American culture over the past decade has, If I may generalize, been increasingly hostile to anything innately masculine. The psychological emasculation of American males is a travesty and is playing a key role in tipping a severely unbalanced society right over the edge. Churches, taken as a conglomerate, have done virtually nothing to counter this trend. In fact, they have largely contributed to it, and have driven many men away from the faith in the process.
Whether our society chooses to acknowledge it or not, men and women are wired differently. Their minds tend to process information in different ways, they see the world through different lenses, and they have traits that are generally more prevalent in their gender group. These differences are good and necessary, as men and women coexist in a beautiful symbiotic relationship that, when selflessly invested in, results in a balance that would be impossible in a group that is exclusively one gender. Together, men and women are the image of God; and together, they bring balance to society.
Let me offer a quick caveat that the chest-thumping, macho stereotype of masculinity where, in order to “be a man,” one must drive a jacked-up, muddy pickup while listening to rock ’n’ roll, drinking beer, and shooting guns—all at the same time—is not the litmus test of masculinity; nor is it what God expects of men.
My relatively short lifetime of observation of and experience with church is that it is almost completely geared toward female observers and participants—this despite churches being derided as overly patriarchal. This critical flaw was one of many that spurred me to follow Jesus Christ outside of institutional Christianity. Flowers; bulletins usually depicting some misty, pastel, nature scene (usually lambs and kittens); a service that is almost without exception, geared exclusively toward emotional manipulation; music that almost always overly emotional in content, and often done with the audience directed to hold hands; and mandatory passivity of the lay people are all examples of how American Christian religion is completely lacking in masculinity.
I stumbled across this excellent article by Brett and Kate McKay over at The Art of Manliness. The article, entitled “The Feminization of Christianity,” is the third in a series and is a few months old; but the authors adroitly articulated some of my past observations and offered some valuable insight into why American churches are so blatantly overly feminized. I recommend that you read the entire article. Here are some highlights along with some of my own observations.
The McKays made some great points and offered a good deal of substantiating material for each. The selected block quotes below are the ones that most resonated with me.
One reason offered for the feminization of Christianity is what the authors refer to as “bridal mysticism.” Bridal mysticism takes the metaphor of the body of believers being the bride of Christ, overly dramatizes it, and reduces it to a creepy, personal relationship with Jesus that is just weird. The authors quote from David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church:
“It’s almost impossible to attend an evangelical worship service these days without hearing this phrase [personal relationship with Jesus Christ] spoken at least once. Curious. While a number of Bible passages imply a relationship between God and man, the term ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ never appears in the Scriptures. Nor are individuals commanded to ‘enter into a relationship with God.’”
As an aside, I’ve been questioning the whole “relationship with God” thing lately. During my religious upbringing, it was always presented as paramount—or perhaps as a close second to securing a spot in heaven when you die. More to follow on this another time, as I suspect that God may be more concerned with how we relate to other people than how we relate directly to Him.
The McKays argue that Christian music, especially the embarrassing praise and worship genre, is another reason for the feminization of Christianity.
“Instead, men are to relate primarily to God as a lover, and Murrow observes that the kind of language used in praise and worship songs – ‘Your love is extravagant/Your friendship, it is intimate/ I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace/Your fragrance is intoxicating in this secret place’ – ‘force[s] a man to express his affection to God using words he would never, ever, ever say to another guy. Even a guy he loves. Even a guy named Jesus.’”
Now I will admit that music, like all art, is an aesthetic preference that frequently exists in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. Having said that, it’s hard to argue that the majority of Christian music, especially the praise and worship genre, is not generally passive, relational, and entirely emotional. Christian music, considered to be one of the most critical parts of the worship experience by religious Christians, is largely an affront to masculinity. It is little wonder that many men decline to participate in Christian religious services.
The authors go on to point out that the music of the church isn’t the only form of art that has been completely dominated by femininity.
“The music and messages of church services were not the only things that became feminized over the last couple centuries. So did the overall atmosphere and aesthetic of Christian congregations, as well as the art of Christian culture as well.”
They again quote Murrow on this point:
“Quilted banners and silk flower arrangements adorn church lobbies. More quilts, banners, and ribbons cover the sanctuary walls, complemented with fresh flowers on the altar, a lace doily on the Communion table, and boxes of Kleenex under every pew. And don’t forget the framed Thomas Kinkade prints, pastel carpets, and paisley furniture.”
The McKays mention that modern megachurches have intentionally avoided this by adopting gender neutral decor in order to bring a more universal appeal to their services. They make the connection between art and Christology by discussing how this feminization has influenced the way that Jesus has been portrayed as an effeminate caricature by Christians over the last hundred years or so.
Another important point made by the authors is that American Christian religion is characterized by a distinct “lack of risk and innovation.” In the first century A.D., following Jesus was a risky proposition that required courage and dedication—virtues that appeal to a sense of masculinity. Nowadays, men are required to passively attend religious services where they chafe at the performance that deliberately discourages them from active participation and innovation, because to do so would threaten the status quo.
A final reason offered by the McKays for the feminization of Christianity is the “[over]emphasis on emotion and verbal expression.” They fully acknowledge what most Christians will not—that the music, the sermon, and the “sharing” is almost entirely geared toward emotionality. And they are absolutely correct. The Christian religion requires men to be passive spectators of a performance that includes a weekly (or bi-weekly or tri-weekly) lecture, corporate “prayers” that are more of an oratory performance than a conversation with God, music that is specifically engineered to manipulate the emotions while being dreadfully short on spiritual substance (or quality, If I may say so), a lack of intellectual stimulation, and a prohibition on contribution outside of the carefully controlled parameters of the program.
The last church of which I was a member held services that suffered from a complete lack of anything resembling masculinity. I sat through each Sunday School class and church service, chafing at the absurd, manufactured emotionality; barely tolerating it because I thought it was what God expected of me. Now, I know better. One day, another member, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant, invited me to a biker Bible study that he had cofounded. Now I didn’t ride at the time, but I showed up at a local boat shop and discovered what I had been missing in church. The Bible study was honest; it was authentic; and it was encouraging. Essentially, it was a group of sincere believers that wanted to be better husbands, fathers, and followers of Jesus. There were no guilt trips, no emotional manipulation, and no BS. It was everything that I’d always expected from church but never found.
This post has been primarily geared toward men that are dissatisfied with the almost completely feminine religion that characterizes American Christianity, but it could be just as applicable to any woman who is dissatisfied with a religion that is characterized by passivity and emotional imbalance. God’s objectives for those that would seek Him are reconciliation, freedom, and abundant life; not a stifling, lethargic life characterized by listless inaction. The Creator made us male and female. One should not dominate the other, nor should one succumb to religious torpor. Live your life as an adventure in pursuit of the Creator’s objectives, and don’t allow a religious organization to crush the life out of you by guilting you into being a passive spectator.