Are Women More Inclined toward Inclusiveness than Men?
Note: If you decide to comment, please stick to the question—which is not whether gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry, be ordained to the ministry, etc. The one question here is whether women are, overall and in general, more likely than men to move in that direction—toward making their churches “welcoming and affirming”—and, if so, why.
Not long ago I participated in a conversation with two women around my own age about churches and the “gay question.” The specific issue under discussion was why women seem more open to their churches becoming “welcoming and affirming” than men. The two women agreed that it seems in most churches it is the women who are more open to that. Not that all women are, of course, and not that no men are. The conclusion, upon which we agreed, was that overall and in general, it seems church women are more likely to have fewer or no problems with it.
I suppose much depends on the type of church we are talking about. We three are most familiar with moderate-to-progressive evangelical churches including Baptist ones. This issue is definitely on the horizon for such churches. Most moderate-to-progressive evangelical and Baptist churches will have to make some decisions about the issue in the near future. Many are already struggling with it.
The three of us agreed that, for whatever reasons, women we know tend to be more open to full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life—from membership to leadership. Then we wondered why. Here are some reasons that we considered:
Women have suffered exclusion and are finding their own voices and gaining strength in such churches (viz., moderate-to-progressive of all denominations). They know what it feels like to be marginalized. So now they are very reluctant to exclude others or see them excluded.
Although this was not said in the conversation, I think we might have added that men have seen their power eroded by the rise of women in society at large and in church life, so some of them, perhaps most, are less enthusiastic about throwing the doors of the churches open to all comers (to be full members and leaders).
Another reason given was that women, especially those who have been mothers, are more used to attempting to bring about reconciliation and to nurture harmony among fighting individuals and factions within families. Men’s tendency toward arguing and fighting kids is to say “Go work it out between yourselves—somewhere else.” Women’s tendency in such situations has been to bring about peace. (Of course there are many exceptions where fathers are the ones who struggle for reconciliation and peace within the family, but overall and in general this has been a more natural role for women, men being more tolerant of a moderate level of tension.)
I think one might argue that in traditional families (1950s style) women/mothers have been more anxious to gather the family together, to keep the children at or near home. Men/fathers have been more anxious to promote self-reliance among the children as they get older and have less trouble seeing them “go out on their own.” Therefore, in churches, the women tend to favor inclusion of as many people as possible whereas the men may not find that as important.
Of course, that family style is dying out, which could be one reason more and more young people are open to inclusiveness in churches.But another possible reason why men might have more trouble with gays in general, including with including them at all levels in churches, came up—from me, the only man in the conversation. I think it came as something of a surprise to the two women who hadn’t thought of it and didn’t seem to know what to make of it.
I pointed out that many men are still haunted by the junior high school/middle school locker room taunts of “fag” (and similar vulgar labels). Many of us suffered that–whether the taunts were aimed at us (for no particular reason) or at others (perhaps for some reason or none). Being labeled “fag” was the absolutely worst thing in adolescence when it came to being emotionally and mentally bullied. Most boys feared it and would do almost anything to disprove it. I’m not endorsing such bullying or the use of the epithet “fag.” I’m just suggesting that fear of such may still exist somewhere in the inner recesses of many men’s minds.
I also pointed out that unlike most women many men think about what kind of sex is practiced in a gay relationship and, whether rightly or wrongly, are repulsed by it. I suspect few women think of that when they meet a gay couple whereas many, perhaps most, heterosexual men do. My experience of listening in on conversations among men is that most men find lesbianism mysterious and perhaps weird but not repulsive whereas the same men find sex between men disgusting and repulsive.
These are, of course, not theological reasons. They don’t rise to that level of sophistication or abstraction. I would prefer that in our discussions of inclusion of gays and lesbians in our churches we stick to theology and its sources and norms: scripture (first and above all), tradition, reason and experience. And I find that, overall and in general, in churches, men are more likely than women to want to make such decisions leaving sentiment and feeling aside. And yet, I suspect that a negative kind of sentiment and feeling plays a role in many men’s reactions to the issue.
Might it be possible to treat this subject in a purely theological way, leaving positive and negative feelings and sensibilities aside? I’m not sure. It’s an issue fraught with emotion. I think that’s one thing that scares me about it. I’m not sure I am capable of being objective at all. I have had very close friends and relatives who were/are gay. I know that if I had a son or daughter who was gay that would affect me very deeply—in terms of how I view the whole issue. I am aware of how much the locker room taunts and bullying of junior high school (and even into high school) may have affected me permanently subconsciously. I realize I’m old and less prone to experiment with new ideas and practices in church than I used to be. I am aware that my own maleness may incline me, however much I struggle against it, to be less inclusive, compassionate toward outsiders, empathetic toward those who face social stigma and exclusion.
So what do you think—about whether women tend to be more open to full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life than men? And, if so, why? Please keep your responses restricted to the question. This is not an invitation to talk about the wider subjects of “gay rights”—in politics or church life. I will delete comments that go beyond the narrow scope of the question into advocacy.