Monday, January 23, 2012

The Feminisation of the Church

I’ve read a few things recently, and heard a few people argue that the church over the last decade/century etc has become feminised, and that this means we are losing men who don’t want to be part of something that makes them feel “girly”.  We must therefore stop this trend, they suggest, and start to make the church a bit more masculine so that young men in particular will be attracted back.

There’s something circular in this argument, and it occurs not just in discussions about church life but in society more widely and it’s to do with men’s response to the strengthening voice of women.  It seems to me that men often feel emasculated when stereotypically feminine virtues are strengthened, but that this emasculation is predicated on the idea that we are playing a zero sum game, i.e. that if women are strengthened then men are somehow weakened.  People like Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) would argue that oppression dehumanises both oppressed and oppressor and that when the oppressed liberate themselves they also liberate their oppressors.

Attributes such as gentleness and humility, patience, kindness and self-control might be regarded as feminine but they are also biblical, for all of us, not just women.  One strand of Christianity that would seem relevant here is the Vineyard movement with its emphasis on intimacy with God through worship and spirituality, particularly with songs caricatured as “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs.  My local Vineyard church is packed full of “manly-looking” men; are they seeking a kind of faith that means they can drop the macho act and admit to feelings traditionally regarded as female?

It’s a live issue in some areas of the Christian blogosphere because Mark Driscoll is a strong advocate of the idea that the feminised church emasculates real men, but he’s not the only one.  This blog was prompted by “alastairjroberts” comments to Stephen Holmes’ article here:
in which “alastair” argues that nineteenth century evangelical gender politics “…led to a stigmatization of many stereotypically male traits, along with a celebration of many stereotypically female traits.”  He goes on to say that this led to a kind of “sticky” sentimentalism in church life.  

My critique of his comment lies not with whether “female traits” are better or worse, but with their stereotypical nature.  The traits that were stigmatised were to do with violence, aggression, and oppressive patriarchy and the traits that were celebrated were the biblical ones I mentioned above.  These traits have become labelled as masculine or feminine because of our cultural constructs, but they are stereotypes and it seems to me that the “up-side down” nature of the Kingdom of God demands that we reject them in favour of men and women seeking to become more Christ-like.  This might be very costly for some men but only in the short term; it was Jesus who said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

p.s. I could get started on the way the church does have more women in the pews but that still most of the power lies in the hands of men but I won’t.


  1. Anonymous12:43 pm

    Great post - totally agree.

  2. Your blogs are awesome Sarah - just discovered them and hooked!

    1. Hi Lucy, Welcome aboard, and thanks for the encouragement. S.