This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on March 26, 2007. It was also featured on UPI’s mainpage.
For the last twenty years Americans have recognized March as women’s history month, and it seems important not to let this month slip away without acknowledging and addressing the misogyny that lingers in the Christian Church, particularly among the growing movement of evangelical men who blame the paucity of male pew sitters upon the feminization of the Church.
There are several groups and gurus traveling across the contemporary American spiritual landscape preaching a gospel for men; books in the movement’s canon include such titles as Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, The Church Impotent, by Leon J. Podles, No More Christian Nice Guy, and Why Men Hate Going To Church but the message always seems to be about the same: American men don’t come to church because church doesn’t cater to masculine instincts and proclivities. Women have too much influence over the life of congregations. Even though the overwhelming majority of church leaders are men, they—we—are wimps who present Jesus as a soft, effete quiche-eater who’d rather bless children and sit around talking with women than, say, arm wrestle.
The Jesus of this new masculine Christianity is “wild and manly,” a warrior-king, an adventurer, a real man’s man, and the secret to getting men into the church, according to churchformen.com, a website run by the undoubtedly burly David Murrow is to build churches that incorporate “adventure, challenge, boldness, competition, hands-on communication, ferocity and fun” into the Christian life. “One of the greatest mistakes in Christian History,” according to godmen.org, “is the creation of ‘nice’ Christian men.”
I have to confess that the first thing that comes to my mind every time I hear someone say that the church is too feminine is the inescapable fact that the most recognizable architectural feature of Western churches is the steeple. Don’t these people read Freud?
And don’t they read the Bible? Where in the name of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, did they come up with the idea that Jesus was a wild man and a warrior? There’s one story about Jesus kicking money changers out of the temple, but these are accountants we’re talking about here, not bouncers or the Jerusalem rugby squad. Other than that, Jesus’ sparing was all verbal—less quarterback and more captain of the debate club.
For an archtypal biblical warrior king and wild man who kicks (and chases) booty, David is a better character. Jesus pretty much taught people to love one another. He declared that the meek were blessed, as were peacemakers and the unjustly persecuted. He healed the sick and was kind to outcasts. He was a nice guy, and gentle too, mostly.
If the church, in trying to reflect the Jesus found in scripture, feels too feminine, then maybe the problem isn’t in the way we organize the church. Maybe the problem is in the ways we understand what it means to be a man.
In all of the myths and folk tales that help us to understand both the collective psyche and what it means to be fully realized humans, the masculine is incomplete until it joins with the feminine. Arthur has Guinevere. Beast has Beauty. The Frog becomes a prince only when kissed by a princess. The risen Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene. If the church is feminine, it will serve only to make men whole.
This isn’t to say that men and women shouldn’t, from time to time, gather in separate tribes to share stories, wisdom, secrets, and magic. Such times apart are both useful and fun, but when we stand before God we must do so together, made complete by the beauty of God’s image that is shared equally by women and men and that only is fully expressed when masculine and feminine are together.
I would love to see more men in church, but I have no interest in encouraging Christian men to shun gentleness and become wild warriors. Nor am I attracted to the idea that we should pretend Jesus was someone unlike the itinerant rabbi found in the Gospels. Moreover, I like to think that our society has evolved sufficiently that we no longer need to fear the influence of women or the feminine in the church or anywhere else.
Is this the Jesus who will bring men back to the Church?
Check out more manly Jesus images by artist Stephed Sawyer at art4God.com.