Matthew Cochran, a Concordia Theological Seminary lay graduate who blogs at 96th Thesis has a provocative article in The Federalist entitled If You Want Men In Your Church, Stop Treating Them With Contempt.
Responding to a New York Times column by Ross Douthat, “God and Men and Jordan Peterson,” on the churches’ gender gap, Cochrane argues that the reason men tend to be less active in church than women is that churches treat them with contempt.
It isn’t just churches. The culture as a whole is treating men with contempt, so men are also withdrawing from family, higher education, and many careers.
But men haven’t drawn away from religion in Islam or conservative Judaism. So why is this happening in Christianity?
Cochrane compares Mother’s Day sermons, which are usually odes of praise to Motherhood, to Father’s Day sermons, which–as he shows from an online sampling–tend to berate fathers for doing such a poor job. He also takes to task the way churches teach about men and women, including toning down those unpopular Biblical texts on the wife’s submission.
He also tosses off a stunning statistic about divorce that I had never heard before: That 60-80% of divorces are initiated by the wife.
So Christians “defend” the Bible by placarding a few passages that sound maybe-sort-of feminist (e.g. “Deborah!” “In Christ there is no male and female!”), while ignoring and even obfuscating all the passages that cannot possibly be reconciled with feminist philosophy (“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man”). . . .
God’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 is probably the most hated Bible passage in America. Without exception, both in church and at seminary, every time I have heard Ephesians 5 taught, the “husbands, love your wives” part was laid out straightforwardly with a healthy dose of shame for men who do not aspire to love their wives as Christ loves the church.If we teach the female half of our congregations that God’s instruction is to be carefully avoided, the male half is going to learn the same lesson.
This is as it should be—flattery of men is not the solution here. Nevertheless, when those same teachers taught the part that instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto Christ, they spent the entire time hedging—explaining nothing while piling up (often dubious) exceptions until submission had no tangible meaning at all. And that’s if they didn’t just gloss over it entirely.
This is poor instruction, particularly when we consider which part our culture is most apt to rebel against. If we teach the female half of our congregations that God’s instruction is to be carefully avoided, the male half is going to learn the same lesson—and they won’t be oblivious to the blatant hypocrisy.
Our churches similarly neglect God’s teaching on divorce. To our shame, while conservative Christians will usually stand firm against “liberal” sins (abortion, homosexuality, etc.) we’re less apt to address sins that involve most of the people in our congregations. This is true of many sins, but divorce is the big one of which men are disproportionately the victims.
After all, depending on what study you look at, between 60 and 80 percent of divorces are unilaterally carried out by wives against their husbands.
Is Cochrane’s point fair? Are there other reasons why men might not like to be involved with church? Some have noted the “feminization” of the church–its adoption of touchy-feely emotions and romantic talk about Jesus–which goes beyond allegedly holding contempt for men.
And might men deserve to be criticized in this age of absent fathers and callous husbands? After all, if women are initiating most of the divorces, why is that? Shouldn’t a man who is the spiritual head of his family, in whom by virtue of his vocation is hidden Christ in His relationship with the church, prevent that from happening?
But even so, does he still have a point?
Illustration, “Portrait of a Man” (2004-2005) by Gert Germeraad [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons