Session 2 - The Feminization of the 21st Century Church
"I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons
and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." II Corinthians 6:18
- Is the 21st century church a feminine church? Does the church
continue to have sons as well as daughters? Let's take a look at the evidence.
- The statistics.
- According to George Barna, women are twice as likely as men to
attend a church service during any given week. Sixty per cent of church
members are women. Women are also 50% more likely to say they are
"religious" and to state that they are "absolutely
committed" to the Christian faith.
- The trend may be toward fewer men attending church compared to
women during the 1990s.
- Men monopolize positions of authority in almost every sect and
denomination of Christianity. Yet positions of authority are few and
if they are subtracted from the equation, women dominate virtually
every other activity in churches.
- Sunday schools loose 60 - 80% of their boys between 12 and 18 years.
- Two thirds of Sunday School teachers are women.
- Women are significantly more likely than men to:
- Assert that the Bible is totally accurate
- Be involved in a prayer group
- Affirm the importance of religious faith in their life.
- Choose a Biblical description of their God
- Be involved in a ministry to the poor, sick and grieving
- Describe themselves as born again Christians
- Take responsibility for spiritual leadership in the home
- More conservative, evangelical faith traditions are more successful
in fostering the faith of their male members. For example, churches
of Christ have engaged a larger percentage of men actively in church
work than most other religious groups.
- The perception.
- Preachers are not very masculine and are known for relating better
to women than men. As one male church member suggested, "life
is a football game, with the men fighting it out on the gridiron,
while the minister is up in the grandstand, explaining it to the ladies."
This is, naturally, an exaggeration but it is a perception nevertheless.
- Men who are interested in religion are less masculine than other
men. (Promise Keepers has challenged this image.)
- Christianity shields persons from the real world. Remember Marx,
"Religion is an opiate of the people." Real men must face
the real world.
- The comparison with other faith traditions and other countries.
- The Eastern Orthodox, Jews and Muslims are dominated from top to
bottom by men.
- According to one survey, 36% of black Muslims are women.
- Yet in Christian churches throughout the world, women predominate.
- According to one survey, in Germany, France, Norway, and Ireland
women are 60 to 65% of the active churchgoers.
- In Korea, India, and the Philippines, women are 65 to 70% of
the active church goers.
- The caution.
- Statistics can be misleading.
- The role of men may be changing (e.g. Promise Keepers, Focus on
- Reasons Christianity may be more appealing to women.
- The lack of male participation is not universal in Christianity
nor in other religions in general. There is nothing inherent in Christianity
which is more appealing to women than men. So why do we see the gender
- One possibility is the "place" of men, women and Christianity
in modern society. Men's work moved out of the home with the industrial
revolution. Women continued (until recently) to be responsible for the
house and children. Religion had no place in the factory, politics or
business, so men may have relegated it to the home and woman's sphere.
- Some suggest that men want women to be religious so that women will
not rebel against their "place" in society, that they would
find fulfillment in their practices of faith and not push for an equal
position in the workplace. A variation on this theme is that women have
found that the one sphere outside the home where they do have influence
is in the church and they make the most of it by using their many talents
in the church.
- The Victorians tended to emphasize home, mother and God and glorified
the woman in the home. Christianity was equated with the sheltered and
sacred home and hearth. Men viewed this as a weakness.
- Woman has been considered the "devout sex" in that she is
more understanding about things of the heart and more spiritual. She is
more humble, tender, more inclined to prayer, to charity and to hope.
She is less egoistic, is unselfish and prone to sacrifice. (Alberione)
- Nietzsche viewed Christianity as a religion for slaves, weaklings and
the effeminate (he wasn't that much of a man himself).
- Christianity has been associated with verbal expression of emotion,
especially the verbalization of the emotion of love, e.g. the song Jesus
Lover of My Soul may be uncomfortable for some men to sing until they
gain a much greater understanding of the Christian theology of love.
- Countercurrents to the feminization of Christianity within the church.
- During the Middle Ages, the great challenge was to "inflict
death or to die for Christ." The Crusades were one of the outcomes
of this view.
- Thomas Aquinas was known for his extreme analytical approach to scripture
(the epitome of the "strong mind").
- Historically, the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) of the Roman Catholic
Church placed greater emphasis upon the inner life as a spiritual combat.
These men took on a military conception of obedience and order. They focused
their "warfare" by teaching, preaching and especially defending
the faith against the doctrines of the Enlightenment.
- Martin Luther reminded Christians that they were in a war and that
the chief foe was the devil. He wrote, "A Mighty Fortress is Our
- Early revivalism in the US emphasized sin, repentance, and redemption
rather than grace and divine love. (e.g. Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners
in the Hands of an Angry God")
- Early 20th century evangelists often were associated with sports. For
example, Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player.
- An early movement during the 20th century, the Men and Religion forward
Movement, stressed the image of Jesus as the Successful Businessman, the
- Within the Restoration movement, many of our heroes were men who exhibited
masculine qualities, especially aggressiveness.
- Barton Stone was a frontier preacher. He viewed poverty and struggle
as the natural consequence of following the Lord. The preacher was
an itinerant, complete with saddlebags and gun.
- Alexander Campbell began the debate tradition in the Restoration
- Foy E. Wallace was called the "little general" for his
attacks on premillennialism.
- Homer Hailey, a well known preacher from the "anti" tradition,
was a body builder.
- Masculinity as religion instead of Christianity.
- Man as god. e.g. the American Frontiersman, such as Natty
Bumpo in the Leatherstocking Tales (natural man living off the land, passionate,
- The sexual act as the most important "peak experience", not
a spiritual act. (The rise of pornography)
- Sports as a natural religion.
- A civilized substitute for war. A realm for struggle.
- The mysticism of the movements of the athlete.
- The altruism of giving your body and soul to the "team."
"Leaving it all out on the playing field."
- The risks involved in "extreme sports."
- The Masons.
- The "Dog Pen" at Cleveland Browns games.
- Imitations of War.
- The Boy Scouts.
- War games.
- The extreme - the Fascist male in Europe.
- The women's movement in society and in the church.
- Some make the case that if women become more active in leadership
roles in the church, then men we be even more likely to escape their roles
and responsibilities in the church.
- There is little evidence, however, that this is the case. For example,
in what ways has the women's movement changed the church into an environment
which is less attractive to men?
- Rather, the blurring of the role of men in society has spilled over
into the church. Men are struggling to find their identity. This is true
of women as well, but perhaps the women's movement has provided women
with a foundation to establishing that identity (either by adopting the
ideas of the movement or reacting to those ideas).
- Alberione J: Woman: Her Influence and Zeal as an Aid to the Priesthood.
Boston, St. Paul Editions, 1964
- Podles LJ: The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Dallas,
Spence Publishing Company, 1999