Evangelicalism’s “New Machismo”

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 3.25.53 PMVery few have not observed the rise among some of a more masculine faith, of a call to get more men to church. John Stackhouse, in Partners in Christ, opens his 19th chp with the claim that the church has been increasingly feminized since the Second Great Awakening. Women make up more than 50% of the church, and that means at some level it is more satisfying to women than men.

Stackhouse evidences feminization of the church in music and the Jesus is my boyfriend music. The more robust (=masculine?) themes of “Onward Christian Soldiers” are dropping off the musician’s list. Preaching, too, focuses on emotions. [Stackhouse is operating with some stereotypes of what constitutes feminine here, and it is can probably be said these same have been part of the claim that the church his more feminine.] Less talk about how Christianity helps with work. [Does this help explain the appeal of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life?] The activities of the church are skewed toward more historically feminine activities: homemaking, hospitality, small group sharing, etc.. Where is the guy stuff?, he asks.

He quotes David Murrow, the classic stereotyper of males and females and who is behind much of the claim that the church has been feminized:

Men fantasize about saving the world against impossible odds. Women fantasize about having a relationship with a wonderful man. So what does todays church emphasize? Relationships: a personal relationship with Jesus and healthy relationships with others. By focusing on relationships, the local church partners with women to fulfill their deepest longing. But few churches model men’s values: risk and reward, accomplishment, heroic sacrifice, action, and adventure. Any man who tries to live out these values in a typical congregation will find himself in trouble with the church council in no time (153).

Stackhouse: “So we have in many churches a perfect storm of gender repellence: a women’s club run by a male executive—and thus a society with something to alienate deeply both sexes” (153).

Agree or not, some have claimed this scenario and have sought to offer a more masculine Christianity. John Eldredge and Mark Driscoll.

Whether the fantasy-spinning encouragement of author John Eldredge, who wants men to be knights and women to be princesses (a sentiment echoed by his wife in their book on this theme), or the profane bullying of preacher Mark Driscoll, who bemoans the “pussification” of the church and urges men to be hairy-chested heroes and hyper-hetero heads of households (yes, the alliterative heavy breathing there is intentional), evangelical men have been given a model for responding to their discomfort in church (153-4).

Stackhouse:

Alas, this New Machismo is not only a throwback to the norms of an earlier decade rather than a paradigm fit for the twenty-first century, but it isn’t even true to the 1950s, or any other decade of North American history. Women were not nearly as passive as they might appear on Mad Men or Leave It to Beaver. “The man might be the head, but I’m the neck that turns it” was the sly slogan of many savvy wives. And the middle-class women who did stay home and feel the frustrations of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique were envied by the many working-class women, whether married or single, who were working outside the home as well as tending the children, trying to make ends meet, and not worrying about niceties of gender roles (154).

Some evangelicals are “soft” complementarians. And this whole Male vs. Female is a spectrum not a rigid either/or.

Further, the feminization of the church leaves out as many women as it does men.

Stackhouse thus appeals to a greater focus on a wide range of human interests. But there are differences:

Furthermore, as feminist epistemology reminds us, women experience the world as women and men do so as men, and in many cases such experiences provide importantly different, and complementary, perspectives and abilities. A man by virtue of being a man will bring usefully different attitudes, expectations, and talents to working with the youth group than will a woman. A woman by virtue of being a woman will bring usefully different attitudes, expectations, and talents to the elder board than will a man (156).

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