Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Why Men Hate Going to Church"

I noticed this article in the GR Press today, and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. The author is writing mainly from a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Now, I am neither a man nor a person who hates going to church, which is why I am hoping to get some insight from my friends and readers on this article.

This article seems to resonate with some of the ideas that are coming out of the Promise Keepers movement and John Eldridge's writing. And some of it, I think, has merit. I think it is true that much of contemporary christianity is taking the edge off of Jesus and off of God. Being a Christian becomes about being nice and meek and non-controversial - family-friendly even. And I think these authors are right to say that this is misconstruing the Bible and the christian life - the calls to justice and radical dissent from culture are everywhere in the Bible, and it is by no means a clean, sweet, suburban story either. I wonder, though, if talking about this tendency in gender terms is doing us all a disservice - perhaps it's not so much "emmasculating" Jesus and scripture as it is de-humanizing. I understand that there are gender differences, inherant and socialized, but being a woman isn't as sanitized as some of this work would make one believe.

The other thing that bothers me about this article in particular and similar work is their apparant definition of what it is to be masculine. This sentence in particular got to me today: "While men who are good singers and teachers are thriving in the classroom model of church, more masculine men are left looking for something else to do." So, apparantly, the arts and communication are un-masculine? The article goes on to point to things like a car-fixing ministry which sounds wonderful (I could use that sort of help) but I think dividing gifts into male and female so clearly is dangerous.

So I'm still not sure exactly what to think. I understand that some of these gender ideas are imbedded in our culture whether I like it or not, and the church needs to respond, but I wonder if the church should be the place where we discuss what's really "masculine" or "feminine" and what's a strange caricature. I think there's a trouble the church needs to deal with in a different way - a more countercultural way - when I read things like "The fruits of the Spirit that Jesus upholds in the gospels -- gentleness and humility, for example -- are not things to brag about on a job resume. " Is this really how it is?


Joyce said...

Couldn't agree with you more Bethany. Genderizing roles is not a good thing. For example I can fix the car and my lil bro can cook - and you would NOT want us to switch places!

wierdo52 said...

This John Eldridge stuff makes me barf. Sure, he's right to point out that there's a problem with men in the church, but his answer (basically, "let's be manly men of God, by fighting battles, rescuing helpless beautiful princesses, and setting off on grand adventures!") is a bit off-putting to me. Not to mention the corresponding roles of women, namely to be fought for, to be told they are beautiful, and to follow a male adventurer (although some seem to like the idea - see Angela Thomas' "Do You Think I'm Beautiful?"). Worst of all, the bulk of this new genre of pop Christian writing almost exactly mirrors our existing cultural conceptions of masculinity and womanhood. Sure, people may like it, but isn't the role of Christianity something more along the lines of shaking things up occasionally? I'd like to hope so.

PS: My mom recently went to a small group thing at a church in Holland and some women are using Angela Thomas' book... so my mom foolishly bought it. I've been trying to counteract the vile stuff since - not that difficult a task given the fact that my mom and I are members of Christians for Biblical Equality (, which means that my mom won't be easily influenced by this stuff. She had a good thought about the book last night, a critique similar to mine about Eldridge: right problem, wrong answer.

Clayton Libolt said...

You might wish to know that there are at least two previous iterations of the notion that Christianity has been "feminized." One is the "muscular Christianity" movement from the early part of the Twentieth Century. The other is Ann Douglas's thesis in the Feminization of American Culture. She suggests that Nineteenth Century American culture was "feminized" by clergy and church ladies. I suspect that a better analysis would include not only gender roles but class perceptions of culture (and religion). In any case, the not in that Christianity needs to be "masculinized" in order to appeal to men is one that comes back periodically. It never seems to get very much traction though at least partially because all these movements contain a central paradox.

Consider Eldridge. Who reads Eldridge? Certainly not people (either women or men) who are "wild at heart." In other words to raise the issue of masculinity betrays an anxiety about masculinity that undermines the very idea books like Eldridge's are supposed to defend.

By the way, Kent Hendricks asked me to mention that I am, among other things, his uncle.

Anonymous said...

cool. thanks to all for taking the time to read and think about the article, and to Bethany for making me aware of this blog.

I agree that it could be damaging to define roles in the church as either male or female, but it doesn't sound to me like that's what Murrow is trying to do. He's just saying that many men don't get in tune with God by listening to a sermon or singing a song (he also says the same thing about younger women, actually).

Sure, it's a stereotype that men are "wild at heart," but it's also true for many of us. Perhaps the church could do more to embrace those kinds of men.

You can object to calling those manly men "masculine," but understand that womanly men (like me, who earns a living with the tips of my fingers) have no objection to being considered "un-masculine" in the eye of popular society. It doesn't mean we can't be "dudes."

In the end, the whole point seems to be that church is out of style for a segment of the population that prefers an active response to God and Creation over a cerebral, intellectual response. I think Murrow focuses on men because "Why Men Hate Going to Church" is a whole lot catchier, more simplistic and more saleable than "Why men, a few young women and some healthy old fogies Hate Going to Church."

for whatever it's worth,
Matt Vande Bunte

Ryan said...

i like you folks that are i guess connected through calvin. good stuff. marva dawn, a prof at regent college in vancouver bc and one of my fave authors, writes about this gender stuff in her book keeping the sabbath wholly. she says that since we are all - male and female - created in the image of God we have the freedom to affirm and recognize all of our giftings regardless of our society's labels of male and female, masculine and feminine. i am a male who would much rather be at ikea than at a baseball game, much rather cooking and entertaining than working on cars or wasting my life on xbox or whatever else is deemed manly. and i teach kindergarten. god be praised that his call and his sense of identity is deeper than our society's roles.