, but there are many others if one looks.

believer333 said...

Al, it seems your last comment revealed your attitude about women and womanly activities. You painted women as holding juvenile traits, immature in nature, lacking in ability to be responsible adults, unable to cope with adult situations, without backbone, preoccupied with trivial and juvenile activities and more. I think the real problem here is that you hold a deep disdain for women and femininity in general; and you are overly fond of men and masculinity.

Greg Hahn said...

Al: You talk a lot.

The authority of which you speak that is given to the church to speak authoritatively is only valid when the church preaches to Word of God, rightly divided.

You have not given any scripture at all, but rather given us a lot of your opinion, which has zero authority. None. Male voice and all.

Kristen's article was rather well researched, documented, and devastating to the error she was addressing. Her article spoke with authority because her article was authoritative.

That is a result of giftedness, not of gender.

Al said...

Thanks for the response, Retha. Unfortunately, I don’t think that your comment manifests much of an understanding of my point.

Feminization is a bad thing, not because women are bad, for a few key reasons:

1. Feminization names the relative and often increasing dearth of men within the Church.
2. Feminization names the failure of the church to provide a place where more typically masculine forms of Christian faith and action are recognized and encouraged.
3. Feminization describes the way in which the pastoral leadership of the Church starts to be characterized by more feminine characteristics, which limit its capacity to perform its biblically defined role. This is akin to the concern that the army could become ‘feminized’. Women aren’t bad, but, as in the army, the vocation of the pastoral leadership of the Church requires a particular emphasis upon masculine traits. The loss of these will make it poorer at its task and we may all suffer the consequences.

As for your points about lording it over others, attention to my comments should reveal that your accusation quite misses its mark. My focus has been upon the figure of the shepherd. The shepherd needs to be strong and authoritative, precisely in order to serve the sheep. The good shepherd doesn’t lord it over the sheep, but acts powerfully on their behalf.

As a point of fact, I would also strongly disagree with your reading of God’s position regarding Israel and a king. Israel’s calling for a king in 1 Samuel 8 was wrong and a rejection of God’s rule and his prophet, but the fact that God wanted Israel to have a king when the time was right was already clear from such passages as Genesis 17:6, 49:10, and Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

Also, we can symbolize God’s rule. This is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. It is also part of the calling of the pastor, who is a shepherd acting as a symbol and representative of the Chief Shepherd. As symbols and representatives, our rule doesn’t compete with God’s rule or take its place, but is designed to point away from us to his rule and to uphold his authority rather than our own.

Believer333, your comments strongly suggest that you didn’t read my remarks with much care at all. I am not saying what you seem to think I am saying.

Don, do you really think that I am unaware of such characters? Also, I never denied that women can show backbone. However, there are good reasons why, if the leadership of the Church requires the strength to withstand, resist, confront, attack, and oppose others, to act as the backbone of an entire community, and to symbolize the firmness of God’s authority, it should privilege masculine traits and individuals. This would remain true, even if women were permitted to act as pastors over men and women in the Church.

If we are going to draw attention to figures like the ones you mention, we should also recognize that all of the priests were men, all of the acknowledged regents of Israel and Judah were men (Athaliah is treated as a usurper), and all of the Twelve were men. We have one female judge, out of fifteen biblically recorded judges.

Greg, how about you start by engaging with the biblical pattern of pastoral leadership in the shepherd that I have raised, and my point that this image consistently highlights elements that are consistently downplayed in more feminized models of leadership today?

believer333 said...

Al, masculinization is a bad thing, which is what you are putting forth to redeem the false picture of feminization (thing that isn't actually happening). This brings us back to the evils of patriarchy and male dominance, which is what you are proposing. AFAIC, this is just another twist in the attempt to get people to promote gender hierarchy, for the benefit of masculinists.

Greg Hahn said...

Al- Please don't dictate to me where to start. See how that works? You have no authority over me.

And you lost me when you implied that there is a structure in the church whereby some people have authority over others, or that some people "speak authoritatively" in the church.

Jesus spoke with authority. (Mat 7:29) To the degree that tell others accurately His word, we have authority. Even Paul did not have authority beyond that. (Acts 17:11)

Christians are to do the same thing in our churches today. We judge what the preacher says and whether it agrees accurately with the Word of God. He only has authority within that realm.

And what authority does my pastor have over me, really? He'll be the first to tell you he has none. The most he can do is kick me out of HIS church, but I will neither stop being a Christian, nor will I miss a worship service the following week. I am sure he'd miss my tithe.

Jesus said in Mat 20:24-28 that none of us has authority over another. If you're teaching anything beyond that, you're teaching the precepts of men.

Retha said...

Regarding your points to me:
1. If feminization is a name for the lack of men, I agree that lack of men is a bad thing. But if that is the meaning of the word, then feminization is merely a name for that problem, and only suggest we should bring in more men. (I agree: The church has too few men. As long as some women are not Christians, the church will also have too few women.)
2-3. Your points 2 and 3 only counts if these characteristics are in fact feminine or masculine.
If not, it is a case of the church valuing some qualities, and people - who do not have the same perspective as God - calling them masculine or feminine. If the church should value other qualities, and these are not masculine or feminine by God's reckoning, we should stop
calling "feminization" the problem - that is false witness. We should call the good/bad qualities by the name and encourage them in both in both sexes.
Even if the shepherd needs to "act powerfully", for example, is there any reason why women should not "act powerfully"?
In short, most of your argument is still based on calling the qualities you see too much (in your opinion) of feminine, and those you see too little of masculine. But in order for such an argument to be worth anything, you need to prove your associations between these qualities and gender correct.

Kristen said...

I appreciate everyone's comments! I do want to add a few responses to Al:

First, Al, you state that there is a recent serious decline in male attendance in the Anglican church. I did a little online research and found this "Why Church?" website that does have statistics confirming this. But this isn't the whole truth. Additional statistics from the same site (see specifically #3) show that there is an overall decline in church attendance in the Anglican church. In other words, both men and women are decreasing in attendance; it's just that male attendance is decreasing faster. As I stated in my post, it's quite likely that the reason for this is that women are more likely to stick longer with church attendance even if they dislike it, because they feel the most responsibility to give the children a religious education.

But clearly the statistics don't show that women are happy with Anglican church services, while men are unhappy. Rather, it shows that men and women are both unhappy, but women are hanging in there longer.

Given that the same statistics show increased church attendance in Pentecostal and Orthodox churches, and since Pentecostals (though they usually strongly teach female submission in the home) do allow women preachers in their services, the problem is probably not that having women ministers is "feminizing" the church and turning men away from churches.

In short, I think you ought to examine more closely the idea that the problem is not "feminization," but clericalism in the Anglican church: that is, that when church is basically a spectator event for the laypeople, laymen appear to be less willing to show up for it than laywomen do. Since the disproportionate number of women then leads to gender contamination, this can also explain why fewer men are applying for the priesthood.

With regards to your insistence that the church needs "masculine" traits of courage and outspokenness instead of "feminine" traits of overniceness and passivity, I must myself insist that these categories are cultural constructs only, and that women are just as capable of being courageous and outspoken as men are capable of being overnice and passive. Assigning these negative traits to femininity and then blaming women for weakness in the church, is manifestly unfair. And frankly, your equation of women with what you call "neotenic" childishness is just insulting.

With regards to your ideas about biblical shepherding, what exactly are you proposing? That manly ministers give fiery denunciations from the pulpit of whatever they disagree with? Frankly, in the US we have no shortage of such ministers and such denunciations, and the result is a lot of ugliness between and within churches, with people setting themselves up as gatekeepers with the right to decide who's in and who's out. This really isn't doing Christianity as a whole any good.

Finally, I cannot agree with your idea that what the Anglican church needs is more forceful and charismatic male authority. What any church needs is more focus on Christ and His upside-down kingdom of servanthood and sacrifice.

Men need to stop saying "girl stuff bad, guy stuff good." This was the rhetoric of the Little Rascals' "He-Man Woman Haters Club" in the 1930's movies. The members of that club were five to ten years old.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Al seems to really hate women.

Kristen said...

I must remind everyone of the rules about personal attacks or speculating on the character or motives of another poster. Several of the comments have come a little close to the line.

Anne V said...

"Ultimately, "feminization" isn't the real problem. Women aren't the problem. Let's face it, in the vast majority of churches the decisions aren't getting made by women-- but Adam's tendency to blame "this woman You gave me" for his choices is still visible in male church leaders today."

Kristen, thanks for this excellent post! I totally agree with you that this "problem" is not about feminization. It's really about a distorted view of masculinity, held by men like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, which is perpetuated by their own shame and their intentional avoidance of anything that would make them look "weak".
I wrote about it a few weeks ago:

To them, women are the "weaker vessel" and therefore all appearances of weakness, submission, vulnerability, and authenticity are taboo for their masculine egos. I'm afraid these charades will continue until they are willing to confront their own weaknesses, acknowledge their own shame, and learn to get comfortable in the "feminine" role of being the BRIDE of Christ.

Surprisingly, this resistance to bearing the feminine role of Bride puts them in direct opposition to the very gospel they preach.

believer333 said...

Al, I understand that you might think I was misreading you. However, I paid what I thought was scrupulously close attention to your comparisons. It may be that you do not realize that when you claim that only men can bring maturity to the church, you are marginalizing women as immature and childlike, incapable of mature thought processes although I thought that came across very clearly.

When you say, “The realm of childhood is a realm typically dominated by women and children and their modes of community and behaviour.”, and that the church is moving toward this realm with too many women in leadership, this is a picture of women as immature and childlike incapable of the maturity of men. And thus having women in leadership IYO will bring immaturity to the churches, which only men’s leadership who in your opinion are naturally more mature can fix. Your claim that certain neotenic (referencing childlike tendencies fixed from birth) traits of women prevent women to act as mature and responsible adults, you basically revealed your thoughts about women to be basically “holding juvenile traits, immature in nature, lacking in ability to be responsible adults, unable to cope with adult situations”. All of that was covered quite clearly in your 11 points, plus more.

When you say, “Neotenic traits typically cause fewer problems for women than they do for men and are typically more pronounced among women than among men (both naturally and culturally)”, you are saying it is OK for women to be childlike. When you say, “Given the sharper breach between them and the realm of childhood, men’s active presence can provide an impetus towards maturity in a community and their absence will often lead to a contrasting effect,” you imply that because men aren’t involved in dealing with children (and generally do not carry the neotenic childlikenesses that women do) thus they are naturally more mature or capable of mature activity than women.

You also equate sensitivity, sentimentalism, and thin skins with these typical (immature) women, while viewing men as strong, thick skinned, and not sentimental. Men and women are indeed often different in how we approach life much of which is due to our different experiences in life. However, men can be sensitive and should be. Women can and often are thick skinned and strong in how they deal with things. The entire range of emotions is available to both men and women because we are human and created in the image of God.

Your entire March 3, 2014 at 8:44 AM comment was horribly denigrating and disparaging toward women. That is all I am responding to. I am only repeating and responding to your statements. The really sad thing is that you probably do believe what you are saying and are unaware of the damage such beliefs do to your own life.

And may I add that none of what you are claiming is supported in Scripture.

Kristen said...

Anne, thank you for the pithy comments and the link to your post! I'm making your link clickable and re-posting it here, because your post is well worth reading (I commented there, even though it's a couple of months old).

The Patriarchal Shame Connect

Mara Reid said...

Al: "Certain neotenic traits of women will also tend to be exaggerated in such contexts, making it difficult for women to act as mature and responsible grown-ups too."

Neotenic: Retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species, as among certain amphibians.

Neoteny: of or relating to or characterized by neoteny; "neotenic development"

Al, I think the most amazing thing to me is how you state your uninformed opinion as fact all the while acting as though you are not being extremely insulting of all women.

You are either purposefully putting women down while pretending not to in order to get away with such bad behavior.
Or you really are ignorant of what common sense and common decency are.

Al said...

Greg, I never claimed authority over you. You are entirely at liberty to continue to speak past me—you are obviously persuading yourself—but if you really want to engage with my position, it was my suggestion that you start by discussing some of the biblical evidence that I did bring forward, rather than pretending that none was presented. To this point, no one has really done so.

The pastor is more than merely a person dispensing theological opinions. The pastor acts on God’s behalf towards the congregation. Even though they may have been set aside and ordained by their churches, they act as the representatives of Christ and with the divine authorization vested by the Holy Spirit towards the Church (e.g. Acts 20:28). They are ‘ministers’ or ‘servants’ of Christ and ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:1) in a way that other Christians aren’t. They are God’s ‘fellow workers’ towards us and builders of the Church upon the foundation of Christ, while we are God’s ‘field’ and ‘building’ (1 Corinthians 3:9).

They are servants who represent their master and his authority. The proclamation of the gospel has been entrusted to them in a particular way as ordained ambassadors of Christ (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Titus 1:3). As they have a special commission from Christ—a commission that we do not have in the same way—and a charge to guard our souls, we must honour, obey, and submit to them (e.g. Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 16:16).

Their authority is not merely the same as that of any theologically well-educated individual who might speak publicly on the subject of Scripture. The pastors of the Church are responsible for faithfully establishing and guarding the boundaries of orthodoxy. Whether they teach faithfully or not, they teach as servants of Christ authorized to exercise a ministry towards us. They are to teach with a power and authority in the Lord’s name in a way that those without their commission cannot. Although we should not follow them if they are unfaithful servants, the fact remains that they are servants of Christ in a manner that the rest of the Church is not. You haven’t been entrusted with the task of giving account of your pastor’s soul in the way that he has been entrusted to give account of yours.

The authority of the pastor is an authority vested in him by the one who commissioned him. Like the wicked vinedressers, people are free to cruelly mistreat or ignore their pastors. This freedom doesn’t negate the pastors’ authority, though. The pastor does not lead coercively, but generally with the consent of those under his charge. However, pastors also have rights and powers: among other things these include, for instance, the right to be paid for their divinely-commissioned ministry (1 Corinthians 9:7-12), a right to make direct commands under certain circumstances (Philemon 8), and the power to enact sentence upon apostates, delivering them to Satan (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

As Matthew 20:24-28 teaches (see also 1 Peter 5:2-3), the pastor is not to lord it over others, exercising authority for his own status or gain. Performing a role akin to that of the angels (cf. Hebrews 1:14), he is a servant of God, entrusted with serving the Church. In this authorized role he has considerable authority, but this authority is exercised as a servant, operates chiefly by means of consent and recognition, and only for a limited time. Your pastor is granted authority over you for your sake, although you may refuse to acknowledge this authority. To the extent that you refuse to treat his authority with respect, you are refusing to show due respect to the one who commissioned him: Christ.

Even an unfaithful servant must be accorded the respect due to his office. One of the characteristics of false teachers is that they ‘despise authority’ and ‘are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries’ (2 Peter 2:10-11; cf. Jude 8-9). In the same manner, even a wicked and unfaithful minister of God—even Satan himself—must be spoken of respectfully (e.g. 1 Timothy 5:1).

Al said...

Retha, thanks for the response.

God speaks of different groups being more predominantly characterized in particular ways or by particular traits. So, for instance, children are characterized as immature and limited in their understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20), even though there are examples of children who were wise beyond their years and wiser than the adults around them in Scripture. Women are spoken of as the ‘weaker vessel’ (1 Peter 3:7), even though there are examples of women who were stronger than most men.

Certain traits can be gendered too. When 1 Corinthians 16:13 charges: ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong,’ the word for ‘be brave’—andrizomai—could more literally be translated ‘show yourself a man’ (and usually is translated along those lines). This isn’t a denial that women can and should be brave. However, the sort of bravery that Paul is here calling for—the courage to step up to and face direct personal opposition that confronts and attacks you—is a particularly masculine virtue, a virtue that is most demanded of, associated with, and commonly exemplified in men, as the burden of guarding and protecting others from attack and engaging in direct confrontation in various contexts of human activity falls chiefly upon men’s shoulders.

While virtues are typically virtues for both sexes, the virtues can sometimes be weighted differently for them, with a virtue being more powerfully associated with or expected of one sex than the other. This gendering of traits and virtues can be especially noticeable in groups. While a selection of individual men and women may often behave in a fairly similar manner, male dominated groups typically behave very differently from female dominated groups.

Another thing that is important to notice is that there are particular dynamics of an all-male group that are very difficult to sustain when a woman joins. I have seen this in action on countless occasions and several others, male and female, have remarked on this to me. Male groups will typically sustain and enjoy far more direct and overt forms of confrontational engagement. Whether we are talking about sport, war, debate, or more general social jockeying, men have the default status of ‘combatants’, and are expected to stick up for themselves, face direct opposition, and be able to put up a struggle. Women, by contrast, have the default status of ‘non-combatants’, who shouldn’t be exposed to the rougher treatment that men are exposed to and should be provided with protection.

There are different kinds of leadership. Some forms of leadership take the form of teaching and guidance in relatively low-conflict situations—the lecturer addressing the class of undergraduates, for instance. Other forms of leadership, however, occur in higher conflict situations, situations in which the leader needs to be recognized and respected by all, even opponents, as an effective ‘combatant’. The feminization of leadership that I am describing is in large measure a shift from the latter vision of the pastor as a guardian of the church to the former vision of the pastor as a non-combatant teacher of the church.

The former vision is one in which the leader relies upon the lack of conflict and the amenable character of those they are leading. The drive for women’s pastoral leadership in the Church has typically focused upon the idea that they should be ‘permitted’ to lead, or that their leadership gifts should be ‘recognized’, an approach very much characteristic of this vision of leadership. I am suggesting that the biblical vision of pastoral leadership requires effective combatants, who can effectively symbolize and exercise authority in situations where people aren’t prepared to acknowledge it. The true pastor should be equipped to bring people under the authority of Christ. I would suggest that different typical relative weightings of male and female traits are significant here.

Al said...

Thanks for the response, Kristen.

There is a decline in the number of observant Christians across the board in the UK. The fact that men are leaving quicker than women suggests that they were less invested in the Church to begin with. While women’s greater desire to raise their children in the faith (or, perhaps more realistically, to get them into the local Church of England school) may be a factor here, given the greying demographics of the Church of England, the fact that women live longer than men is probably also a factor.

A church where women predominate and men are less engaged has a particular character to it. This can especially be the case when many women are primarily involved for the sake of their children. This encourages a church that, while it addresses the world of childhood, child-rearing, and safe retirement, lacks the capacity to speak directly and powerfully to a world beyond youth and old age. Men are much less engaged than women in both of these worlds. The sort of leaders that the church selects are all too often selected for their ability to operate within such realms—things that women can often do much better than men—but are much less equipped when addressing a wider world.

Pentecostals have the most skewed gender balance of all churches: far from being an example of not turning away men from churches, they are an example of a sort of church that operates in a situation of extreme gender imbalance.

I don’t think that you have a very clear idea of what Anglican worship is like if you think that it is primarily a spectator event or that the focus is on the clergy. Evangelical worship is typically much worse on both of these fronts (to the extent that in some evangelical megachurches, the congregation is seated in dimmed lighting, with spotlights on the ‘stage’). I attended a fairly standard evangelical service a few weeks ago. Apart from the hymns, I didn’t open my mouth once, or move from my seat. All of the attention was fixed on the front. The pastor preached for about forty minutes and his personality was very much on display.

By stark contrast, I attended a regular Anglican service on Sunday. In addition to singing a number of hymns, I spoke or sung well over a hundred lines of the liturgy (I just checked the twelve pages of the service sheet). I didn’t sit still in my seat either. I knelt for the prayers. I stood for the creed, for various prayers, and for the gospel reading. I had to turn to face the gospel book when it was read. I stood up to exchange the sign of peace to those all around me and spoke to them. I got out of my seat and went to the front with everyone else, where I knelt with them to receive the sacrament.

As for the priest, he wasn’t dressed in the casual mode of the evangelical pastor, whose clothes express his individual personality. Rather, he was dressed in the robes of his office, downplaying his individual personality. His sermon was much briefer—about fifteen minutes long—and was instructional and exhortatory, with few histrionic flourishes or displays of his unique character. Almost everything that he said in the service outside of the sermon was given to him in the liturgy, with little room for him to improvise or show off. If you want to see worship that isn’t truly participatory, or that is narrowly focused on the pastor, Anglicanism (save in its more evangelical expressions) might not the place to look. There is a reason why famous Anglicans (C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, etc.) tend to have their personality cults in evangelical, rather than in Anglican, circles.

Al said...

Continuing to respond to your comments, Kristen.

When it comes to characterizing traits as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, I very seldom mean to suggest that these traits are exclusive to one gender or the other. Characterizing a trait as ‘masculine’, for instance, could mean a number of things: 1. That the trait is more naturally found in men; 2. That the trait is more culturally present among men; 3. That the trait is typically more required of men; 4. That the trait is relatively more congruent with men’s typical natural characteristics than with women’s; 5. That the trait is relatively more congruent with men’s typical social roles than with those of women; 6. That the trait is typically more exemplified among men; 7. That the trait is naturally exclusive to men; 8. That the trait is culturally exclusive to men. For the record, it is exceedingly rare that I am speaking in the sense of 7 or 8.

Lots of things are ‘cultural constructs’. Basic study of history should reveal that the human person itself is a cultural construct. The fact that something is a cultural construct doesn’t mean that it is arbitrary. The fact that we don’t try to compose our army entirely of women is a results of cultural constructs. The fact that women are regarded as having the right to raise the children that they bear is a result of cultural constructs. There may be a number of outliers, but cultural constructs often tend to gravitate to certain patterns. For instance, while it is a cultural construct, virtually every developed human society has been patriarchal to some degree or other. It is worth asking why this is the case.

It is also worth asking why certain dynamics are far more likely to be present in male groups and others much more likely to be present in female groups (compare and contrast the comments in male and female dominated blogs, for instance). Are individual women capable of the forms of behaviour more typically seen in male groups (and vice versa)? Most definitely, but whether out of preference, relative capacity, motivation, social situation, or some other relational factor, men and women often seem to gravitate to distinct forms. Cultural construct or not, these tendencies aren’t disappearing in a hurry.

When we talk about feminization or masculinization, we are typically speaking of a movement in the direction of self-parody. A ‘masculinized’ group is often characterized by macho posturing, bullying, insensitivity, petty belligerence, and the like. A ‘feminized’ group is often characterized by such things as hyper-sensitivity, preciousness, narcissism, petty backstabbing, and the like. Neither are good.

Masculinized contexts limit guys and feminized contexts limit women. Within feminized contexts, women will feel constrained by the group’s inability to handle conflict in a less personal manner, making it hard to express dissent. They might also find themselves penalized for wanting to explore and develop their strengths in more confrontational or self-assertive modes of interaction. Within masculinized contexts, men can find themselves exposed to brutal bullying, they can find it hard to explore their more sensitive side, or to admit to or reveal any form of weakness.

If you think that fiery denunciations from the pulpit are what I am looking for when I talk about biblical shepherding, you are quite shy of the mark. The shepherd is generally to address his flock with a firm yet gentle tenderness and without histrionic display, as a father might address his responsible children. The pastor isn’t constantly to be spoiling for fights or attacking others. When the Church is threatened with false teaching, the pastor is to be firm and gentle in securing the Church in the truth, while forcefully attacking the error and its teachers. This isn’t usually achieved by browbeating congregations from the pulpit, but by targeting the false teachers and their teaching and rooting them out through such things as firm instruction, rebuke, and church discipline.

Al said...

In response to Kristen, believer333, and Mara Reid, you all seem to be misunderstanding my point about neotenic traits.

My point is roughly outlined as follows:

1. Neotenic traits are more pronounced or privileged in women than in men, naturally and/or culturally.
2. Women are more associated with the realm of infancy and childhood as in almost every human culture they play the primary socializing roles in this area.
3. When the Church starts to become more associated with this realm and its modes of community, identity, and interaction, it is men that will disproportionately be alienated as a result.

Now two key clarifications:

1. This is a claim about the relative difficulties caused for men and women. Read my original comment carefully again: its claim is that the juvenilization of the Church or Christian identity is a problem for both men and women, but that it is more pronounced a problem for men, hence they will leave at a faster rate.
2. This is not the claim that women are like children, but that traits associated with pre-adulthood are more privileged or pronounced in them than in men, both culturally and naturally.

So, what traits am I referring to as neotenic traits that are more pronounced or privileged in women than in men? Here are a few suggestions:

Relative to men, as a general rule, women have weaker, more delicate, and less muscular bodies, softer skin, higher voices, less coarse and extensive body hair, shorter height than men, and less thickly set features. In most cultures, women also tend to exaggerate these features in various ways, through makeup, affectation, and other means, often highlighting elements of appearance that conform more closely to pre-adult stages. So, for instance, the way that some women will take to talking in a high and ‘girly’ voice or feign a sort of ditziness.

The behaviours and characteristics of pre-adulthood are also more commonly found among, privileged among, or regarded as characteristic of women. Women are more commonly presented as helpless or as victims, and are more likely to highlight their weaknesses. They are regarded as less agentic and responsible for their state and more dependent upon and the objects of others’ actions. Women, consequently, are also regarded as having greater claim to protection and provision. They are less likely to be expected to stick up for themselves than men (or to be able to do so) and there is a cultural resistance to subjecting them to the same rough treatment as men. Women are more entitled to sympathy and have a measure of privilege in the area of loss of emotional self-control that men do not. Women are typically more socialized to please people and to comply than men are.

These tendencies are fairly easy to see in feminist and egalitarian circles, where the focus is all too typically on the action that other people—i.e. men—should take, in laying the blame solely at the door of something like the ‘patriarchy’, and there is no shortage of men rushing to women’s protection, rather than expecting them to stick up for themselves. A focus upon social compliance is also often much in effect.

In all of these respects, women are seen to share or exaggerate the characteristics of pre-adults in themselves. While this comes with certain areas of privilege, these characteristics also lead to women being taken less seriously, especially as leaders, as they are perceived to have weaker and less assertive agency. There are many reasons that could be given for this situation, which is certainly not unproblematic, but for now we should just focus on the fact of its existence.

When these traits, most pronounced in children or adolescents, start to become more pronounced in our understanding of Christian faith, or in the dynamics of the life of the Church, men will be alienated at a much greater rate than women (many of whom will also be alienated), as neotenic traits are generally heavily penalized or discouraged among men (also not unproblematic).

Al said...

Hopefully the comments above address all of the points that have been raised in response to me. This is my final comment.

My purpose here is not to have a fight, although I was under no illusions that my position would receive a friendly response. Rather, my aim is to tackle what I regard as a consistent pattern of avoidance of unwelcome realities in the discussion of gender issues in the Church and elsewhere among egalitarians. I don't want to replace one one-sided position with another (for the record, I also have huge issues with the Driscolls and Pipers of this world). Nor, for that matter, do I want people just straightforwardly to abandon their positions for mine. Rather, my purpose is to spar with the sort of case being presented in the post above in a way that presses its supporters to respond with something new and better, something that isn't just a doubling down on a flawed position, but is an expansion to respond to and partially to take on board criticisms of its limitations or blind spots.

It is not all my aim to attack women. Nor is it my aim to argue for some status quo or the repristination of some past order. The church has not given women the place within its life that it should. However, after numerous encounters with egalitarians, I have been consistently disappointed by their tendency to retreat to ideology and conspiracy theory and to fail to respond closely to criticism. They fail to treat with due attention the reality and shape of sex and gender difference and act as if 'cultural constructs' and the nature that they operate upon were more profoundly plastic and malleable realities than they actually are.

Classic complementarianism is not the answer. Egalitarianism isn't either and its failure to provide an adequate account of either reality or Scripture is evidence of this. We need something better and a good way to work towards this is to commit ourselves to engaging in deep and detailed disputation with sharply differing positions.

Patrice said...

Al says that pastors perform "a role akin to that of the angels". lol

His words in all their breadth lie naked with a desire for power. But power is treacherous.

Beware, Al. Gaining the world but losing the soul is not an aphorism.

Kristen said...

Al, I recognize your right to reply to the comments made to you, but at this point you are hijacking my blog. This blog is not here to give you a platform to espouse and defend your own views. If you want to explain your views in this detail and to this length, you really should be doing it on your own blog. You have said this is your last comment; good. Make it so.

I am not going to reply at length to your lengthy and numerous comments except to say a few things:

1. Your interpretation of certain passages of scripture is just that: an interpretation, and one I don't subscribe to. I don't believe in the priesthood of the pastor but in the priesthood of the believer.

2. You seem to have completely misunderstood what I meant by participation in church. I will simply say that an interactive church service is simply not the same as a participatory church. A participatory church is one where laypeople are participating in service in the church, i.e., giving teachings & leading Bible studies, not merely standing up, sitting down, etc., when commanded by liturgy.

3. Many of your ideas come from Aristotle's influence on Western thinking and are not biblical at all.

4. The linking of women to children due to physical characteristics is neither more logical nor more fair than saying something like, "Because men have more musculature, more body hair and deeper, more grunt-like voices than women, men are more simian in nature, whereas women represent the fullness of civilized humanity."

5. In my view, most of what you talk about in the way the sexes are generally treated in society is cultural and is related to the patriarchy and the lingering gender stereotypes and role socializations that it has imposed on society. You are free to disagree, but that view makes way more sense to me than yours does.

If you have a blog, or want to start one, you are welcome to supply a link, and we can discuss your views more in your own forum. But this isn't your personal forum. I wish you well.

Sara said...

Kristen, I think you've done a smart thing in putting your food down with Al. It's probably best for everyone involved just to ignore him from now on. I've seen him on Rachel Held Evans blog, and on other Christian feminist blogs before and he ALWAYS does this. He leaves these long-winded comments, that are usually longer than the blog post itself, insulting women all the while claiming that he's not really insulting them and that everyone is just misunderstanding his oh-so-obvious point. He's exhausting. Every time I see his comments my eyes just glaze over at this point.

Sara said...

food = foot

Molineaux said...

Hi Kristen. This is an excellent blog.

Can I also thank you for asking Al to stop with his long answers. Verbosity is not a proof of correctness.

In addition, as someone else from the UK, I would like your US readers to know how cultural influenced his views are; they don't represent all of us here.

The general sense of patriarchy, even if you soften it by calling it complementarianism, is to highlight maleness by showing men what women are like and then telling the men in church not to be like this.

It does a disservice to women and men alike.

My own view is that most of what you can say about human beings is true of both sexes. The stereotypes are generally misleading.

The incarnation is not primarily about God become male but God, in Christ, become a human being.

Thank you for your excellent work.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Can I say it again? Wow. KR - you so hit the nail on the head with every one of your points. This article was very educational and inlighting for me. Thank you so much. I will be reading more on your blog.

Julie said...

Any changes that seem like the church becoming more feminine or (Catering to women) is in attempt to do what some women are wanting. The church makes some changes in an attempt to make women feel more wanted or needed and it is met with an article like this.

Kristen said...

Julie, if I'm understanding you correctly, I do have to say that your indignation is misplaced. It is not my article that faults changes (if any)that churches make or have made to render their sanctuaries or services more woman-friendly. This article is an objection to claims that any "feminine" characteristics in a church are BAD.

Anonymous said...

There are more women in church because women need church. Men don't. Women suffer more depression than men do. Women work harder than men do: They have jobs out of the home, and they also have childcare responsibilities and domestic responsibilities that men shirk/refuse to do.

Hence the depression.

And therefore, women's need for Christ and spiritual sustenance.

Also, men are arrogant and do not want to be told what to do--and that is what the church leadership does: Tell men what to do. And with whom they can have sex with, and how they sin. Men do not want to hear this.

In fact, the church is not feminized at all: There is NO divine feminine. Yet the pagans had female gods.

In fact, the church is not telling men: Do not rape. Do not be seducers. Do not betray. The church does not tell men: Help your wives. Take care of your children.

In short, men do not need church. That is why they do not go. They are quite happy with their lives and their jobs, and the militarized culture of the USA resonates with them. Men are happy with the status quo.

Kristen said...

Anonymous, these statements of yours contain a lot of sweeping generalizations and are also not particularly accurate. For instance, recent studies are showing that men and women experience depression at about equal rates:

Depression Affects Men Just as Much as Women

Also, many churches (including all the ones I've ever been in)do tell men both not to rape, etc., and to help their wives. It's contradictory for you to say churches don't do this, and also that churches tell men what to do!

A lot of what you're saying sounds pretty anti-man. I don't think all men should be tarred with the same brush-- or any brush, for that matter.

I also disagree that the Christian idea of God is only masculine and not feminine. Plenty of Scriptures indicate that God has attributes of both genders.

Garrison said...

I enjoyed your blog and the discussion that ensued until Al was silenced. I don't agree with some of your conclusions (nor all of his) but respect the volume of research you have done, proper citations, and clear explanations for your conclusions. From reading this blog, you helped me to understand from your perspective how the discussion is broader than I previously believed and how something as basic as vocabulary, implications, and interpretations thereof can be unhelpful to the discussion.

In the resulting dialogue between Al and others in the comments, it seemed to me that, while most did not agree with him, he was attempting to address each point initially ignoring some snarky comments very close if not crossing that line to ad hominem attacks on him. He seemed to me to be respectful. While some may not agree, it is your choice as to whether to be offended - your responsibility, not his faul. It seemed to me that Al continued to comment to address statements made to him by others. Is this not dialogue? Dialogue even among disagreeing participants is a good thing to further understanding isn't it?

Then, you seemed to make his case by, in my opinion, curtly reminding him that this is your blog. One could confuse this for being thin-skinned; that is my impression. From personal experiences, it is very reminiscent of many women who when challenged on the merits of their arguments choose to unilaterally end the discussion (and insist on having the last word, which you did). Another verbal hand grenade to destroy dialogue is the worn out "I'm offended" or variants of such.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Not so with this blog. Instead, it is a monologue where platitudes and very limited critiques are welcomed. Sad; it had so much more potential to be a fabulous archive on the Net to further your point, develop mutual understanding, and expose challenges from opposing viewpoints. Opportunity lost.

Be open to sharpening. That is what men do. And it is biblical.

Kristen said...

Garrison, you are entitled to your opinion, of course-- but I might point out that there are plenty of men who are not, as you put it, "open to sharpening." In fact, many of those who blog about male headship either don't allow comments, or delete comments they don't like-- and there are plenty of women who give more latitude than I do when it comes to comment policy. This is not a male vs. female thing.

For the rest-- well, you can't please everyone. I'll keep in mind the bit about being open to sharpening-- but you might permit me to sharpen back by suggesting that you might use a better strategy than assuming the role of a lecturer.

Garrison said...

Kristen, no argument that some men are not open to sharpening. Spineless in my opinion. Is that cogent to your argument, a red herring, or an excuse to avoid the original point?

Lecturer? Rather than discuss the merits of the argument, instead, resort to ad hominem. Well done. Played your cards. It's a loser's game since you control the deck.

And some women wonder why men don't want to go to church? Better to sit on the corner of a roof than be married to a nagging wife.

Kristen said...

Ad hominem? I don't think so. I was not attacking you personally, merely noting that your advice, "Be open to sharpening. It's what men do" is really quite patronizing. Yes, it sounds like a lecture, leading me to wonder if you would talk down to me in this manner if I were a man.

Since you seem to have missed my point, I will make it clear: You said, more or less, that I was being a typical woman blogger, and proceeded to set me straight about the way I should manage my blog. I replied that the way people handle their blogs cannot be thus broken down by sex.

Now with loaded language such as "played your cards," you imply that I am devious and manipulative. You'll excuse me if I don't thank you.

I have noticed a tendency in complementarian Christian men to take on a fatherly, lecturing stance when commenting here. I believe it has something to do with the self-contradictory stance that women are both equal, and created to be under male authority. It's hard to truly treat a woman as fully equal when you also believe you were created for authority over women.

If it really bothers you that I get to have my say here, you might remember that most evangelical Christianity denies my ability to have it anywhere else.

CDavis said...

Beautiful and refreshing. I have felt rather alone in my observations over the years.

And now more articles and books addressing modesty ( and the purity culture ( within the church and articles such as yours, books like "The Role of Women in the Church" and "The Black Swan Effect", I have begun to feel less alone and more empowered. I believe these touch on God's heart for His Church.

The Spirit is covering this generation with grace for a fresh revelation. May we take hold of it and stand on it bathed in grace and speaking it boldly with words dripping with abounding-grace as He revealed it to us!

Thank you for posting. Very well put together.

Kristen said...

Thanks, CDDavis! If you're interested in my take on the purity issue (and some other links to really good posts by others on that topic), you might like this post:

The Purity Conversation: My Two Cents

Unknown said...

Wow, some of you have a lot to say about nothing. The American institutional church should just close it's doors and here is a short video that explains why...
Stop going to church, You are The Church, so Go Be The Church.
Embrace The Cross, die to self, and Live by the Indwelling of Christ Jesus!

Kristen said...

Thanks for your input, Chris, though I disagree with your conclusions.

Kuudere-Kun said...

I have a Blog post marginally relevant to this discussion.

Alyssa said...

I can't thank you enough for this post, and for the entirety of your blog. As a single 20-something female who grew up being constantly hammered with complementarian thinking in my church, I've begun to unlearn the entrenched internal misogyny that came as a result of it, including the idea that marriage should be my ultimate goal and if I don't accomplish it, I am somehow not as faithful as my married counterparts. At first this view caused me to question the Bible and Christianity in general, for its treatment of women that I assumed was inherent in God's word, but the Lord has been guiding me in my quest for the truth when it comes to gender politics in the church, showing me how to truly read and study His word by taking into account cultural contexts and modern day biases. Witnessing and encountering the patriarchy in its silent (and sometimes not so silent) demand for undeserved power is a daily challenge for me, but going after its proponents with knowledge and grace is a lot harder than simply giving up the fight at all, or acting like it doesn't exist.

When I was younger, I realized that the world was full of hurting people, and that hurt ultimately came from broken and inherently sinful power structures. So I asked God to show me what was really going on because I wanted to understand, and years later He continues to show me these things, sometimes unasked for, sometimes unpleasant things that my cushy American lifestyle might normally allow me to ignore without consequence.

Men and women were created by God to serve Him. Women were not created by God to serve men. Getting the church to recognize that a single woman can accomplish just as much (or more) for the kingdom as a married woman is a struggle that should not be a struggle. But I believe we will always have this struggle so long as we are born with inherently sinful natures. One day Christ will return and restore this enmity that exists between men and women, but until then we can only seek to promote equality by discouraging harmful gender stereotypes and recognizing that both men and women have equally important parts to play for the kingdom, that it's not just women capable of raising Godly children, and that it's not just men capable and desirous of taking bold steps.

Kristen said...

Thank you for this Alyssa. Keep spreading the word that power politics is not what Jesus came to teach!

Unknown said...

believer333, anyone who tells you you misread them when you clearly did not misread them is gaslighting you. Google this tactic. it is a confusion tactic and if you second guess yourself it is NOT your fault or proof you are flimsy minded or suggestible. It proves the gaslighter is taking advantage of the lack of evidence available to you to prove yuor conviction.

Al most certainly was associating certain traits with certain genders, at least in the earlier posts, and insinuating that the way to attract more men is to put more guyish flavor in the church.

Sorry, but I don't recall Christianity saying you should only follow it if it appeals to you. It is not a store product. Don't like it? Find another religion.

Christianity, from time immemorial, was a "religion of children, women, and slaves" and of the poor- groups that have historically been marginalized.

It does not appeal to women (or blacks, for that matter, who have historically been more strongly religious than whites, at least in this century) because it is feminine, but because it appeals to downtrodden people.

If men do not like the messages promoted by the Christian churches, then they can saddle up and find another religion. It is not up to Jesus to change His words to suit some (modern Western) men's idea about what masculinity means to them, should they choose to assume they need to adopt "masculinity" (whatever it is defined as) in order to be proper males.

Unknown said...

PhoenicianPrincess88 "It is not a store product." Don't like it? Find another religion."
The truth unfortunately is contrary. Man has taken God's Ekklesia and turned it into his own. Institutional church is just a store front for a professional religious music/worship and speaker/message experience.It is a business catering to a consumer audience. God's Ekklesia is more biblically expressed in a home/family type setting with Jesus Christ as the Head of that gathering and all the Body participating and interacting as equals. (Not stage/audience, clergy/laity, passive participation.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe I didn't find this blogpost till now! This topic stirs me and sometimes it feels like nobody wants to address the fallacies and insulting conclusions that proponents of the "feminization of the church" issue keep sprouting.

I especially love your conclusion: Finally, churches do need to pay attention to who they're reaching and who they're not. But perhaps we ought to be concentrating less on the ratio of females to males and start focusing more on attracting people of other races and economic situations. Perhaps the real problem is not so much that there are 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but that all of them are white and middle class.

I only began to wonder the above lately, as I sat in my small-ish church and noticed that I was the only minority in an area where the local school has half the students born in a foreign country. The only other non-white person doesn't attend any more, as nobody talks to her, but I miss her because she is the only person (in 4 years) to invite me out for lunch after church.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. There is a current split in the Catholic church and the priest referred to "the feminization of the church" being one of the biggest threats. My first reaction as a woman was to laugh at how ridiculous that was as the Catholic church doesn't have a strong history past or present of being friendly to women.

Then I realize this fight is, in part, about a global culture war, which is very real and playing out globally in many areas and ways. I first assumed "feminization" was about women and read more in-depth from this particular priest and he was not talking about women but homosexual issues. The dialog was that if we just go back to pre-Luther Latin masses and traditions in culture and church control, problems will be solved. Well, one man, Luther, writing one document of complaints does not tear the church, government, and Europe apart without hitting a few nerves ya feel me. Its not like there were no problems in that era. This is not the answer.

I heard the chair of a university religion department say Jesus as a historical figure was a pastor to women and slaves and that is why he was so popular when he was alive. He was preaching to the disenfranchised masses. In my opinion this has changed to slimy hypocrites that talk about prosperity or stogy old molesters. Both want to rob you. Perhaps instead of talking about men and women, they should be talking about "the masses" and what they want and need.

So, then I googled and found the post this blog references, that says women are going to church and men are not and that is an issue. Women are looking for compassion at church and men are looking for power and manliness, and that is why they stopped going. It is true as my parents suggest I "find a nice man at church" and there are few to be found. I believe women are still going because we are overly socialized to go with the program of social control.


I believe everyone has this wrong. Yes, the church needs to let go of the racist money grubbing controlling hypocrite crap but I hate the touchy feely stuff too. What I believe BOTH men and women want is a sense of community were you can question and talk about philosophy and ethics and anxiety in this changing world. They want a place where people are talking about real things with thoughtfulness, respect, and depth. The church could be an oasis from the rest of life and a place to help navigate a lot of gray issues we face daily. I don't want to be told what to do, I want to have deep discussions with critical thinking. I want context about how historically these types of issues were addressed from different traditions. I want to let go and trust in the goodness of others and the world. I don't want shallow flashy theatre with tv screens and some phony with a guitar, barf. I want depth as I am facing a lot of very serious things to navigate ethically and everything has degraded around me, including the church. The answer is not to make things more male/female or more controlling/touchy feely but to make things less USA today/Entertainment tonight and more Kant. I want what I am not getting anywhere else and what society needs from religion right now: complex critical thinking, depth, thought and connection.