I honestly tried my very best to read the whole article with an open mind…really, I did. But the words ‘Feminisation of the Church’ smacked me in the face as soon as I opened the page on a recent article by CVM’s Carl Beech in Children’s Work magazine. The premise of the article was ‘How do we need to change our children’s work to keep these men [in the church]?’
The article stated various issues as the reason men were leaving church, one being, the language of modern worship (e.g. ‘falling in love with Jesus’), as being for the ladies…and that men can’t relate. “Men don’t get the eros love for Jesus stuff.” Well, I don’t know about you but I can safely say that that kind of ‘lets fall in love’, fluffy, romanticised chit-chat within the context of worshipping God is off-putting to the extreme for me, and many other women I know. I too find the idea of ‘watching the sun rise as I’m gazing into Jesus eyes’ pretty weird and nauseating. But surely men aren’t leaving the church just because it’s a bit too ‘rom without the com?’
Throwing out well-worn stereotypes like this is destructive for both genders and misrepresents what the problem with the church actually is (hint: it’s not women). It implies that somehow women have been instrumental…perhaps even the key component, in the failing of the church to appeal to men.
Used in this disparaging context, ‘feminisation’ is like a Christian version of the word ‘slut’. It is a term used to shame part of the population rather than to properly explain or explore a serious issue. And shaming others for any reason, gets us no closer to a much needed solution or a joined up, gender-neutral approach to the issues.
I get it, it’s just a word and labels are handy – they help us make the world around us more manageable. The problems start when blame is implied as it clearly is with a phrase like ‘the feminisation of the church’ and a stated need to rescue it from such a fate. Quickly…we must save the church from the women!
Surely the failure of the church to engage men is the church’s fault as a collective? So why can’t we come up with a gender-neutral word to describe the mass exodus of men from our churches?
The sad truth is, it’s not just the church. We live in a wider culture where women nominated for Academy Awards are asked about ‘who they’re wearing’, rather than their significant accomplishment; successful sports stars are reduced to ‘twirling’ for the camera during a post-game interview. Young college-aged women are blamed for being raped because they were drunk or dressed ‘like they were asking for it’. Women in the workplace are told they must exercise decorum and submissiveness for no other reason than to make sure they don’t draw too much attention to themselves and be thought of as bossy.
Later in the article, it goes on to say that women should not “pretend to be masculine to compete”. And this is where I really also feel for the men. In as much as there is pressure on women to occupy certain stereotypes, for men this pressure is also very present. They must somehow embrace all that is seen to be ‘masculine’; to lead, to be strong, to be unemotional, to be impenetrable, to love the great outdoors by hiking and fishing, to kick ass! No wonder there’s an emerging crisis in masculinity in our culture!
Since when did having any of these qualities become sole and ‘must have’ property of men? Ever heard of Queen Boadicea? Joan of Arc? What about all the male poets like Wordsworth, sitting around admiring the daffodils? The men like Nicholas Sparks who have written great love stories about honour and sacrifice? To reduce men and women down to tired and limited stereotypes is tragic, and we seriously cheat ourselves if we go along with it.
The church is not ‘feminised’…it is broken. Women are not solely to blame for this. Indeed, it could be argued that in a church that has been predominantly led by men, the blame shifts squarely sideways. But that gets us into a petty ‘he did, she did’ debate that distracts us from the main issue – i.e. if the church is broken, how can we fix it?’
How can we help it reclaim its identity as a place of soul healing instead of mere entertainment? A place of authentic belonging instead of a place to simply try and fit in? A place of diversity that celebrates each person as an individual, without preconceived expectations, regardless of gender or any other difference?
It’s time for the Church to recognise that the language of oppression is subtle, and we are about freedom. That no one group is to blame for the problems the Church has but all can be part of a positive solution. That the church can and should be setting the standard for making all voices heard, celebrating every individual’s uniqueness regardless of gender. Isn’t it about time the church stepped up and set the standard with regards to equality rather than flow with the status quo?
Jude Trenier 2015
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