Why Western Christianity is Effeminate, Part 1

Why Western Christianity is Effeminate, Part 1 December 14, 2016


I’m in the midst of a flurry of last minute edits to my manuscript, Man of the House before I send it off to my editors. Consequently my posts here at Patheos are down to one a week for the time being.

In part, because I don’t want to leave something out of my book, and also just because I’ve really wanted to read it, I’m finally working my way through Leon Podles book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity.

I’m happy to report that Lee and I are of the same mind on many issues. But to the point, only a person who hasn’t attended a church in the Americas or western Europe doesn’t already know that women outnumber men in the pews of most churches.

You’d never know this from reading the complaints of gender-egalitarians or out-and-out feminists though.

Lee’s chapter, Armies of Women begins,

Despite the constant complaints of feminists about the patriarchal tendencies of Christianity, men are largely absent from the Christian churches of the modern Western world. Women go to church; men go to football games. Lay men attend church activities because a wife, mother, or girl friend has pressure them. (p.3) 

Social scientist know the truth, and their hard data are undeniable.

The most exact figures for the United States come from the 1936 Census, the last government tally of religious affiliation: in Eastern Orthodoxy the ratio of women to men is .75-.99 to one; Roman Catholics, 1.09 to one; Lutherans 1.04-1.23 to one; Mennonites, 1.14-1.16 to one; Friends, 1.25 to one; Presbyterians 1.34 to one; Episcopalians, 1.37 to one; Unitarians, 1.40 to one; Methodists, 1.33-1.47 to one; Baptists, 1.35 to one; Assembly of God, 1.71 to one; Pentecostals, 1.71-2.09 to one;. . .

Is there any doubt that the numbers are even more skewed toward women today?

My own anecdotal evidence corroborates all this: from my time at Harvard Divinity (and other haunts where feminists like to dwell), to the many churches I’ve visited or preached in. Women out number men, often 2 to one, sometimes even 3 to one, or 4 to one.

Fortunately, the results of my personal ministry have been somewhat atypical. I’ve never had difficulty reaching men or getting them to come to church. The churches I’ve served have had a healthy parity between the sexes. It’s not due to my use of sports or hunting analogies in preaching though, I think it more or less comes down to the fact that I actually like being a man and I relate well to men. I actively reach out to men. For instance, one of my favorite things to do is to meet with guys for lunch during the week.

But I know that’s not the norm. After I left my last church it was nearly killed by an effeminate guy who seemed to be hen-pecked by his wife. I’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing. This reminds me of an Indian woman who was a fellow student at Harvard Divinity School when I was there. In class one day she remarked that all of her instructors had prepared her for the evils of patriarchy in the local church. What she actually experienced was tyrannical old women who pushed her around. She really wished she had more men–any men really. Even though I liked her I couldn’t help saying to myself, “Good luck with that.”

The uncomfortable truth is western Christianity doesn’t like men and hasn’t for a long time. And if the feminists get their way, western Christianity will finally purge its membership of them. (At least of masculine men.)

Leon Podles has amply documented the antipathy of western Christianity toward manliness. Here are just a couple of instances. (The book has 70 pages of endnotes.)

Sarah J. Hale (in 1860) went so far as to claim that women are not as fallen as men: “He is naturally selfish in his affections; and selfishness is the sin of depravity. But woman was not thus cast down.” (p.33)

It would be nice if we could attribute this attitude to the ravings of Temperance Society feminism, but this has roots in the Middle Ages.

In a medieval manuscript, in what is perhaps a rhetorical exercise in sic et mon, we find claims that “Woman is to be preferred to man, wit in material: Adam made from clay, and Eve from the side of Adam; in place: Adam made outside paradise and Eve w’in; in conception: a woman God conceived God which a man did not do; in apparition: Christ appeared to a woman after the Resurrection, to wit the Magdalene; in exaltation: a woman is exalted above choirs of angels, to wit the Blessed Mary.” (p.35)

This is just a sample. Lee goes on and on. And it all accords with my experience. I’ve heard very similar things from the mouths of self-hating evangelical men.

Now why would a man with a healthy self-regard subject himself to this sort of thing? Well, he doesn’t.

Link to photo’s origin.

And the residue of this stuff has saturated the broader culture so much that I know that the first thing I have to do when I’m reaching out to a man for the first time is pass a masculinity test. It can come in different forms. Once I’m past that, then I still have to deal with other matters. But with masculine men, this is the first challenge.

So what gives? According to Podles the problem goes way back, and its roots are theological. Most attempts to make Christianity more appealing to men fail to dig up these roots. They’re not radical enough. Instead they rely on packaging. But there is a dissonance between the theology and the packaging of your typical men’s event. All the guys in the “worship band” may be wearing football jerseys but they’re still singing “Jesus is my boyfriend” music.

That’s because western Christianity really does think of Jesus as a romantic partner. Lee gets into that later in the book, and I’ll talk about it in another post. But at this point let’s just say the undercurrent of femininity is so strong in western Christianity that it tinctures everything. There is just no escaping it.

Link to photo’s origin.

This wasn’t always the case. And one of the things Lee really stresses is just how different things are in the Eastern Church. There the undercurrent is undeniably masculine. This is something I’ve picked up on whenever I’ve looked at the iconography of Eastern Christianity. Just contrast the images here–Sallman’s androgynous head of Christ and this fairly typical icon from the East of Christ the judge.

It all bleeds into our liturgies, like it or not. Second Great Awakening hymnody is not only emotive and teary-eyed, it is emasculating. And high liturgy can be worse. The other night in a discussion group I lead a friend felt a need to defend boys choirs even though I never thought to bring them up.

But since he did so, let’s finish this post with a little contrast between the West and the East. First the Vienna Boys Choir singing about the Christ as revealed by John the Revelator. (Why boys should be chosen to address this underscore my point, I think.)

Now a Russian Orthodox choir singing Anathema in basso profondo. Considering the theme, I believe the form is apropos. Now try to even imagine this choir, let alone the theme, being performed in your typical evangelical, or Roman Catholic Church.

Case made.

Until next time.

Browse Our Archives

error: Content is protected !!