It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that one of the dumbest things I ever saw was in a church. If you have any familiarity with contemporary Evangelicalism at all, you’ll probably just shrug your shoulders at such a statement and say, “Of course.”
Years ago, my wife and I moved to a new area of the country and for a few weeks drove into a nearby city to attend a massive, evangelical mega-church, a real “six flags over Jesus” behemoth.
While we were attending, someone announced the church would be holding a “men’s evening.” I decided to go. The event consisted of an inelegant meal catered by Fazoli’s and eaten in a gymnasium. Afterward, a man who had been involved in organized crime until he underwent a religious conversion was scheduled to speak.
Before he took his place at the platform, a group of men lined up behind the pulpit. Each was dressed in a black suit and fedora. Loud music began coming from the sound system. The men on stage, dressed as stereotypical, “mob guys” danced and sang a song celebrating how great it is to be the kind of guy who would never hurt a fly.
I recalled this cringe-inducing spectacle while reading Rollo Tomassi’s recent post titled “Losing My Religion” in which he makes the claim that contemporary religion,
“Christianity, in particular, is by women, for women – if not directly executed by women, though even that is changing.”
Rollo isn’t the first to note this trend. Concerns about the feminization of Christianity have circulated in evangelical circles for years. My sense is that those concerns reached a peak in the early 2000’s and that since then such blasphemous sentiments have been hushed up.
There is much to say about Rollo’s post. Rather than try to say it all now, this will be the first in a series of response posts. To begin, let me say that I don’t substantially disagree with his critique. I do, however, want to add to it.
To do so well requires my disclosing a bit of my religious background. I grew up attending a congregation steeped in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. This meant that strong emphasis was placed on being good. Having a “good attitude”, being polite, staying away from sex and drugs were all more valued that doctrine. Because the emphasis was put on moral behavior more than on doctrine, the church I attended as a kid could not be described as “fundamentalist.” Instead, it was already, and this was thirty years ago, taken over by the kind of feminized ethos Rollo describes.
I left that brand of Christian expression behind in my early twenties. I now belong to a denomination that stresses Protestant doctrine and offers much more room for traditionalists within its boundaries.
I have also attended Evangelical schools, attended hundreds of services across many denominational lines, and been friends with Christians of all stripes. All of this to say that I know whereof I speak, and when Rollo makes the claim that American church culture is essentially feminized, he’s right.
Rollo defines feminized Christianity as one remade to cater to women’s prerogatives and desires; one that views women as less capable of sin than men. I don’t disagree.
But, there is more to it.
Back when this topic was making the rounds in evangelical circles, the solutions offered were to stop decorating churches in pastel color schemes, or use more sports analogies in sermons. Churches created men’s ministries that focused on creating opportunities for middle-aged suburban dads to play basketball while receiving yet more instruction in how to make their wives happy.
These solutions failed. How could they not, built as they were on such a shallow foundation of thought?
Rollo says contemporary church culture is built around the idealization of the feminine, and that’s true. Yet, while the church in America has become more feminine, it has also become more juvenile. Remember, femininity isn’t the only alternative to mature masculinity. Boyishness is another.
I realize that not all my readers are interested in the underlying dynamics influencing American church culture, but this topic has larger implications. Here’s one. Despite their numbers, American evangelicals have been remarkably useless for arresting the social decay of our society.
A 2011 Pew Forum study found that there are 94.38 million evangelicals in America. Obviously, there are plenty of potential problems with that number, but the point remains: there are a lot of evangelicals in America. Why then have they been so ineffective at slowing the downhill slide of our culture?
Rollo touches on an answer in his post: that men, men who might otherwise be inspired by Christian teaching to lead and fight in whatever modes of cultural resistance are available, don’t want to be in church. Yes, this is in part because church culture is feminized. Also, because it has been juvenilized to the point of stupidity with the mafia-inspired dance number I saw a prime example of that process.
Most churches now have no idea what a more masculine way of doing church would look like and so, men stay away. As men stay away, the church’s ability to act as a balancing, wholesome force in society weakens.
Instead of creating special men’s services where guys dance around looking like the cast of some 1940’s gangster film, a move toward re-masculinizing the church would be a move toward more historic and traditional liturgies. Tradition is masculine. Moving toward it with its symbolism and its emphasis on the objective realities of faith and away from feel-good, emotion-driven services would draw men in.
In short, a more masculine church service does not look like this:
And it certainly does not look like this:
It looks instead something like this:
The way to reverse the church’s decline is to reverse its feminization and the way to reverse its feminization is to embrace tradition, the old ways, that set of “cold, unfeeling, distancing” practices the modern world so hates, but that serious men can barely resist.
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