I cringe every time I hear the weaknesses, or strengths, of western, evangelical churchianity described in gendered terms. For example, the adjective “feminine” is being used by some Christians as a synonym for weak, insipid, inept, while disparaging with the church. The Christians who are using gendered terms to describe the church seem to be applying the concepts of masculinity and femininity in ways that are akin to the morality expressed in Eastern philosophy (e.g., Ying and Yang) and ancient Greek philosophy. As a feminine woman, I strongly dislike that a term which describes me is being used in disparaging ways.
Even though I am feminine, sermons that are based on a lightweight and sometimes faulty “Sunday School” theology, in comparison with the staggeringly awesome theology found in the Bible, leave me flat. As do the numerous schmaltzy “worship” songs, usually riddled with empty cliches, that have become a mainstay of modern Christian music. Gender, you see, has nothing to do with whether God is proclaimed and worshiped as immanent or eminent . . . or as both. Masculinity or femininity has little to do with how worship services are conducted or with other issues facing the church.
I have been meaning to write about the expression “the feminization of the church” but my internet friend Kristen Rosser has beat me to it. Kristen has written an excellent article and allowed me to repost it below. Kristen blogs at Wordgazer’s Words. Her article was first published here. The article is quite long so you might want to grab a cuppa and settle in for a good read.
The “Feminization” of the Church
By Kristen Rosser
In recent years a lot of people have been talking about why in most Christian churches there is an approximately 60-40 ratio of women to men. This 2006 Biola Magazine article puts it like this:
There are generally more women than men in every type of church, in every part of the world. . . A traditional explanation is that women are more spiritual than men. But the leaders of [a new masculinity] movement suggest that the church’s music, messages and ministries cater to women. . . The result of this feminization is that many men, even Christian men, view churches as “ladies clubs” and don’t go — or they often go to please their wives.
The phrase almost always used to describe this phenomenon is “feminization.” In other words, the presence of a higher percentage of women in churches is not simply a higher percentage of women– it represents that the church is, or has somehow become, feminine.
The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has this to say about “feminine Christianity”:
Walk into the average evangelical church in America, and you will likely sing lyrics such as “I want my life to be a love song for you, Jesus” and “I want to fall in love with you.”
Then you might hear a sermon encouraging Christians to be “intimate” with Jesus and attend a “care group” where everyone is expected to share their feelings.
Such tactics might appeal to women, but they are at least partially unbiblical and push men away from Christianity, according to Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and assistant professor of gender and family studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
“Where are the men in our churches today?” Stinson said in a lecture sponsored by the SBTS theology school council March 29. “We have a crisis going on in the local church. Number one, men aren’t coming. And number two, when they are coming, they’ve [sic] marginalized, they’re being passive, they’re being pushed to the side.”
Christianity Today summarizes it like this:
Today a growing body of literature is leveling its sights on the church, suggesting that men are uninvolved in church life because the church doesn’t encourage authentic masculine participation.
The same article quotes controversial pastor Mark Driscoll:
In Driscoll’s opinion, the church has produced “a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. . . . Sixty percent of Christians are chicks,” he explains, “and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.”
The article also quotes David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004):
[W]omen believe the purpose of Christianity is to find “a happy relationship with a wonderful man”—Jesus—whereas men recognize God’s call to “save the world against impossible odds.” . . . While the church was masculine, it fulfilled its purpose. But in the 19th century, women “began remaking the church in their image” (and they continue to do so), which moved the church off course.
Needless to say, this line of thinking isn’t exactly complimentary to women! It implies that whatever is “feminine” encapsulates everything that’s gone wrong with the church. A popular book on the subject even goes so far as to take the title The Church Impotent because apparently a majority of women in the church means the church is emasculated, and therefore powerless and ineffectual. Even though men still hold the vast majority of the leadership positions.
There are several things that need to be addressed here. First, what might be some objective reasons why there are more women than men in most churches? Second, what does it mean to say the church is “feminine,” and is that a helpful or accurate assessment? Third, what is the best way to address this situation?
Why are there more women than men in most churches?
One reason that is often given (and one that is less denigrating to women) is that women are just naturally more religious than men. However, if that were true, then a similar female-to-male ratio ought to hold true in other major world religions. But it doesn’t. Christianity is the only major world religion where female attendance is higher than male attendance. As this United Kingdom study states:
Christian women reported slightly higher levels of religious activity than did the men, while among the other three religious groups, levels of reported religious activity were markedly lower among women than among men. How can we explain these gender differences in reported religious observance? Among the Jews and Muslims, there were marked differences between women and men, in keeping with observations about the roles of women and men in these traditions. These differences are also consistent with the view that men’s prescribed religious activities in traditional religion are more prestigious, and thus more likely to be engaged in. Hindu men also reported greater levels of religious activity than did Hindu women.
The fact is that most of the time in the other world religions (with the exception, perhaps, of some reformed branches), women are actively barred from full participation in many of the everyday practices of religion. They are often kept separate from the men, hidden behind screens or walls, or required to keep silent. Perhaps, then, another question we ought to be asking, instead of why there are relatively fewer men participating in Christianity, is what is it about Christianity that encourages so many women to participate? As this article on religion in the United Kingdom Telegraph says:
One possible reason why the Church has always attracted so many women is that the theological education on offer on a Sunday is the same for both sexes. Men and women (generally speaking) have always sat together in Church and are expected to participate equally in the liturgy and in prayer. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the only other religious denomination anecdotally reported as having rising numbers of women is Reform Judaism. Its congregations are mixed whereas in Orthodox synagogues the men and women sit separately and only boys receive the rigorous schooling in the Hebrew scriptures. . . .
An often-ignored fact in all of the hand-wringing about fewer men in church is that the early church in Roman times apparently also attracted more women than men. As this Huffington Post article on The Power and Presence of Women in the Earliest Churches states:
Some readers may find it surprising to learn that a woman shortage blighted the ancient world, with about 130-140 men for every 100 women. This is so because many female infants were left to die of exposure and because of the mortal risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Yet both Christians and their critics observed a marked overrepresentation of women in the early churches, a fact the critics used to their advantage: “What respectable group caters to women?” Why, one wonders, did so many women find the churches appealing if women’s contributions were not valued?
The answer is, simply, that the early churches did value women’s contributions.
This article on women in the early church from the Christian History Institute corroborates this:
Celsus, a 2nd-century detractor of the faith, once taunted that the church attracted only “the silly and the mean and the stupid, with women and children.” His contemporary, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, acknowledged in his Testimonia that “Christian maidens were very numerous” and that it was difficult to find Christian husbands for all of them. These comments give us a picture of a church disproportionately populated by women. . . It is no surprise that women were active in the early church. From the very start—the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus—women were significantly involved. . .The involvement of women continued in the first few decades of the church, attested by both biblical and extra-biblical sources.
The fact is that a major appeal of Christianity at its inception was that it valued and uplifted those who were marginalized in their own societies. The same Celsus quoted above also said that Christianity was “a religion of women, children and slaves.” As Paul indicated in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor. 1:26-29
A similar phenomenon appears to be occurring in the rise of Christianity in places where it has not had a long-standing, traditional hold, such as in China. Christianity continues to grow rapidly in China, with up to 70% of the new converts being women. In this Christian Post article, the reason given is similar to what was going on in the early church in Roman times:
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said on its website that Christianity mainly attracts people with low social status, including the poor, the women and older people.
It said that while half of Christians had completed their primary education, only 2.6 percent of them attained a college degree or higher.
Christianity’s attraction of the marginalized is one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses. On the other hand, this factor probably doesn’t fully explain why there is a greater percentage of women in modern Western churches today—especially since many branches of Christianity are now seen by society as limiting women, not empowering them. An important question to ask, though, is how long this female-male ratio has been occurring. The idea that this is a recent phenomenon, rising with the advent of feminism, is certainly false. The Biola Magazine article I quoted earlier states:
The gender gap began as early as the 13th century, according to some church historians. Others say it began during the Industrial Revolution. . . Industrialization forced men to seek work away from home, in factories and offices, which created a split between the public and private spheres of life. The public sphere became secularized through the new values of competition and self-interest, and the private sphere came to represent the old values of nurturing and religion. . . Thus, religion came to be seen as for women and children and not as relevant to the “real” world of business, politics and academia, she said. Soon, in churches, women began to outnumber men. . . So, male pastors began to adapt churches to their female demographic.
The rise in the “two spheres” concept popularized in Victorian times may be a factor, but the disproportionality of women in the church, at least in some kinds of congregations, has certainly been documented earlier than that. American colonial preacher Cotton Mather wrote about it in the 1600s, for instance, though not all colonial churches had this issue. The book Under the Cope of Heaven by Professor Patricia U. Bonomi offers an interesting theory: that male attendance decreased in American colonial churches in inverse proportion to the increase in the role of clergy at the expense of laity:
As the ministers’ rising professionalism led them to reduce the laity’s power in church government, laymen proved less amenable to a more passive role than did laywomen. . . [Therefore] Feminization appears to be linked less to the secularization of the masculine sphere than to the loss of power by lay males to a professionalizing clergy.
If this is true, then the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s entry on clergy and laity in Eastern Orthodoxy could help explain why there is a more equal sex ratio in these churches:
The emphasis on communion and fellowship as the basic principle of church life inhibited the development of clericalism, the tradition of enhancing the power of the church hierarchy. The early Christian practice of lay participation in episcopal elections never disappeared completely in the East. In modern times it has been restored in several churches, including those in the United States. Besides being admitted, at least in some areas, to participation in episcopal elections, Orthodox laymen often occupy positions in church administration and in theological education. In Greece almost all professional theologians are laymen. Laymen also frequently serve as preachers.
This would also explain why, in my own church (an Independent Church of Christ), where laywomen and laymen alike participate in teaching (both in children’s ministry and adult bible studies), baptizing, serving communion, collecting and counting the offering, greeting, ushering, and giving short teachings prior to the main sermon, I see roughly half men and half women when I look around the pews on any given Sunday morning. My own church (though I have not done an actual count) doesn’t seem particularly “feminized.”
But this doesn’t explain why in some churches where lay participation is high, there is still a higher percentage of women. This study from 1990 states that in American Pentecostal churches the female-male ratio was at that time as high as 2 to 1, while in Baptist churches it was 3 to 2. (This study, however, concludes that women are simply more religious for various reasons, failing to take into account that this is a Christianity-only issue, so I won’t be quoting it further here.)
But there is another cause that I think is, and has been, very prevalent in Western churches for a long time, and is likely more prevalent in Baptist and Pentecostal and similar churches, because of their strict limitations on women’s roles. It’s a self-perpetuating stigma that, once established, is very hard to defeat: the stigma known as “gender contamination.” This Forbes article defines “gender contamination” as the idea that when something is perceived as being a women’s thing, men want nothing to do with it. It’s the reason why men won’t drink “diet” soda and have had to have differently-named low-calorie versions marketed specially to them. It’s the reason why men resist using lotions and moisturizers even if they have neutral, non-flowery scents, and why some companies advertise their products by denigrating competitors with such words as “precious” and “princess.” In short, in our “male mystique” focused society, boys who believe girls have cooties still believe deep-down, when they grow into men, that women have cooties too.
There are still some very deep-rooted misogynistic elements in modern Western culture, and this, I think, has a lot to do with why evangelicals like Mark Driscoll and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are so distressed at the idea that churches are “feminized.” If churches have more women in them, then churches themselves have cooties, and it’s up to the biblical manhood movement to remove the stigma by masculinizing the church. Just as soda advertisements now insist that certain brands are not for women, and certain body washes emphasize how very manly their scents are, the answer in the minds of these Christians is to re-market the church as a manly institution.
The Christianity Today article I linked to earlier puts it this way:
These authors . . . suggest that the solution is to inject the church with a heavy dose of testosterone. In other words, allowing women to create Jesus in their image has emasculated him; thus, regaining a biblical image of Christ is as simple as re-masculating him. The masculinity movement’s solution assumes that Jesus came to model genuine masculinity. . . imply[ing] that when the church adopts the supposedly male psyche, it fulfills its purpose, but when it conforms to the supposedly female psyche, it becomes aberrant.
Which leads me to my second question:
Are these categories of “masculine” and “feminine,” when applied to churches and church services, helpful or accurate?
Jeffrey Miller, in the Christian Standard‘s Nov. 2011 article Common Sense on “The Feminization of the Church”, discusses two of the main proposals for masculinizing the church: first, that churches sponsor “manly” and challenging group activities such as hiking or kayaking, and second, that church services discard or at least strictly limit “feminine” songs about love and intimacy with Christ in favor of “masculine” songs about God’s power and authority. Here’s what he discovered regarding sponsoring “manly” activities through his own church:
I wanted to test the theory that men are more interested than women in rigorous and even dangerous recreation, so I devised a stealthy experiment and formed a hiking group. Anyone is welcome to join this group, but all who express interest are told we do not take leisurely jaunts. Instead, each outing has some significant challenge, the most common being distance—our longest hike, for example, exceeded 26 miles. Other obstacles have included bitter windchills, steep climbs, sheer descents, black bears, yellow jackets, and two territorial rattlesnakes.
I sent invitations to an equal number of men and women. The list has grown and now consists of 20 men and 20 women. I tell people we hike to stay in shape, rise to the challenge, enjoy God’s creation, and get away from it all. While all these are true, I haven’t till now shared one other important goal of mine: to track the ratio of female to male participants. After 19 monthly hikes, having invited an equal number of men and women to join in rigorous outdoor adventures, 33 men and 57 women have taken up the challenge. Surprised? Me too! I thought the ratio would drift toward 50-50.
And with regards to “manly” music, here’s his response:
Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) lists the 100 most frequently used songs in its database. If contemporary praise music is problematically feminine in both lyrics and tone, as the Driscoll-Murrow crowd avers, we should expect the top 100 list to be dominated—or at least infiltrated—by women. In fact, however, the list includes 145 male and 16 female composers. Thus more than 90 percent of the composers writing today’s most popular praise songs are male!
Moreover, some of the most “masculine” songs are written by women (and some of the most “feminine” songs are written by men). Consider Twila Paris’s “He is Exalted,” Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song,” and Brooke Fraser’s “Desert Song,” all of which employ metaphors of power. In contrast, Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche’s “Above All” and Martin Nystrom’s “As the Deer” both feature elegant melodies and calming images from nature.
Going back to the 19th century, Fanny Crosby’s lyrics are not predominantly what we would call “feminine.” And William Bradbury’s melodies are not especially “masculine.” In search of a nonscientific test for these statements, I asked my mom for her five favorite Fanny Crosby songs and my dad for his five favorite William Bradbury songs. . . My mom’s favorite Fanny Crosby songs are “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!” “Redeemed!” and “Draw Me Nearer.” My dad’s favorite William Bradbury hymns are “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Solid Rock,” “He Leadeth Me,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Judge for yourselves, but I believe the list of hymns by Crosby is more vigorous and Bradbury’s list is more intimate.
I conclude, therefore, that a central problem with the manly music argument is that men both write and perform the overwhelming number of songs that Driscoll, Murrow, and others consider too feminine. If anyone is guilty of feminizing the church’s music, it’s not women!
In short, the categories of “masculine” and “feminine” are cultural constructs that often have very little to do with the actual proclivities of real men and women. Women don’t necessarily focus on relationship and men on power in worship, nor do only men enjoy rigorous and challenging physical activity.
Thomas G. Long’s article Why Do Men Stay Away? in The Christian Century finds these categories insulting to both men and women:
Why are men and the church often at odds? Sadly, many of the answers are as insulting as they are misguided. . . They argue that men, loaded as they are with testosterone, have a proclivity to impulsive, risk-taking, occasionally violent action—exactly the behavior disallowed in the soft world of worship. Given this theory, what enticements can the wimpy church possibly offer us men when we compare it to the joys of hiding away in a man cave, stuffing our maws with pizza and beer as we watch Da Bears and heading out after sundown to rip off a few wheel covers and rumble in the Wal-Mart parking lot?
Others propose a more political and historical explanation, namely that centuries of male control of the church have yielded to an ineluctable force of feminization. Pastel worship, passive and sentimental images of the Christian life, handholding around the communion table and hymns that coo about lover-boy Jesus who “walks with me and talks with me” have replaced stronger, more masculine themes. . .
Really? The feminine erosion of the church? As David Foster Wallace said in a different context, this is an idea “so stupid it practically drools.” Even sillier are the proposed masculine remedies. One website suggests “Ten Ways to Man Up Your Church,” beginning with obtaining “a manly pastor” who projects “a healthy masculinity.” This patently ignores strong women clergy, of course, but it also denigrates the capacity of men to recognize and respond to able leadership regardless of gender or stereotypes.
Categories of masculinity and femininity that reduce men to biceps and women to clinging vines are hardly biblical. None of the heroes and heroines of the faith presented in the pages of Scripture acted this way. Nor do the Scriptures uphold these stereotypical behaviors as virtuous or godly. On the contrary, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” include both typically “masculine” and typically “feminine” virtues that are for men and women alike.
And there’s a real problem when traits associated with women are denigrated as a kind of sickness that is weakening the church. As Jeffrey Miller put it in his Christian Standard article:
If the church manifests feminine characteristics, and if it does so more than it once did, then why would this make the church impotent? Such a claim is not only illogical, but offensive. Surely it is ungentlemanly to say to women that the problem with the church is that it’s becoming more and more like them.
How fair is it to assign categories to women that you then belittle and blame them for? Surely it’s possible to attract more men to our churches without communicating to women that they shouldn’t exist?
So what is the best way to address this problem?
The church is not a product like a soda or a moisturizer that you can market to men by claiming that it’s not for women. Nor is it helpful to bifurcate church experience so that the women get all the comfort and love while men get all the challenging calls to discipleship. Men and women are real people, not stereotypes. Men often need comfort and love, and women have no less need for challenge. Jesus wasn’t speaking only to men when He said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me (Luke 9:23).” Nor was He talking only to women when He said, “Come to Me. . . and you will find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:30).”
Brownyn Lea recently wrote a guest post on Preston Yancey’s blog entitled What Women Want: the Jesus of the Gospels. She said:
Jesus is a comforter, a healer, a Savior. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, the suffering Servant, the loving rescuer. That Jesus rightfully and perfectly holds all these titles is proof that those nurturing qualities do not belong exclusively to the female domain. Jesus IS the epitome of love, of care, of welcome.
However . . . what I want from church is this: a robust preaching of the Jesus of the Gospels. I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces feisty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.
I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That’s the Jesus I want. That’s the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike.
It’s a woman who is saying these things, articulating the need that Christian men and women alike feel for the whole Jesus—neither a masculinized prize-fighting caricature nor a feminized weepy-and-wimpy caricature. And if we don’t want our Jesus to be a caricature, we ought not to be caricaturing His male and female followers.
Thomas G. Long’s Christian Century article hits the nail on the head, I think:
Perhaps a clue can be found in a Christian group that attracts men and women in roughly equal numbers: Eastern Orthodoxy. . . The finding of religion journalist Frederica Mathewes-Green [is] that Orthodoxy’s main appeal is that it’s “challenging.” One convert said, “Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it is also about overcoming myself. . .”
Yes, some churchgoers are satisfied with feel-good Christianity, but I think many Christians—women and men—yearn for a more costly, demanding, life-changing discipleship. Perhaps women are more patient when they don’t find it, or more discerning of the deeper cross-bearing opportunities that lie beneath the candied surface.
Why do more women than men go to church in modern Western Christianity? Perhaps most women don’t really care all that much for sterilized, feel-good niceness in the church either—but women are usually the ones responsible for getting their kids to church, so they deny themselves, pick up their crosses and get out the door. Maybe Christian leaders ought to be applauding their commitment rather than blaming them for what’s wrong with the service.
Maybe rather than capitulating to worldly gender-contamination and male fear of female cooties, publicly visible male Christian leaders should stop maligning femaleness and trying to market Jesus and the church as masculine. In fact, maybe they should stop trying to market the church at all. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Ultimately, “feminization” isn’t the real problem. Women aren’t the problem. Let’s face it, in the vast majority of churches the decisions aren’t getting made by women—but Adam’s tendency to blame “this woman You gave me” for his choices is still visible in male church leaders today.
I firmly believe that if churches will just preach the gospel of the kingdom of God—both its comfort and its challenge—Christ will take care of the rest. Men will rise to the challenge to pick up their crosses and endure the stigma of gender contamination in order to identify with Christ. And this will in time erase the notion that church is a “women’s thing.”
Finally, churches do need to pay attention to who they’re reaching and who they’re not. But perhaps we ought to be concentrating less on the ratio of females to males and start focusing more on attracting people of other races and economic situations. Perhaps the real problem is not so much that there are 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but that all of them are white and middle class.
In the end, the Holy Spirit is the one who can help us most. Let’s humble ourselves and ask.
© 1st of March 2014, Kristen Rosser
Jesus is no longer on a cross
Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or our Similarities?
Gender Division Divides the Church
Extra Honour for the Underdogs (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Leading Together in the Home
A shepherd who only feeds the male sheep in his flock?
14 thoughts on “The “Feminization” of the Church”
Wow. I think misogyny in the church is a much bigger problem than feminization. It is absolutely appalling to see how much hatred there is towards women and anything that is coded as feminine in society at large even in our postmodern (supposed to be so advanced) world. To see that same hatred in the Body of Christ is a nightmare. Reading the violent anti-women rhetoric (aka the ‘stop the feminization of the church’ preaching) quoted in this article makes me feel sick. For the Driscolls and CBMW- and those who think like them- to despise a characteristic of the church, apparently it’s enough that it is seen as feminine (As Kristen Rosser points out, it isn’t even that the problems described are an accurate representation of female traits). Isn’t this precisely what Christianity is NOT? No Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. That’s what it says in my gospel.
One more thought:
Ironically one of the so-called feminized areas in modern churches could be a contributing factor to this misogynistic mindset — wishy-washy scripture-weak preaching. Let’s have some tough down and dirty preaching about imago deo and how we all- in all our gender and racial and general diversity- have been created in a way that reflects what God is like! And how any philosophy that denigrates the awesome diversity God built in at creation is actually antichristian.
I haven’t, personally, experienced hatred or misogyny from my Christian brothers, but the notion that “feminization” is adversely affecting the church can only breed antipathy towards women and does nothing to foster unity between brothers and sisters.
We really need to find non-gendered language to describe the weaknesses (and strengths) of western evangelical churchianity.
Thank you for the very thought-provoking article. I want to comment on this statement: “This study from 1990 states that in American Pentecostal churches the female-male ratio was at that time as high as 2 to 1, while in Baptist churches it was 3 to 2. …But there is another cause that I think is, and has been, very prevalent in Western churches for a long time, and is likely more prevalent in Baptist and Pentecostal and similar churches, because of their strict limitations on women’s roles.”
I am curious as to which Pentecostal denominations have strict limitations on women’s roles. During revival at Azusa street which began in 1904 women in were welcomed in ministry. “People from a diversity of backgrounds came together to worship: men, women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate, and educated. People of all ages flocked to Los Angeles with both skepticism and a desire to participate. The intermingling of races and the group’s encouragement of women in leadership was remarkable, as 1906 was the height of the “Jim Crow” era of racial segregation, and fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in the United States.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Street_Revival
I currently attend a small Assembly of God church (one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the U.S.) where I teach one of the adult Sunday School classes. (The teacher of our other adult class is a man.) I typically have 10-12 men in my class and 6-8 women (including myself.) While I am not an ordained minister, I have at my pastor’s request, taught our entire congregation in our Wednesday night Bible study. The Assemblies of God recognizes the gifts and callings of women and ordains women as pastors. Here is a link to the official position paper of the Assemblies of God on Women in Ministry… http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_downloads/PP_The_Role_of_Women_in_Ministry.pdf
Thank you again for posting this article, I have been fascinated, grieved and appalled to read about the censuring of women in ministry that has taken place in other denominations and have felt very grateful to have been a part of a fellowship that welcomes and encourages women in ministry.
I haven’t experienced a lot of blatant face-to-face misogyny from my Christian siblings either (mostly because I tend to avoid churches with those kinds of philosophies). But since our world is so global with internet and books and travel and such, the effects of what (for example) some U.S. pastors preach in their own churches becomes a message that influences so many people. I’m in Canada and a lot of the damaging rhetoric that’s quoted in this post is making its way up into our Canadian faith communities. I wish it weren’t!
I wonder if most of the folks who talk about the “feminizing of the church” realize just what they are saying by it. Can you imagine anyone saying the same things but substituting racial terminology, ie. the “blackification” or “hispanizing” or “asianing” of the church? They wouldn’t just be booed out of the church, they’d be legally liable. (Racism is still a big problem but at least people have figured out they can’t just say those kinds of things- unlike sexism which rarely gets called out)
Now I can see I’m getting long-winded so I better stop here and not clog up your entire comments section!
Amy, I was member of an Assemblies of God Church in Australia for many years, and many men and women that I knew held to the non-biblical concept of “covering” (i.e. women need the covering of a man). I only know of a very few senior ministers that are women. Most women pastors are the wives of pastors, and are seen as associate pastors. The biggest AOG church in Australia has had a policy of no women on their board. (I tried to confirm whether this is still the case, but was unable to.) However, I was always treated well and encouraged in ministry in the AOG.
Natasha, Good comments. I have been spoken to rudely on the internet by men and women who disagree with me, but never face-to-face. And I have seen some horrendous websites, supposedly Christian websites, that are blatantly and scarily misogynistic, but I hope that these people and websites represent a tiny minority of “Christians”. Then again, misogyny takes many forms . . .
Marg, thanks for the link and for continuing the discussion here! I’d like to weigh in on what I said about “strict gender limitations” in the Pentecostal churches. I was in the Assemblies of God, followed by a charismatic group called Maranatha Campus Ministries, for years and years. What I was referring to was not so much the restriction of women from church participation– the church did accept the giftings of many women, though never as a senior pastor– but the strict emphasis on women’s submission to male headship in marriage, which was far stronger in these groups than anything I’ve experienced before or since. A church that insists that men were born to lead women in the home merely because they were born male, and that women were born to follow and be subordinate merely because they were born female, is a church that somewhere deep down must believe that women are lesser than men by nature. And the natural outworking of that is for men to believe women have “cooties” and that “feminine” things are weak and somehow inferior.
I hope that clarifies.
I know, right? I have squirmed through church leadership meetings where comments like that are made. I couldn’t help myself, I would speak up. It’s so stupid to insult women by using their supposed attributes as an insult.
I also couldn’t help pointing out when a song was ridiculed and banned from future worship sets for being feminine: “Uh, guys, that song was written by a man.” After a while I was told I wasn’t needed at those meetings anymore. Pretty sad, right? One of the most vocal advocates of this nonsense at my church is actually the age of my kids. But he is currently the highest ranking leader.
So sad, I have been going to my church longer than almost anyone but I just don’t feel it represents me. I love many of the people but this kind of thinking makes it hard for me to feel I belong. I think the reason many of us women are still in these kinds of churches is that it’s so rampant it’s kind of hard to escape. In my geographical area I can’t find a vibrant, modern church without this kind of thinking. I just don’t get it.
Stupid, as well as insulting, hurtful and harmful.
Becky, this sounds so sad, and so hard for you. I’m glad that I don’t have to put up with ignorant and damaging slurs. I feel heard and valued in my church.
Unsurprising to find that this article is written from a female perspective. Although I loved the quote from Thomas G.Long and entirely agree with it I find the article swings the pendulum a little too far back the other way and misses the mark. As a man I really struggle to find a place or any connection in the Church I attend. I think the argument is pointed in the wrong place to be honest. I don’t think the problem is whether the Church is too male or too female, I think the problem is the model. Week after week we have inactive Christians both male and female attending Churches as pewsitters for 2 hours a week (at least in my Church) and listening to 1 person speak. Granted, it has its place but when are we going to find a model that seeks everybody to be involved rather than 3 people on a Sunday? I cringe when I see Freemasons & Rotary Clubs having more of a brotherhood and sense of community then the Church of Jesus Christ. Yes there is volunteering etc. but we are all putting in effort for an event on Sunday rather than a way of life that is lived every day. And unfortunately if we are all inactive and passively listening we will never go anywhere. The Church, I believe, really needs a reformation. And yes I have a burden for men. My Church is “female saturated”, they have a conference for women every year – they even held one at their new campus on the other side of the world. Is there anything wrong with that? No. But the men have a breakfast once every 6 months if they remember. No wonder so many men feel discouraged when we don’t provide some sort of connectivity/place or role within the framework. I don’t think the Church of Jesus Christ was ever meant to be 1 man (or female) preparing a sermon for an event once a week with a crowd of spectators.
You are right. The model of “church” amounting to two hours of pew-sitting is not what Jesus wants for his body. He wants us all to use the gifts he has given us. Few may have the appropriate gifts for ministry during worship services, though probably many more should be encouraged to participate even in this context.
The church and its mission is much, much bigger than what happens on Sunday mornings in church buildings! This should be acknowledged more, and more people should be equipped, encouraged and supported to be involved in the vital ministry that happens on other days of the week in other equally sacred spaces.
I agree with this sentiment. It would be so great if church could be more of a collective learning environment rather than a few songs and a lecture. Life seems so busy, and when the Sunday opportunity becomes an obligation rather than an encounter with God and Wisdom, it is difficult to prioritize it. And then you throw in the multiple hurts recieved by many members of the body due to mistaken ideology, the only reason to go is to hold on to a sense of “rightness”.
I felt that the article was good, but so many of the points made on either side were generalizations from the white, Western church point of view.
The churches associated with Paul seemed to be collective learning environments. 🙂
“What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up.” 1 Corinthians 14:26 CSB
“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16 CSB
More about Paul’s theology of ministry, here.
I’m with Shem and feel so weary of “marinating” in the pew. I believe there exists a spirit of control among many pastors, and rather than open up the service to the Holy Spirit, they feel it’s their responsibility to “keep order.” There is so much preaching about the Revival that is to come. Who I ask is going to train and equip these new believers, who will need tons of teaching and supporting, if not the body? Oh that the leaders would begin to see the need for equipping the saints! I have read that the biggest problem related to the Welsh Revival was the dearth of trained believers to help the newly saved. Let’s pray for our leaders to either get about the work of the Lord or retire from leadership!