Thursday, 28 January 2010

Church is for wimps...

Church is for wimps...right? I mean, what self-respecting man wants to sing love songs to Jesus, in a key that is too high to be comfortable, with a bunch of middle-aged women, in a gathering led by a bloke who seems to be wearing a dress?
Seriously, the traditional church has an image problem with men. Actually, I suggest it runs much deeper than image and is really a culture problem. The church, over the past couple of hundred years, has been slowly but inexorably feminised, and it is a vicious cycle that has to be broken. Not that there is no place for the feminine in church, mind you...far from it, but when the church culture becomes almost exclusively feminised, we have a problem. The church is then breathing with only one lung, so to speak, and that is not healthy.

In the early days of this blog I had a post on this, which I title 'The Feminisation of the Church'. Not that I invented the concept, but it is a major concern of mine, not least because as a pastor I have had contact with numerous families who would worship if only the father would take the initiative, as he should. But precisely at that point we run up against the culture problem.

Thankfully, many in the church, and surprisingly (or not?) it is mostly women, are increasingly aware of this issue, and are seeking to address it. As an example click on the post title to read The Times' religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill's reportage of the problem in the UK and some attempts to address it.

One of the suggestions mentioned in the article is occasionally decorating the church with swords and other masculine symbols rather than flowers. That may not be as daft as it sounds at first. Speaking personally, as a boy, one of the things about Anglican cathedrals which made a deep impression on me was the display of regimental flags and the stained-glass windows portraying Christian men like St George the knight/warrior. That these masculine symbols took their place alongside the Lady Chapels and windows of Florence Nightingale et al made these places not just more open to the unapologetically masculine, but more obviously and roundedly human as well. They sent the message that, "Yes, there is a place for man as well as woman on God's earth, and in God's Heaven, and we don't have to emasculate ourselves to take up that place."
Along similar lines of thought, one of the greatest benefits of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ was that it presented to the culture a Jesus who was definitely not a wimp. The Gospels certainly suggest that Jim Caviezel's Jesus, who seems quite comfortable in a male body, is more authentic than Robert Powell's Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 Jesus of Nazareth, which seemed to equate being spiritual with being effete, presenting a Jesus who seemed most unlikely to be able to wield a whip in the Temple courts, not to mention survive a whipping himself.

Actually, one of the unique strengths of the Lutheran Church, at least in Australia, is the number of men who worship. That fact would make an interesting subject for a dissertation, or at least an exploratory essay. But the fact that this is somewhat unique, at least among "mainstream" churches, only means that we are the exception that proves the rule, and anecdotal evidence suggests it may not remain thus for long.

Comments welcome; more on this subject in the future.


Melanchthon said...

A very timely post. I just began reading "Why Men Hate Going to Church," and it is resonating with me, althoughI'm still going to wear my dress. :-)

I like this paradigm, and I'm trying to think and pray through how to make it happen:

Any practical suggestions? (I almost showed film clips of the "Book of Eli" for adult class, but found the movie too violent to recommend.)

acroamaticus said...


One thing that has worked here to link men back into church is 'shed men'. In Australia we don't have basements, but we have back yard sheds, hence the name. The idea is that men from church get together in someone's shed (take turns) and talk about their hobby or equipment or maybe an issue in men's lives. There may, or may not, be devotional content. That may develop as the group evolves. Men on the fringe of the congregation or friends and neighbours from outside are invited along. That way, they see that church men are 'real men' and some of the misconceptions can begin to be addressed.

No, I'm not about to give up the alb either! But I think there are special services that can be done (e.g. Father's Day - why not co-opt this date from the secular calendar and use it to teach on Fatherhood, God's and ours?) or elements that can be put in to service orders that can begin to redress the imbalance.

Thanks for your comment!