Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Men and the Church

I've been reading a lot about masculinity in the Evangelical church, and how we need more "manly" men to lead churches in America.  As one observer has noted, "There is no country where religion has so strong a hold upon the women or a slighter hold upon the men."  A quick rundown of some other statements will give a clear idea of what Christian leaders think of the problem:
  • "The church should embrace vigorous, robust, muscular Christianity...which shows the character and manliness of Christ."
  • "There was nothing mushy, nothing sweetly effeminate about Jesus...he was a man's man who turned again and again on the snarling pack of his pious enemies and made them slink away."
  • "The church...is calling, not for puny, weak-backed, dyspeptic, priggish apologies for men, but for strong, masculine, muscular fellows, who can hold their own with any man."
  • "There is not enough of effort, of struggle in the typical church life of today to win young men to the church...a flowery bed of ease does not appeal to a fellow who has any manhood in him."

I could go on, but I will stop there.  I suppose I should also now note I've been reading about "masculinity and the church" only because my master's thesis research is focused on aspects of American Christianity from 1880-1920, and that all the quotes from above were said or written more than 100 years ago by Protestant leaders such as Walter Rauschenbusch and Josiah Strong.  That's right...the fathers of the "social gospel" movement and the resultant liberalization of mainline Protestant denominations sounded an awful lot like Mark Driscoll (who is, perhaps unfairly, considered the posterboy for the "Christian-men-should-follow-every-male-stereotype" movement).  Actually, Driscoll sounds tame in comparison to the criticism of effeminate ministers during the social gospel era. Such ministers were described by one church leader as "thin, vapid, affected, driveling little doodles dressed up in men's clothes, but without an ounce of manhood in his anatomy."

Driscoll, of course, would decry the theological liberalism of his social gospel kin even if he accepted their "feminization of the church" thesis.  And, the truth is that he probably is closer in comparison to more theologically conservative men of the Progressive era like revivalist Billy Sunday, who answered one of his critics by saying "What do I care if some puff-eyed little dibbly-dibbly preacher goes tibbly-tibblying around because I use plain Anglo-Saxon words? I want people to know what I mean and that's why I try to get down to where they live."  Both Driscoll and Sunday are/were confrontational, theatrical, criticized by both conservatives and liberals, and loved ripping into current ideological trends (Modern-day paganism is to Driscoll as Christian Science was to Sunday).  There are clear differences, obviously...Driscoll values "Calvinist good theology" while Sunday said he knew "about as much theology as a jackrabbit."  But their supremely masculine, confrontational methods actually seem quite similar when one compares the two, and their success in gaining converts is also similar.

Maybe these surface-level comparisons add a bit of historical perspective, although it is always difficult to fully equate one era with another.  But at the very least, it should be noted that this is not the first time American Protestants have decried the lack of masculinity in Christianity.  One difference now compared to then seems to be that today, culture at large (Christian and non-Christian alike) is viewed as lacking in masculine values, while in the Progressive Era, it was thought that the masculine traits like heroism, courage, and a go-get-it-attitude were found in the culture at large but not in the church.  Much more room for comparison and analysis is available, I'm sure, but a short blog post like this is not likely to provide it....so I'll refer you to Clifford Putney's Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920, from which I stole over half of the quotes used above.