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June 23, 2008

Religion Isn’t Masculine?

Focus on the Family’s Boundless Line blog had an interesting post on why men dislike attending church. The post featured an except of an interview with author David Murrow, author of the book How Women Help Men Find God.

To appeal to men, Murrow suggested the church should make preaching short, make services more God- and mission-focused, and avoid “Jesus is my boyfriend” type music.

Although Murrow may be right in some ways, I think there's a deeper reason why fewer men go to church. Could it be that there’s an underlying myth that many believe that real men don’t need religion? That religion is only for women, children, elderly and for the weak? If so, the myth only exists in the modern Western culture, because the last time I traveled around the world (via Discovery and National Geographic Channel), I noticed that men are naturally and deeply religious, and that men are actually the dominant gender in other religions in the world. Who could ignore the throngs of Buddhist monks in Tibet, or the crowd of Jewish men praying at the Western Wall, or the sea of Hindu and Muslim men making their annual pilgrimages in India and Mecca respectively?

The problem is modern culture does little to remind men in the West of their spiritual nature and their need for a relationship with someone greater and more powerful than them. Stephen Arterburn once said in his podcast that all men were created by God to worship God for the glory of God. When men do so, they are expressing their true humanity and their true masculinity. So who says religion isn’t masculine?

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One of the things pertaining the men's disinterest in church (or religion) I think has to do with the loss of the kinds of stories men are given within the context of western culture.

A man's need for relationship to a higher power finds a lot of reference in mythological, or fantasy, storytelling or mythmaking. Unfortunately, for fear of occultism or witchcraft or new age ideas finding their way into the hearts of men, these kinds of stories are discouraged, usually without any notion that facets of these mythological touchstones point to the Gospel. One of the reasons CS Lewis wrote his Narnia books was to address this (he called it a "baptizing of pagan mythology," which was one of the main themes behind the story of Price Caspian).

Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music doesn't help either.

Jason Taylor

Actually the world stopped thinking Judaism was unmasculine in 1967. And no one has ever claimed that Islam was unmasculine.
Christianity is a little more complex, because given American and European history it is hard to say that Christianity is unmasculine. It would be interesting what King Jon Sobieski, the rescuer of Vienna would have said.
However, historically there has in Europe been a long tension between the honor code and Christianity, and the Victorian Gentlemans Code was something of a compromise between the two. Which is why what an Afghan means by honor and what an Englishman means are two different things, though they have some similarities:

0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Dan Gill

You are essentially saying the same thing Murrow is. His impetus to write "Why Men Hate Going to Church" was his own boredom with mainstream Christianity and his "flirting" with Islam - because Islam seemed vibrant and masculine to him.

Men in the west have been taught that religion is for women and weaklings. Part of that is our self-reliance myth. But a big part of it is that Christianity for the past 300 years (which sort of leaves King Jon Sobieski out of it) has been emasculated. We have stressed "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" instead of the Lion of Judah.

Mike Perry

Since not everyone will follow the link, I'll repost below this the comments I made at Boundless.

Summary: Imagine an Evangelical church that calls for its men to be bold, skilled, and creative enough to engage in the spiritual equivalent of NASCAR, taking on our societal ills by battling face to face with those responsible for creating them. That's something vastly more attractive than tweaking with worship services or changing the style of music. Not one has more contempt for "Jesus is my boyfriend" music than I do. I bluntly call it "homoerotic music" and consider men who like it weird. But replacing it with "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" will do no good if Evangelical males continue to cower in their churches and debate dusty theologies that haven't mattered for centuries.

Preachers, I might add, tend to be terrible in any context where they're not given the deference they expect. And not every man has the skills the public arena requires. Those who don't should help those who do. Imagine, for instance, a group of men who tell the gifted lawyer described below, "We'll fix your car, paint your house and that sort of thing, so you can afford to spend more time in our state capitol championing good legislation." Fighting 'lie laws' that let school officials send teen daughters to an abortionist without their parents knowledge would be a lot more pleasing to God than men fussing over Calvinism or a similar irrelevancy.


Those who suggest changes in sermons are missing the point. No healthy minded guy wants a job where all he does is watch his boss give speeches to a passive audience. Televised sports are interesting because they show men doing something that men find impressive, like NASCAR, which has guys driving bumper to bumper at 200 MPH. There's challenge, there's risk, there's uncertainty, there's the chance to do something important.

It sports terms, church is pitiful. One guy, the preacher, drives around the track at a leisurely 25 MPH, while the rest of us sit and watch. He's not in a debate and there's nothing challenging or impressive about what he is doing. What he is doing involves no risk. No one dares object or debate him. In a race with just one car, driving a bit faster and taking less time to finish may reduce how boring it is, but it doesn't change the essence of it all. Nothing is happening but words rattling stained glass windows. Words spoken by one guy who's paid to do that, words that reach no further than the church walls.

Most churches do not offer men anything that's challenging, risky, or with the chance for real accomplishment or great failure. The pastor gets the glory, men (if men they are) fret and fuss over the state of the church lawn or finding enough seats for that family of seven. They're never expected to do anything the slightest bit impressive, risky, exciting or challenging. That's why the best adjective to describe Evangelical men is often "wimp." It's why the Washington Post in the 1990s wrote that the typical Evangelical was "a poorly educated older woman." They certainly act like one.

I often point to an example of why this happens. Imagine a gifted, well-respected lawyer who becomes a Christian and begins to attend an Evangelical church. What thoughts pass through the mind of that church's pastor? I suggest that 99.99% of the pastors will have one of three thoughts:

1. This guy is handsome and respectable looking. Let's make him an usher, so visitors will see him and be impressed.

2. This guy must make a lot of money. I'll have to do a sermon series on tithing.

3. This guy is a lawyer. We need to make him an elder/deacon, so he can help us with contracts and similar legal stuff.

Would one pastor is a thousand think of the possibility that this gifted lawyer and talented leader might do something fix the divorce laws that have flooded churches with families torn with divorce and with struggling single moms? I think not.

For the typical preacher, the solution to all social ills is him in a pulpit yelling at people. In sports terms, that's him driving around the race track, tooting his horn and waving. No wonder guys get bored watching the little egotist.

A while back, a friend who was a physician's wife got me to go with her to some meetings to discuss an issue that had arisen when it was discovered that Seattle's high schools had been requiring teens to read a story that glamorized the life of a prostitute, The issue had only come out when the Seattle school district wanted to move the reader into junior high classrooms.

What struck me most about those small meetings was the total, utter, complete, abject absence of any Christian guy but me there. There must be thousands of Christian men in Seattle, and hundreds with an expertise in law and medicine that would give them more credibility than me, a bachelor writer, has. Yet none were there. Nor did any show up at at of the larger "children having children" meeting going on at that same time. Those were the spiritual equivalent of NASCAR races or of Jesus debating his foes out in the open. To participate, standing for anything other than the politically correct point of view would take courage and abllity.

Were there Christian men in Seattle who have the professional talent to make a major impact on what tens of thousands of kids were being taught? Yes. And would those men have found that sort of activity as exciting, challenging and risky as a NASCAR race? Yes. If being a believer meant that sort of thing, then men would be excited about their faith.

But that's not what most Evangelical churches offer their men. Sit and listen to the preacher, they are told, and go home and read your Bible, and perhaps we will let you join a committee to restripe the parking lot. That's all that's expected of men.

Given that situation, the amazing thing is that any men who aren't 'Jesus is my boyfriend" wimps attend church.

--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace

Jason Taylor

Emasculated for the past 300 years? Well Christianity has always had qualities that appeal to attributes considered feminine. On the other hand, have you heard the phrase, "Dr. Livingstone I presume?"

Rick Ackerman

Confession: I am one of the 2 million evangelical men who do not attend church, for the reasons described above. Now that is in the open, let me say I still get sermons on CD from an action oriented pastor. I still do my giving and praying for effective,(even dangerous) ministries like Voice of the Martyrs, Samaritan's Purse, Teen challange and Compassion.
For 11 good years I've found Boy Scouting to be a good place to live out my faith. Many boys are not Christians, or don't really know yet, so I try to let the Lion of Judah shine through during the typical 3-7 year relationship I get with them. Like Dobson once said, "there were connections of the heart and mind that happened with his dad, ONLY on those camping and hunting trips." Our troop does "cool" trips with a high perception of danger (just completed 5 days and 50 miles kayaking on Lake Superior)... Another confession: my heart burns for fellowship with like minded men. Maranatha!

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