May 25, 2008

Feminization of the Church: Random Thoughts

Bonnie’s posts at Intellectuelle as well as my own engagement with the church’s concern over the feminization of the church has prompted numerous random thoughts. To springboard a bit from Bonnie’s posts on the topic, we need to know how it is being stated that the church’s feminization manifests. This is what I have learned through some of my own research:

1. The majority of those who attend church (on average) are women, over 60%. Related to this fact is that somewhere between ¼ and 1/5 of this percentage are women who attend without their husbands.

2. Some of the music reflects, supposedly, a femininity that men cannot identify with. This, in my mind, begs the question of what masculine music sounds like. I think we’re in safe territory questioning the theological depth of much of our worship music, or the quality of the music as art. Are we to identify the masculinity of music as that which lacks a supposed level of sappiness that is wrongly construed as feminine? Are songs such as Change My Heart Oh God and As the Deer considered feminine whereas songs like He Is Exalted and Blessed Be Your Name might be considered more masculine? I’m not even sure if these would be considered masculine, but they often differ (depending on the worship leader) from the former in tempo and key. If, indeed, tempo and style, speak anything about masculinity or femininity, I fear what might be said about some of the greatest classical works like those of Brahms, Handel, and Haydn.

3. Women in leadership. This is an area where I part ways from many of my friends. I’ve settled on the complementarian perspective, that Scripture does not permit women to be elders, thereby preventing them from the role of senior pastor. This, however, need not be a limitation for women with leadership gifts to serve the church in areas of teaching other women and coming alongside the male leadership in a consultancy capacity. There is a great deal that women have to contribute to the health of the church in addition to teaching Sunday school. It would serve the church well to respect the intellectual gifts of women. As men are discussing the feminization of the church, it would serve them well to be in dialogue with thoughtful, theological women in this process. More men might also consider taking on the role of Sunday school teacher. Teaching children should not be a concession to women (as it seems to be), children should be viewed as the greatest resource of the church to make an impact on our culture in future generations. If the church has been feminized because of anything women have done, might it be because so few men are involved?
In the context of a church with a complementarian culture, the issue of women in leadership is a moot point. This cannot be the blame (if that’s the term we are using) for the feminization of the church. As has been attributed to Phil Johnson at a 2007 men’s conference, the feminization has been caused largely by the abdication of Christian men.

Nancy Pearcey quotes Ann Douglas from her book The Feminization of American Culture, that

"ministry lost a toughness, a sternness, an intellectual rigor which our society then and since has been accustomed to identify with masculinity” and instead took on 'feminine'” traits of care, nurturing, sentimentalism, and retreat from the harsh ethos of the public arena” (Total Truth, 335).

I’m terribly bothered that intellectual rigor is considered a masculine trait by default. The seeker movement and the therapeutic Christianity that has come to dominate the culture of so many publishers and churches is the product of male leadership and lacks a great deal of intellectual rigor. I’m quite sure that having more men in the pews will not repair this epidemic, and I’m not sure that a church with a female majority is really the problem. More and more women within the evangelical community want to do the challenging work of theological reflection and are bored to tears (pardon the pun) with talking about their feelings and only allowed to do church in the form of parties revolving around cosmetics and chocolate. They want more, and a great deal of male leadership has pigeon-holed women’s ministry as a place to be emotional and fluffy, perpetuating the problem.

Looking at feminization through the lens of history, however, perhaps we can better understand it by considering the role the industrial revolution played in taking husbands out of the homes to work in factories, placing women in necessary functional leadership roles in the family. And in this sense, perhaps we can suggest that it was the industrial revolution that sparked the feminist revolution and the feminization of church and culture. Progress may have more to do with feminization than anything else.

Final Thoughts
As a Christian woman with a passion for theological precision, and coming from a Reformed perspective, I think that this whole discussion about the feminization of the church has been without concern for how it affects women. Because certain traits are regarded as masculine and feminine, it’s as if the rug has been pulled out from under women who might be hurt by the tone of the discussion. I say this, because if “hurt” or “sensitivity” are considered feminine “feelings,” then by virtue of the topic, a negative response to it by a woman would probably be considered evidence of the problem. Setting the topic up this way, in itself, lacks virtue and logic. I hope more women can be brought into the discussion, because this is much deeper than masculine or feminine, it’s about Christ-centeredness or human-centeredness, the latter which is typified through the therapeutic subculture of the church.

I have SO MUCH MORE to say on this topic, but I will conclude for now with the place of women in the biblical narrative. I wonder if the disciples thought Jesus was feminizing their new movement by engaging so many women….Mary and Martha of Bethany, the woman at the well, the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet, the women he appeared to at the resurrection. We read a great deal about how Jesus interacts with women and cares enough to bring them to theological maturity. In this sense, I find this aspect of who Jesus is absent from so much of today’s male leadership in the church. I expect more. And I know women need more.


Collin Brendemuehl said...

Great post.
Expand it into a whole article and submit it to some magazines.
Fly your flag.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with this view.
We do have a very serious problem in the church with it being so feminine that some men are embarrassed to bring other men to church.

Jesus is my savior not the "lover of my soul". That is a very feminine tone to worship. More and more of the worship songs today stress the emoting factor and not the commitment factor to Christianity.

As to the cause, I am of the opinion that it is at least two fold if not more. One is as you stated the abdication of men from their biblical post as leader. However the other is a culture of feminism from the 60's that has infected the Christian church.

Feminism is a major influence to the damage of the family as the foundation. I would dare say that we have a case of Gloria Steinem quip " We have become the men we wanted to marry". Sad, but maybe all to true in the church today.

simplegifts3 said...

Jesus is my savior not the "lover of my soul". That is a very feminine tone to worship.

Oh, good night! Give me a break, and all those other cliches.

Try Googling "Jesus lover of my soul" and see if you can find who the really prissy, feminine author of that hymn was.

Hint -- you won't be able to do it.

simplegifts3 said...

Here's that "feminized" hymn, written during the terribly feminized time of about 1740 (yes, I'm being sarastic -- I'm tired of hearing claims that a love relationship with Jesus is feminine and is therefore bad, or at least, nothing a REAL man would want). OK, OK already, you don't have to Google it -- it is by none other than Charles Wesley:

"Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity."

Kirin said...

Anonymous said: We do have a very serious problem in the church with it being so feminine

Newsflash for you, Anon - the church IS feminine. It's the bride of Christ. Where I come from, brides are feminine. You're not arguing with us, you're arguing with scripture.

Corrie said...


You mean that a MAN wrote that sissy song? [GASP!!]

Was Charles Wesley really a "girly man" or a "panty-waisted preacher"?

Jesus is our Savior. He is also our Heavenly Bridegroom. He is the lover of our soul. He saved us because HE LOVED us. Jesus is preparing His bride and He has given Her a white [dress] to wear. I wonder if the manly men are turned off that the "beloved disciple" rested his head on Jesus' breast?

No wonder so many men rejected Jesus. He truly is a stumbling stone for those who are so insecure in their masculinity/femininity that they can't accept the truth of Christ's word.

The Bible tells us we all come to Christ on the same terms and in the same way and that there is NO male or female IN Christ.

Maybe the Church for Men should get rid of the Bible's Bride imagery and make it into some sort of sport's team analogy. Maybe that will bring more men into church. After all, who wants to believe that they are a Bride and will be joined eternally to their Heavenly Bridegroom?????

Corrie said...

"We do have a very serious problem in the church with it being so feminine that some men are embarrassed to bring other men to church."

Why are they "embarrassed"? What are some specifics that cause men to be "embarrassed" to bring other men to church? I just don't understand this because the men in my church are not "embarrassed" to invite other men to church.

Maybe it isn't embarrassment as much as it is fear, cowardice and being too self-conscious and concerned about how others think about the person who does the inviting? After all, there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the Word of God and proclaiming it since it is the power of God for salvation.

I have heard that some Church for Men advocates recommend putting sports cars in the lobby and having the football game on a big screen TV in order to reel in the men. Also, they call their pastor "Coach" and hoop and hollar like they are at a football game when the "Coach" makes a good point. They sit in chairs, not sissified pews. There is a lot of sports analogy and car analogy and "guy stuff".

IMHO, it sounds idolatrous and pandering to the ego.

Why can't you use your real name?

Doug said...

The world, along with the church, has reduced men to mamby pamby sissies. I'm sick and tired of hearing sermons in church telling us men to "step up to the plate." What exactly does that mean? They want men to be more involved but they don't want us to flex our muscles. They don't want us to confront what we feel is wrong. For that matter they want us to "turn the other cheek" in every conflict that comes our way. So in "stepping up to the plate" we must discard our God given instincts and gifts of masculinity and become non confrontational.