An Atheist Goes to a Christian Men’s Conference (Part 1)

This is a guest post by Zachary Moore. Zachary is active in the Texas freethought community, serving as Coordinator of the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, Executive Director of the Fellowship of Freethought in Dallas, and Treasurer of Camp Quest Texas. He loves visiting churches and other houses of worship, and is not yet willing to admit that he may have a problem.

Part 2, in which another atheist attended another Men’s Conference in Texas, will be posted tomorrow.

Mustache not included.

Lone Star Religion

Here in Texas, we know how to do churches. You can find them on just about every corner, in just about every denomination. And just like everything else, the churches are bigger, too. Of the largest Protestant churches in the country, three of the top ten (including the largest itself) can be found in the Lone Star State. Joel Osteen pastors Lakewood Church in Houston, and Jack Graham pastors Prestonwood Church in Plano, where I saw Christopher Hitchens debate William Dembski last year. The other, non-Osteen megachurch in Houston is pastored by Ed Young, whose son Ed Junior now pastors the Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, now the 14th largest in America.

Believe it or not, those are the lyrics for the WHOLE SONG.

The Fellowship Church of Grapevine is a typical Texas megachurch. Their campus is the size of a community college, their production values are higher than most local news studios, and they’ll just as happily sell you a $5 latte as a San Pellegrino water. Really, it’s just an altar to its head pastor’s personality, as most of the megachurches have become. The church itself is a brand, and the pastors even more so. With a team of employees paid to lead worship services, deliver sermons, and serve the needs of the pew-sitters, Young is free to jet around the country giving motivational speeches, negotiating media deals, and thinking up clever ways to insinuate the word “God” into normal words to give Christians the “godfidence” to “godvertise” their beliefs.

A taco truck and an machine gun mounted Humvee. Is this a video game...?

It’s really just the Brave New World of Christianity where the head pastor is less the spiritual leader of his flock, and more like a CEO of a corporation with tens of thousands of employees. But instead of those employees being paid to provide a service to the company, they pay the company for the service of personal motivation, social connection, and moral well-being. It’s not an easy job, I wouldn’t imagine, but as long as he can keep his million-dollar mansion on Grapevine Lake, I’m sure he’s pretty happy with the arrangement.

Inside the Lambs’ Den

I’m no stranger to the inside of a church. Earlier this year, I was even invited to speak to a Sunday School class at Lake Pointe Church, another Dallas-area megachurch. I’ve also participated in Christian “Men’s” ministries in the past, and in 1998 as a Christian I attended a Promise Keepers convention at the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. It was basically a tent revival atmosphere, with the primary message being: pray together with other men, love your wives, and for god’s sake, stop playing with your penis.

Pastor Young also sells propane and propane accessories.

I didn’t know if the “Man Stuff” conference would have a similar anti-onanistic message, but on arriving at the church on Friday evening, I could see that at least they weren’t playing games with the name. Flanking the parking lot entrance were two deer stands, and within the lot itself were marked-off areas in which were displayed muscle cars, motorcycles, barbecue grills, and recreational boats. At the main entrance to the church were a couple of our local restaurant trucks selling Tex-Mex food, flanked by large speakers projecting driving rock-n-roll with thumping bass and scratchy vocals. Inside, the main atrium had been turned into a no-holds-barred clubhouse of machismo, with a fully appointed boxing ring as the high altar. Surrounding it were dartboards, foosball, ping-pong, and pool tables, video game stations, and of course several enormous flat-screen televisions playing a loop of sports highlights. Decorating the walls were posters with quotes from famous men, knot-tying and baseball-throwing diagrams, and signed sports jerseys from every league imaginable. The opening event of the conference itself was a chicken-wing eating contest. Loud, throbbing music played inside as well, making it nearly impossible to think, let alone talk to anyone. I half-expected to find Tim Allen watching from a corner, grunting contentedly.

Fans of MMA will recognize the Machado Brothers’ Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Non-fans will just see two guys rolling around on the floor, grunting.

Following my fellow scrotum-slingers to the opening ceremonies, I made my way into the main sanctuary, a tremendous auditorium capable of seating thousands. A pair of junior pastors mugged for the audience with a moderate attempt at mutually deprecating humor, which merged seamlessly into the first of many musical performances. In general, I find modern worship music as a whole to be bland, repetitive, and unchallenging. This was only slightly different, in that the musicians were solely male, the songs were sung much louder, and the instrument mix favored the bass and drums more than usual. Scanning the room while waiting for the songs to end, I did notice that the event had attracted a ethnically diverse crowd, with more African-American and Hispanic attendees than I would find at any normal freethought event.

Is it just me, or is 'The Lord' kind of an awkward name to have?

Pastor Young took the stage like a superstar, an evangelical Tony Robbins who wears the spotlight like a comfortable bathrobe. His opening prayer was short, hurried, and without any recognizable point. Behind him, stagehands rolled out a life-size model of a great white shark as he bragged that we men were the apex predators of our communities, and that we should be acting like it. Interspersed between tangentially-related fishing anecdotes and simplistic summary points was a refrain tailor-made for the audience: we are men and we are awesome. And Jesus is the awesomest man of all.

That plaster shark cost more than the entire annual budget of my freethought organization. Let that sink in for a bit.

It was difficult to determine what exactly, besides stoking the fragile egos of the men who’d paid good money to be there, Young wanted us to do. Read the Bible, okay. Go to church, okay. Hang out with other Christian men, okay. Simple enough I suppose, but the men around me reacted like he was imparting truths hidden from humanity for millennia.

Society, when are you ever going to give a break to us men?

Next up was Stovall Weems, head pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida; a smaller megachurch than Fellowship but fast growing. Where Young preached slick, Weems preached loud. He also relied more heavily on scripture than Young, referencing primarily the story of Gideon’s triumph over the Midianites in the book of Judges. The basic message was that God would support us men, even if the odds were stacked against us as they were for Gideon. I noted with personal interest that Gideon’s military tactics were essentially terror-based, although I doubt many of my fellow attendees would have appreciated the irony.

It takes real confidence to be able to preach in front of the worst 90’s portrait backdrop ever.

I was somewhat surprised that the appeal for offerings was made with such aggression and frank sliminess by a senior pastor who took great pleasure in explicitly urging us to take our time finding our checkbooks and writing as big a check as possible to the church. As he strode back and forth behind the podium, he even cracked a sideways grin and said with unobscured glee that the crisp new $100 bill in our wallets would have a much better home in the velvet-lined offering baskets coming our way. After he vanished, the worship team reappeared and I was pleased to hear them play a decent cover of Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave.” A little banjo goes a long way to soothing my savage breast.

That’s right, make sure the kids get a front-and-center exposure to religiously-sanctioned violence.

The main event was, of course, six consecutive boxing matches held back in the Man Stuff Atrium. I’m not a huge fan of pugilism, but I appreciated the extent to which the organizers had tried to make it as much like a real boxing exhibition as possible. Guys of all ages were crowded around the ring on all sides, and were clustered around the upper-level deck looking down on the action. Once again, the loud, thumping bass music started up and the godly warriors paired off to demonstrate their skills, such as they were. I found most of the fights to be pretty tame, with a few good blows landed here and there, but otherwise a decidedly amateur event. Still, the other men seemed to enjoy it, and there were free hot dogs and nachos to be had, making it a decent Friday night in the Dallas suburbs by most measurements.

The Land of Casual Misogyny

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the really icky parts. Not the facile and lame melding of religion and motivational pabulum, nor even the over-the-top caricaturing of masculinity, but in the pervasive and casual misogyny I couldn’t help but notice all around me.

The ice-breaker on the second day was a chest-waxing contest. Explain that to your wives, fellas.

To pull off an event of this size, you’re obviously going to need a lot of help. And there were lots of people helping. Lots of women, to be precise. Every which way I turned, there was a woman dressed in black wearing a volunteer sticker, helping a man. Helping him get some food, pouring his coffee, picking up his trash. To be sure, they were doing it with a smile, but that made it even a bit ickier in my mind. Once in the main sanctuary, surrounded by a couple thousand guys, I happened to look up to the empty balcony seats only to see a dozen or so women looking out, hidden in the dark. Now, I realize that it was a Men’s Conference and everything, but there was something profoundly disturbing about that kind of gender-based separation. Although I’ll admit, I wasn’t so affected that I turned down the pork and brisket barbecued breakfast burritos (a Texas thing) offered to me by the ladies who welcomed me back for the second day.

A few of the ladies who spent their weekend feeding us, burping us, and changing our diapers.

I don’t think that John Gray, the second day’s featured guest, helped the situation much. A comedian who fancies himself a preacher (or maybe it’s the other way around), Gray actually had a good presence and timing. I could easily see him landing a half-hour special on Comedy Central or even touring the regular comedy circuits, if not for the fact that he inserts 3-5 minute sermons in between his jokes. His primary message: men should stay virgins until marriage, and then remain faithful to their wives. All things being equal, not a bad message for the average American male (hey, at least he doesn’t have a sexual purity double-standard), but I really could have done without the explicit homophobia. As Gray’s primary subject matter was marriage, he just couldn’t help himself from making several clear condemnations of same-sex marriage specifically, and homosexuality in general. Having just marched in the Dallas Pride Parade two weekends prior with several gay-friendly Christian churches, I assumed that any gay Christians at Fellowship would likely have fled for more friendly congregations a long time ago.

John Gray suggested that anyone with gay thoughts should be taken in the back for 'laying-on of hands.' Uh, sure.

Stovall Weems was back again following John Gray, and led the group in prayer. I conducted my usual open-eye test to see who else in the room is shirking their spiritual obligations, and caught the eye of a large, tough-looking guy with an earpiece that seemed to have a security guard-like demeanor. He and I shared a brief, questioning moment where I suddenly realized that I had been participating much less and taking many more photographs than the other men, and it was probably obvious to anyone watching me that I didn’t quite fit in. But then the prayer was over, and Weems started into another loud sermon exhorting us men to appreciate the pain in our lives, because it makes us even manlier. It was about that time I got an urgent text from my pregnant wife who was dealing with some pain of her own (doesn’t seem to have made her any more manly so far), so I beat a hasty retreat.

I’m like a chocoholic, but for churches.

So what’s my overall assessment? I think in general it was a well-planned, well-executed man-party that was very well suited to the average churchgoing male here in the suburban expanses of North Texas. There was nothing complicated about the religious concepts presented, and they were used primarily to underscore the motivational platitudes designed to get us feeling good about being men. I can easily see the vast majority of the men my age or older feeling comfortable and confident with their choice of church, and staying loyal to Ed Young’s brand of Christianity for the foreseeable future. There’s no real challenge for them, and plenty of validation. On the other hand, churches like Fellowship offer very little for Christians with even a modicum of intellectual curiosity about their beliefs. If I had grown up in a church like Fellowship, there’s very little chance that I would have stayed around, even if I had stayed a Christian.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    I do agree it is very awkward to have women volunteers doing the set up and take down at a men’s conference (though he doesn’t say what percentage of the volunteers were women).

    However, I disagree with his assessment that if the conference talked about being proud of being a man that they were “stroking the fragile egos” of the attendants. I don’t think that the attendants should be ashamed of the gender they were born. No one criticizes women who have a girl power event.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      I’m not ashamed to be  man, but this “man” event comes off as insecurity masquerading as bluster. “I’m an alpha male, with a  lord and master.”

      And, the irony of a man who dedicates his life to another (imaginary) idealised male speaking out against homosexuality!

      A gay christian once told me that religion was compatible with being gay, since the first thing you do is get on your knees for the naked man on the cross. In that light it does look… homoerotic. I think gay people have healthier outlets available to them nowadays.

      • Anonymous

        Yes from what we have been written it does seem like there is a level of homophobia going on there  (and your comment reminds me of the South Park episode where Cartman turns romance songs into Christian songs just by changing the word “baby” to “Jesus” and he has a debate with the preacher about what his songs mean by “love”.)

        And it very well may be that the men presenting here were more unhealthy macho rather than healthy masculine, but the writer didn’t really provide any specific examples of that. I think people should stay away from this because it is Christian, not because it is men hanging out together.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

          Hey “some of my best friends are men”.

    • Dracula

      What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!

      • Anonymous

        Is he also a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma?

        (name that speaker)

        • Rich Wilson

          Churchill.

          • Anonymous

            Good job. Ten Atheist points to you. 

    • Anonymous

      If someone is happy and secure in their masculinity (whatever that means) why do they need to attend such a conference to teach them how to be manly?

      • Anonymous

        The conference wasn’t teaching them to be manly but was a gathering of men  sharing their experiences (note that I of course don’t support the spread of Christianity, but I don’t see a problem with men coming together to talk about their lives)

        • Annie

          From Zachary’s account above, it doesn’t sound like there was much opportunity for men to talk with each other about their lives… with the blaring music, preaching and all.

          • Anonymous

            Maybe, maybe not. It is fine to criticize them for religious preaching, but music is okay. I just didn’t like the fact that Zachary suggested they have fragile egos just because they are going to an event with other men who enjoy similar activities.

    • Mrs. B.

      Oh, please! Do the terms feminazi, ball-breaker, man-hater and on and on ring any bells for you? These are the very same types of guys who are most threatened by women expressing any kind of independence and power.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, you are the one being sexist here. Men being supportive of each other does not mean they hate women just the same way that a person being a feminist does not mean they hate men. I think you are too prone to jump to negative conclusions about the other gender without proof. You should work on not doing that. (I’ll put the normal disclaimer here that I don’t support their religious activities  or their alleged homophobia, but I am disturbed by people who think men hanging out together is evil)

        • Mrs. B.

          Men getting together to reaffirm their dominant position is not the same thing as women getting together to reaffirm their right to equality. Don’t presume I know nothing about these male-only retreats. They almost alway,s at some point, drive home the point that men are to be the final authority in the home, as taught in the Bible. Yes, they may stress that men should respect women, BUT when push comes to shove, women are to play a secondary, subservient role. You can certainly understand how I might find that a tad offensive. 

          • Anonymous

            That might be true among Fundamentalists, but that certainly isn’t true among all men’s gatherings or even all Christian men’s gatherings. If this meeting had said anything about men being dominant in the house, then the author of this post would have reported it. Look, I understand that this is an Atheist blog, so it can be forgiven if we are quick to blame the religious, just so long as we blame the religion and not the gender.  

          • Rich Wilson

            Many years ago (in the late 80s) my partner at the time went to a women only retreat.  Came back with the decision that we had to break up.  Unless I went to the men only retreat to learn to be a man.  Or something like that.  So I did.  Although I had to come up with other reasons since it had to be ‘my choice’.

            We had to face our anger at our fathers (whether or not it existed- I mustered some noise and tears).

            We learned how to appease women by letting them decorate the bathroom.

            And how to have our ‘man area’ that was off limits, so we could watch football and do other ‘manly stuff’.

            It was at least 36 hours of BS.  The only guarantee was “A day you’ll never forget”.  Thankfully, time is erasing more and more of it.

            It was all-in-all pretty patronizing of women.

            We were’t supposed to share of course, but we did end up comparing notes.  Mostly what they told the women about men is that you have to marry a guy who can fix cars and throw a football.  Which shed light on the breakup, because I’m a fix a computer guy, not a fix a car guy.  And I throw like a girl.

            There was nothing religious about it.  Although the women version had a lot of ‘The Secret’ long before that book came out.  She was always making ‘vision boards’ with pictures of all the things she wanted to realize in her life.

            And anytime you disagreed with the hive, you were asked “What are you resisting?”

            • Anonymous

              Yes I do agree that pushing gender stereotypes is bad. But you can talk about experiences that many people of a specific gender might have without declaring that everyone of that gender needs to have the same experience.

        • Rich Wilson

          A bunch of guys getting together doesn’t have to be sexist.  But a bunch of guys getting together to affirm that they’re guys probably is.  Non-sexist guys know they’re guys, and don’t have to beat their chests about it.

          • Anonymous

            I strongly disagree. Men don’t need to “affirm” they are guys or “beat their chests”. They just want to talk with other men who have similar experiences to them. If the Irish-Americans have a Celtic day, do you think “oh, they must really hate the blacks”? No, you don’t. If a group of women got together to celebrate femininity, would you think “Wow, what a bunch of man-haters”? No, you wouldn’t. I don’t think we should hold men to a different standard just based on their gender.

            • Rich Wilson

              Badly worded by me.  Men getting together isn’t sexist. Men getting together and talking about how they have to be leaders (in the absence of women) etc. is.  nothing wrong with being a man. It’s the strict role stereotyping that bothers me.  Me man. Me eat meat and make loud noises. Woman quiet and cleaning.

              • Anonymous

                Agreed that stereotyping is bad.

        • Charlotte (raving feminazi)

          It’s not  sexist at all to criticise these men, and nobody is suggesting that anybody should be ashamed of being male (as you mentioned above).  It’s not as if this is just a guys’ night out or support group; this is a way of reinforcing outdated and narrow-minded gender stereotypes of machismo and dominance.  Glorifying violence, having women serve them, and cutting down apparently “non-masculine” (e.g. gay) men aren’t very nice things to gather to do.  And that’s without even talking about the whole thing where Christianity is a patriarchal system and they no doubt believe that men have authority over women, etc.

          It’s kind of like how African-American history month is a thing, whereas WASP history month is not, because WASPs are a dominant group without a need for reinforcement or validation.  Women’s groups make real progress on actual issues like sexism in the workplace, or violence against women.  As a non-dominant group, they might actually need support groups and so on.  Men, on the other hand, are a dominant group, and don’t need to meet formally for reinforcement or validation of their masculinity.  To suggest that men don’t need to reinforce their dominance, or that the macho gender stereotype is ridiculous and non-inclusive, is *not* the same as being sexist against men. 

          I strongly suggest that you research the concept of “privilege”.

          • Rich Wilson

            A raving feminazi might enjoy Jane Caro, starting at about 35:15 http://richarddawkins.net/videos/643348-iq2-debate-atheists-are-wrong

            • http://profiles.google.com/meow.soubie Alexa Joy

              Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed that.

            • Charlotte (raving feminazi)

              Thanks, that was excellent!  I too have often wondered why I was ineligible to become the Dalai Lama (actually, in my case, the Pope – I feel like I’d do a better job than Benedict).

          • Anonymous

            I’ve already (and am glad to do so again) spoken out in the above comments against having women servers or gay bashing at these events. And I do understand that Fundamentalist churches are patriarchal.

            However, even though I wish Christianity didn’t exist, I understand that not all Christains are patriarchal. While the Bible is, many Christians just ignore the parts they don’t like. Also just because someone likes wrestling or hunting that doesn’t mean they are “glorifying violence”. They could just be having fun and there is nothing wrong with that.

            And there may not be a WASP history month, but there is Irish parades and Polish or German festivals and English or Swedish culture groups. It’s not about validating one’s self, just living your culture. Similarly while it isn’t good to reinforce gender stereotypes, it is true that many people of the same gender have similar experiences and might want to talk about them.

            I understand the concept of privilage but I also understand that each situation should be taken individually to see who has privilage rather than declaring that entire groups always have privilage like I’ve seen some people do. 

            • Charlotte (raving feminazi)

              Perhaps we don’t know all of the details, but I don’t see much male bonding or mutual support here, really just men being told to stick to a stereotype (and not a great one at that).  And my analogy with WASPs was about a dichotomy where the dominant group has no need for validation – a bit different from people getting together to speak a common language or do folk dances. etc.  So I can’t really appreciate your analogy with the other cultural groups.

              Anyways, if you agree that gender stereotypes aren’t that great and Christianity is patriarchal and these guys are homophobes (and thus non-inclusive and not nice), I’m really not sure what you mean to argue – are you just trying to refine analogies and metaphors for the sake of good logic?  It’s obviously not a totally harmless get-together for guys with common interests.  Certainly in a Christian community, these guys have a lot of male privilege, too.

              I’ll also admit that as a pacifist and vegan, I am really put off by fighting, hunting, and so on.  Obviously many people are cool with that, but it’s certainly associated with the gender stereotype, and doesn’t leave room for men who aren’t into that stuff to be seen as masculine in a positive light by these people.  So I’d say that it’s pretty harmful.

              • Anonymous

                Well, you said WASP, but more commonly I hear people say
                “We need a black history month, but anyone advocating for a white history
                month is racist.” My point is that there are other ways of expressing
                white culture and history that aren’t racist (the Irish parades, English renaissance
                fairs ect). Similarly, in many cases men can gather together, not because they
                think they are oppressed or because they think they are dominant, but just
                because they share a similar interests and want to spend time together enjoying
                them. Maybe this group is patriarchal, but the author didn’t give any evidence
                to support that besides the fact that they are Christian. I just don’t want
                people viewing all men’s events that way.

                I agree that it is wrong to tell a guy that he must like
                certain things to be a man. But I think it is okay to have an event with
                activities that many men enjoy and giving men the option of participating it
                them. I’m a guy who doesn’t hunt or wrestle. But I don’t mind people who do.

                I’m not going to spend too much energy defending Christian
                events by saying “they are bad, but not in the way you say.” The only
                reason I’m writing these posts is that I don’t want secular groups to be
                criticized in a similar unfair way, which is what will happen if we teach
                ourselves to assume that every men’s group is patriarchal.

  • http://twitter.com/Mystery_Donut Mystery Donut

    Thanks for the writeup.  I have a couple of christian friends that have been to these and it seems consistent with what they’ve told me.  For them, it serves as a good way to bond and have fun with a little bit of casual religion to reinforce what they already believe.  

    I’m always interested to hear what churches like this are doing. They’re certainly are good at organizing and influencing politicians. Every now and then there’s a good idea that might be worth borrowing. 

  • Erp

    Given the recent unregulated boxing event at another church, I wonder if this one followed the rules for amateur events?

  • Annie

    This was such an enjoyable read.  Thanks for going.  It never ceases to surprise me that Christians continue to pay money to attend these huge events, and continue to get next to nothing out of it.  It would be like paying a load of money to get financial advice and being told, “Spend less and save more.”

    • nobodyssister

      Might be fun to send an atheist to a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class.

  • ACN

    All things being equal, not a bad message for the average American male (hey, at least he doesn’t have a sexual purity double-standard)

    Really?

    I’d say the “being faithful to your partner” half is great. But asserting that anyone of any gender *should* stay a virgin before they get married is horse-caboose. If they want to be virgins, sure/fine/whatever, and if they want to be sexually active, that’s great also. Societal pressure towards sexual purity, double standard or no, is stupid.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely none of these events appeals to me as a man.  It is as if aliens have taken a bad stereotype of a man and made bad guesses on what they would like to do for fun.  Meat, noise, loud homophobic comedy, war, hunting, fighting, getting semi-naked wiht other men, all topped off with a steaming turd of misogyny.  And you have to pay for it.  No thank you.

    If I’m wrong and this actually passes for masculinity in Jesusland then you have serious problems as a nation.  I don’t mean the economy either.

    • Anonymous

      That’s what I thought.  Attending an event like this would be an insufferable chore for me, even if all the religious elements were removed.  But then, I’ve never watched pro wrestling, either, not even for ironic comedy purposes.  I just don’t see the appeal.  

    • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

      And oddly enough, the idea of being in a room full of “dartboards, foosball, ping-pong, and pool tables,
      video game stations, and of course several enormous flat-screen
      televisions playing a loop of sports highlights”, sounds downright delightful to me, but my delight would be very much frowned upon on account of my ovaries.  I’m not supposed to enjoy football.  I’m supposed to enjoy making dinner for my man while he watches football.

      • Anonymous

        Whereas I prefer cooking to sports.  It’s one of those essential life skills that I take pleasure in.  

        If you enjoy all those things then feel free, it isn’t a competition to conform to all those silly stereotypes.  Life is really too short to spend time doing something that you don’t enjoy and pretending to be something that you’re not. A lesson that I’m guessing the manly sheep-men at Men’s Conference haven’t worked out yet.

  • Ludovico

    Hmmmmm… megachurch, Texas-style? That’s so gay! Seriously. Men rolling around groping each other on a mat? Tank-topped guys boxing? Shirtless bear-dude getting waxed? Damn, that’s hot! I gotta get me to that church on time!

  • Ronlawhouston

    Great article.  Thanks for taking one for your fellow scrotum slingers.

  • Trina

    Oh, my.  Thanks for the intriguing glimpse into what some Christian churches are up to these days.  I’ve been in a few megachurches, but none that were so blatantly commercialized, and of course, being a woman and only visiting on holidays, I never saw this side of it.  Honestly, this particular convocation sounds like a bunch of gorillas beating their chests.  And the women serving them?  I only hope they come to their senses one of these days.   Another reminder of why I’m an atheist, and a cautionary tale regarding the level of organization and manipulation we’re sometimes up against. 

    • Trina

      (As if I need another reminder of why I’m an atheist  ;-)   )

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        I get what you’re trying to say, but I think some Christians might read your comment and take it the wrong way. Many evangelicals will probably think that your rejection of Christianity has to do with the ridiculous actions of churches like this one. They think that if you were exposed to the “right” kind of Christianity, you would come around.  

        That’s why I always try to point out to them that Christianity’s “image problem” isn’t why I’m an atheist. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe the Christian religion is based on fact. I don’t believe that their god is real. You could have a lovely, progressive Christian church that did nothing but good works, but I still wouldn’t join them because I don’t think what they teach is true.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Is it just me, or is ‘The Lord’ kind of an awkward name to have?

    Could be worse. Here’s Exodus 34:14

    For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God

    • Anonymous

      So… Jealous God is Jealous?  Sounds like a LOL Cat thing.

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny how I am not nor have I ever been a Christian, and yet I find myself observing some of the behavior of modern Christians and feeling offended on behalf of their Christ.

    From what is understood about the figure of Jesus according to the very Bible they say they worship he was a dirt poor Jew whose message was largely made up of exhortations to leave the material behind. He encouraged his followers to give away their worldly possetions and sternly warned against flashy overt expressions of faith:

    Therefore when thou
    doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites
    do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of
    men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
     That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
     And
    when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they
    love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the
    streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have
    their reward.
    But
    thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut
    thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which
    seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  Matthew 6:2-6

    That’s not some throwaway comment, that comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which I hear Christians hold in pretty high regard.

    So how would this material wealth and ostentation condemning Jew view a bunch of men rolling in excess; Cars! Video games! Big-screen TVs! Food eating contests! A shark! Free food and fights (or, as it would be known just after Jesus’s time Bread and Circus
    )! Can there be much doubt that he would be outraged, and doubly so that they were claiming this event in his honor? That it somehow made them more worthy of him?

    Look, you want to have a good time? That’s great. Pig out, play games, do whatever. Just don’t pretend you’re honoring your religion, because of the few things that are clear about its founder is that he would never have signed off on this.

    • Bruce_wright

       They’re honoring their religion.  Their religion is consumerism.  Their god is Mammon.

    • Steve

      I liked the part about the preacher with the $1,000,000 home on the lake. I am sure it was purchased with the generous, tax-exempt housing allowance  preachers get in our ever-so-fair tax code. Maybe they are reading about a different Jesus than the one  I_Claudia quotes… I know all christians are not like this, but I continue to be flabbergasted by the rank hypocrisy some of  these mega-church preachers spew. But my observations seem never to strike a chord – Bishop Long’s church is apparently still full.

  • Anonymous

    What, no monster truck rally?!

  • Anonymous

    Remember how Jesus found people selling goods on the temple steps and freaked out and flipped their tables over saying, “stop making my father’s temple a marketplace”? How does this church justify selling barbecue grills and ski boats right in front of the church? I’m not even a Christian and that seems glaringly sacrilegious.

    • foxybear

      Amen Griffox!! Sheep don’t know any better!

    • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

      More importantly, how do they justify keeping their tax exempt status if their property is being used for commercial activity?  How much money can be made selling stuff (including the $50 tickets to the conference), before a place isn’t a non-profit/religious property anymore?

      Thanks for going Zack, and telling us about it.

      • Munya_22

        Well that’s easy…if you understand non profit accounting practices you will know something called “Auxillary income”…this income is taxed. But for the most part it can easily be hidden as contributions or donations that is for any amount above the cost of the merchandise (Profit) hence its never taxed and it’s perfectly “Legal”

  • Anonymous

    So… do the men serve the women at the Christian Women’s conferences? Hmm??

    • Anonymous

      Of course not. That would be unbiblical

    • Aprettylovely1

      I was there and yes the men do serve the women at the Women’s conference

  • Rieux

    Terrific post; very well done. More like this, please.

  • Bruce_wright

    As a  man, all I can says is, why would I want to hang out at a gathering where there are no WOMEN?!?!

    I mean, maybe if I was gay I would enjoy an all-male gathering for the prurient thrill of it.  But DANG, sorry, I don’t want to hang out with just a bunch of dudes ANYWHERE.  That’s not fun.

    Here’s an idea:  Wanna promote marriage and family and male monogamy?  How about STOP hanging around with your boy-mates and spend that time with your WIFE instead!

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure they do spend time with their wives. But sometimes they just want to spend time with their friends.

      • Anonymous

        There is nothing wrong with that, but that’s not really what’s going on here. Maybe for many of the attendees, but certainly not in the eyes of the organizers

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure they do spend time with their wives. But sometimes they just want to spend time with their friends.

    • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

      I’ve always wondered if there’s been some subtle – and perfectly healthy – gay undercurrent to the ‘boys night out’ or ‘hanging out with the guys’.

    • zilch

      I would have said the same thing before spending two weeks in jail after a demonstration in Livermore.  As it was, the thousand or so of us men had a great time- yoga classes, English Country Dance workshops, and daily Tornado of Talent shows made it magical.

  • Marcie

    Great piece, well written.  Two questions, what kind of music was played?  Was it Christian rock or “regular” music?

    Also, have the people who attend these event ever been to a small church where the pastor make a meager living and the donations actually go to the church?  Can they really not see the scam?

    • Zachary Moore

      Mostly Christian “worship” music. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_worship_music

      But as I mentioned, there was a cover of a current Top 40 song (Mumford & Sons).

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

    I want to say that I’m ashamed that such a gathering would call itself ‘church’ but I know I have my own failings..

    still, the saddest part is your all-too-correct conclusion:

     I can easily see the vast majority of the men my age or older feeling comfortable and confident with their choice of church, and staying loyal to Ed Young’s brand of Christianity for the foreseeable future.

  • Rick Evans

    I really hope that their use of “man stuff” and a moustache for their logo doesn’t adversely affect the sales of Oregan-based artist (and moustache afficianado) B.T. Livermore. His moustache wax is called “Man Stuff”. If I had a ‘stache, I’d rock a big-old Dali held in pplace by Man Stuff wax.

  • http://happycat.pip.verisignlabs.com/ Chris aka Happy Cat

    This is a reply to griffox, but I goofed:

    I share your view of the blatant consumerism and shameless opportunism at this event.  I would add something for clarification.  The money changers in the temple at Jerusalem performed a service for those visiting their holy site. Regular coins bore the image of Caesar, and visitors could exchange them for others which did not. This made them acceptable as offerings for the temple.  Vendors also sold small animals for sacrifices to absolve sins in temple rituals.
       This makes the narrative more nuanced.  I’ve heard it explained various ways since the account is so brief.  Was his issue with the profit margin of the merchants and money changer, their location within the precincts, or his disgust at the rituals itself?  I guess we’ll never know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

    Thanks for the report. I found it quite disturbing – the combination of two things I have little patience for, over-the-top machismo (which often includes homophobia) and fawning worship, is a stomach-churning one.

  • Robster

    Yep, the women are making food (wine and crackers?) and serving to the men. They were of course free to go home to look after the kids and do the ironing. Religiots, they hate women but can’t cope without ‘em.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    The problem is, women don’t want these super-macho-uber-MANLY-MAN types.

    We want equal partners, kthx.

    I have a hard time believing there is any significant portion of the heterosexual male population that wants a barefoot, pregnant kitchen-housework-and-sex slave.

  • Dan W

    I don’t think a conference such as this one would be appealing to me. Nevermind the religiosity of the event; I’m just not as interested in activities that are tradionally considered “manly”. I’d rather read a book or play video games or hang out with my friends (a pretty equal mix of men and women) than go to an event where it’s mostly men watching or playing sports and other stereotypical manly things. I’m just not the type of man who finds the sort of activities described at this event remotely interesting.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Besides the casual misogyny and the vastly distorted portrayal of men, the whole event would seem to have been less obbnoxious if they served beer.

  • Bubbleskid

    I am a Christian female and I hate those Women’s conferences people love to have, the female equivalent of what you attended except way lamer, with tea and finger food, doilies, lace, and lots of crying. I stay FAR away. I would much rather eat burritos and watch wrestling. But what really alarms me is the man bashing that goes on when there is a women’s event. Lots of “we have to tell our men what to do, men are so stupid” type jokes. Never acceptable. And who are all the volunteers? Men. So I wouldn’t feel too bad about the women as volunteers.
    I really don’t know what to think about events just for one gender. People seem to like them so I guess they are useful, but I never see the point in segregation.

  • http://republic-of-gilead.blogspot.com Ahab

    A lot of these male-oriented Christian efforts have two goals: (1) draw more men back to the fold to bolster church numbers, and (2) counter messages of LGBT and women’s equality by promoting stereotypical masculinity. These events reveal the insecurities of some Christian men (and their churches).

  • Jeff

    Wow that is really cool, men being called to be Real Men not womanized men


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