June 19, 2008

'Today's Spiritual Giants Wear Lipstick'

Producing solid, intelligent written works often requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Well maybe not blood, but the process can be excruciating. Well-argued positions require facts and sometimes a wealth of understanding across multiple disciplines. Solid research and an acquisition of data with an ability to creatively communicate the results in a way that grabs the attention of the reader is a skill that takes time to develop. I'm still learning. Never is the regular use of broad sweeping generalizations or a tone of condescension considered acceptable among skilled writers, especially in the fellowship of evangelical writing and scholarship. And while I do not consider myself a scholar of any sort at this point in my life, I continue to practice the art of writing, always trying to pair readability with a high level of integrity.

So when I read books like How Women Help Men Find God, I well up inside with so much frustration because I can not believe that an otherwise intelligent person would write in this way. The title of this book seems harmless enough, appearing to be something every self-respecting Christian woman should own. But the level of disrespect this work has for women makes it impossible for any woman to respect herself any less.

How Women Help Men Find God is by the same author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. In How Women Help Men Find God, he builds on his perspective of the so-called feminization of the church and offers ways to reverse the trend.

There are several issues I have with this book that I hope to address in this post.
1. The condescending comments towards woman.
2. The overuse of generalizations and stereotypes.
3. The categorical errors.
4. The misunderstood problem.

The condescension and stereotypical views of gender begin on page one. Describing his first experience under the hood of a car, he writes
I had no idea this crazy tangle of wires, belts, and hoses even existed, much less made the car move. In the next few chapters, we will be looking under the hood of churchgoing. (Yes, I realize this is a guy type of analogy, I'm already training you to think like one of us.)
On page one of this book, Murrow is already trying to argue for some sort of polar-oppositeness, that women can't possibly be interested in cars or the type of thinking involved in this activity. I have known women all of my life who understand automotive needs with the ability to care for them on their own. Murrow definitely loses points with this statement, but I'll chalk it up to his having merely a casual view of femininity and masculinity, certainly not one informed by any theological research.

Speaking of the gender gap in today's church (60% who attend are women with only 10% of churches with an ongoing mens ministry, page 5) he writes,
No other religion suffers the huge gender gap Christianity does. In fact, Islam seems to have a bumper crop of men. So did the early church. In Bible days, men were the spiritual giants. Today's spiritual giants wear lipstick and eyeshadow. (p. 6)
Writing with a complete lack of appreciation for the fact that so many women are attending church, he drops the f(eminine) bomb, somehow thinking he is saying something substantive about women in the church today. Though my reading skills are limited to the English language, I have read some of the most difficult academic monographs in the disciplines of theology and philosophy, and yet I can't figure out what Murrow's point is regarding the lipstick and eyeshadow. In philosophy, we generally regard such comments as a fallacy. In this case, we can't even tell which fallacy it is. And regarding Islam, they also seem to have a "bumper crop of men" willing to blow themselves up and kill others in the process.

Murrow is also concerned with the hymn that are missing from the church pews (though even the pews are missing these days - not sure if women are to blame for that.) I share his dismay in this regard as many hymns are so rich and full of robust theological truths with timeless melodies and beautiful arrangements. But whose fault is it that these hymns are rarely sung during today's worship? And is he even correct that men better identify with them? Discussing his own longings for a masculine experience, he states:
My church was a soft and accepting place that was busy erasing men from hymns, liturgy, and Scripture. (p. 9)
Many of today's praise and worship songs are fine-tuned to the female heart. Some of these choruses make Jesus sound like our heavenly prom date. The concept of falling in love with Jesus may not bother women, but it feels weird to guys....You have a treasure chest of masculine music gathering dust on the shelf. It's called a hymnal, and within its pages you'll find rich veins of masculine expression, such as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Rise Up, O Men of God," and "Onward Christian Soldiers." I encourage you to sing these hymns as written, before they are gender-neutralized. (p. 92)
I can't be the only person that finds this alarming. And certainly there must be Christian men who are bothered by this sort of narrow-minded gender stereotyping. While Murrow very cautiously never points blame at women for the issues he is identifying throughout this book, he fails to see where the problem actually resides. The seeker movement is responsible for many of the failings in the contemporary church, seeking to bring an experience of entertainment to the chairs (again, the pews are gone), not working nearly as hard at making disciples. His corrective is really to perpetuate the seeker-driven mentality by changing the target population to men.
A man's worst nightmare is to become completely disabled, utterly dependent on others. A woman's worst fear is to be abandoned, left alone, and unloved. (p. 29)
Even if he provided stats to support this statement, I'm not sure I would embrace statement anyway. Of course, someone will argue that this is simply how men and women are wired, how could I argue with that? Without nuance, I find the statement simply condescending. He uses a fictitious "Sam & Sally" as a way of explaining this statement.
When Sam and Sally go to church, they hear a message like this: you need to give control of your life to God and enter into a personal relationship with the one who will never leave you or forsake you. For Sam to embrace this message, he would have to face his deepest fear--loss of control. But for Sally, the gospel means she'll never have to face her fear--she'll never be unloved. Who's getting the more attractive offer?
The teaching of the "personal relationship with Jesus" is something I've blogged about in the past and it is not without its problems. But this appears to be a case where Murrow elevates a sociological understanding of gender over matters of Scripture.

To conclude my thoughts at this point, allow me to share a final quote:
If we want to engage all persons, our churches should speak with a masculine accent....In this chapter, we identified the many currents that push our churches toward feminine values, expression, and reputation. If we want to avoid being swept downstream, we need to keep pushing toward the masculine. (p. 24-25)
Are we really going to view the church experience in terms of gender stereotyping? Does Murrow think that offending women is worth the corrective he suggests? And isn't he actually emasculating the men who don't fit into his paradigm of masculinity? These are all questions that need to be taken very seriously by those who are promoting this idea of the feminized church. As a complementarian woman, I am terribly disturbed by this high school approach to a problem that ultimately transcends gender. This is a human problem rooted in human arrogance. Treating the symptoms will not find a cure. That's been the problem with the seeker movement, it makes no sense to compound the problem.

How Women Help Men Find God is dependent upon gender stereotypes and fails to take into account the relative nature of femininity and masculinity that is cultivated by culture. I'd like to be able to enjoy being a Christian woman without my femininity defined for me by Christian men abiding by cultural stereotypes. Scripture provides my understanding of femininity, an area that certainly deserves more theological engagement in order to provide a more normative understanding of manhood and womanhood, especially from a reformed perspective.


simplegifts3 said...

"As a complementarian woman, I am terribly disturbed by this high school approach to a problem that ultimately transcends gender."

That about sums up my frustration with it as well.

simplegifts3 said...

This link to Random Musings is the first part of a (so far) 5 part series on the same subject you're tackling here.

jed said...

I think you illustrate a lot of what he is saying, even in his earlier book, with the comment - "And isn't he actually emasculating the men who don't fit into his paradigm of masculinity?" The reality is that the men who don't fit his paradigm are emasculated... Your assumption that there are men who naturally don't fit this is the view which the world propogates not the Scriptures! Gender stereo typing? - Genesis 1:27, we are different. You use phrases like "normative" and "cultural stereotypes" without considering any challenge to your presuposition. Offending people cannot be ones primary concern when attempting to bring understanding. My wife is a minister of the Gospel and I have led a major mens ministry Knowing your God and His Word will transcend this sort of self indulgent and ownership oriented viewpoint of the Church, She is His not the lutherans or the methodists or any other institution of man's the sooner we take our unholy hands off His bride the better for us all.