Saturday, December 30, 2006

Men and Worship

My husband S picked up one of my library books that was lying around -- Malcom Muggeridge's The Third Testament. Not exactly light reading, but he'll read anything.

We talked late last night about the dominant themes in the book. The topic of religion comes up a lot in our house now, given my leading to start a church thingie. S talked about a few of his colleagues whom he admires a great deal. They belong to churches and have active church lives. They also have a noticeable inner peace. S focused on that. He said he'd really like to have a religious faith, but he hasn't found anything he can believe in. He'd like to have that inner serenity. But wanting to have that doesn't make one religious because it doesn't make one believe particular things. Or even to have faith where one doesn't have beliefs. It also cannot make you have religious experiences or a sense of the inner Light.

He's been to Meeting a few times but hasn't really been caught up in it. He comes to the potlucks to be friendly. But despite his years of being raised a Catholic and 10 years of being married to a Quaker, he hasn't "found religion."

Our meeting is full of women, most of them married to spouses who don't attend. There are very few men and only three married couples.

This isn't all that unusual. Most church congregations are more than 65% female. In fact, there is a website devoted to the problem of men and church (see But is serving beer and going to baseball games solving the problem? Is the problem a cultural one: that religion has turned into a feminine world? Or is it a brain type problem: that thinker-oriented people have more difficulty than feeler-oriented people with the type of emotional and psychic responses necessary for faith (or belief)?

Why is it that what we call religion is always a belief system? Why is it always focused on the feeling side of things, rather than on the action side of things? And focused on the non-rational, rather than the rational?

Whatever happened to Iron John anyway?


At 9:19 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for raising this important issue, Nancy! I visited the site you mentioned (, and intuitively I think overall they're on the wrong track, even though they have some of the details right.

I think most churches lack something that BOTH men AND women want, but they offer some secondary benefits that appeal more to women than to men. When there is power and money involved, or a heroic struggle against liberalism, of course, men are ready to belly right up and dominate. How many evangelical organizations have women among the head executives? (At least in the USA.) How many senior pastors of evangelical churches are women?

According to some studies of pastoral stress, male pastors are peculiarly caught in the church-and-sex-differences question, because they're often socialized into basing self-image on productivity, which either slants them toward "running" their churches like secular enterprises, using patterns of either traditional nested hierarchies (older churches) or personality-driven entrepreneurship (newer churches), or condemning them to chronic low self esteem, because a male pastor just can't demonstrate "productivity" the same way most of the other men in the church can.

This is a pretty superficial analysis, admittedly. I hope this discussion takes off; maybe I'll carry some of it on my blog. In the meantime, in connection with the possibility that most churches lack something that is needed by both men AND women, I continue to recommend Michael Frost's fascinating book, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Johan - My husband and I talked about similar themes, but not in the context of male evangelical clergy (which is something that I think Aj has blogged about once or twice, but it's also something I know nothing about), but in the context of Islam. I didn't want to put this in the main post, though.

Islam is having more "success" at attracting converts than Christianity, especially in Africa. But the converts are almost all men. The only large-group exceptions are women who marry Muslims (and therefore must convert), and the wives/daughters of men who convert. In effect, they join because they have to. I don't think a woman would decide on her own to join a religion that imposes such harsh restrictions on her life and freedoms.

We couldn't help wondering if that was part of the attraction to the men who joined (and maybe part of the attraction of Christianity in years gone by). If a religion exalts men and subordinates women, maybe it's more attractive to men, who want to feel that they're on top. It gives them that boost of power and manliness, especially in cultures where people have been treated badly. Maybe it's some kind of deep subconscious need for power-over and a subconscious scorn for power-through.

If instead a religion exalts or equalizes women, then does it become significantly less attractive to men?

It's kind of a stark analysis. But there has to be a reason why today so few men become clergy in our culture. The theological schools are full of women. Is it because there's no prestige or power associated with being clergy the way there was a hundred years ago?

Maybe it's slightly different in evangelical circles, but then, if it were, I'd be curious why.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Robin M. said...

My meeting is certainly over 50% male, but then it bucks the trends by also having a high proportion of single people and a high proportion of LGBT people.

One Friend here laments the lack of the motherly instinct among our highly male congregation - those who intuitively find ways to provide informal pastoral care. I think this is somewhat mitigated by our gay male community, which has some of this mutual care component, it just isn't as obvious to those not in the circle.

But even so, we have a serious lack of men, gay or straight, who could re-roof the meetinghouse. There isn't a rush to get home on Superbowl Sunday. It's not your stereotypical male culture around here.

Our adult religious education programs have largely served an academic/rational/historically focused crowd, in part because the man who has been the bedrock of the programs is that way.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger david said...

Given that a masters degree is required to serve as pastor, clergy salaries are not all that competitive. In a world where women get paid 60% of men on average I imagine the clerical salary looks better to women than men. PLURA churches also have paid benefits and car allowances.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger timothy said...

How interesting.

Raw nerve time, for me. My take is that there are so many illusions around about men and women that most of us, most of the time, are trying to be someone (and/or make others be someone) out of a cultural bestiary rather than dealing with ourselves or others from a point of truth.

No wonder our culture is as twisted and toxic as it is--all these people runing around trying to be someone--and making others be someone--that they are not.

I once prosecuted a termanation of parental rights action against a mother who, though she had done horrible things to her children, firmly believed that women were more nurturing to children than men. Only one example of the kind of ridiculous things that we all believe about ourselves and others because of the secondary sex characteristics that we were born with.

Don't even get me started on the myth of the status of women in the original Quaker Movement, on the modern practice of men's retreats and women's theological conferences.

Is there a female spirituality that differs from a maie spirituality? Really?

Our culture has split us up so that men (used to) to out and do "what has to be done" (regardless, often, of moral transgressions) and women stay home, kinder and kirche. But that's got nothing to do with the DNA--it has to do with the sex roles of the culture, what we are conditioned to. And, you will recall, there is but one who can speak to our condition(ing).


In North Pacific Yearly Meeting women run things. Men are far less likely to be clerks of the meeting on either of the three levels and to be clerks of Ministry or Oversight Committees. It's fine. Men are more alienated than women are but most individuals of both sexes believe the oddest things about themselves--all based on whether they are boys are girls.

Of course, we don't pay leaders over hear on the liberal side. Maybe that has something to do with it...

And, by the way, one of the biggest baseball fans I know (and I know a big baseball fan when I meet one--football or basketball not so much but baseball...) happens to be one of the wieghtiest female Friends. And my 16 year old daughter confuses men everywhere she goes with her grasp of baseball.

OK, this is too long.

Like I said, raw nerve time.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Timothy - oops, I don't think we were trying to drag out old stereotypes here. We're just trying to address a simple numbers thing.

I'm just posing the question Why?

It's kind of like addressing the question, Why are there so few women in top management positions? People put on gloves before they talk about this issue, because they have to address cultural, gendered, and systemic issues, any of which can be related to stereotypes. (Last year in Canada, the CEO of a major corporation made some comments on this subject in a speech, attributing it to maternity leave and reduced commitment to the workplace. He had to resign a few weeks later.)

Maybe this is the reason why nobody wants to talk about this issue. However, this still leaves church (generally) without men and men without church. Is it because we define church wrong? Are there barriers? Are there cultural or gendered issues involved? Do men just not want to come to church, or do churches just not want to accept men?

Ultimately, there has to be a reason (or several).

One thing I noticed in my visit to Next church was that there was 50% male attendance.

I wonder why.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

"Do men just not want to come to church...?"

Sounds like a good question for a listening project. It means seeking out men who don't go to church, asking them a few questions, and being prepared to listen:

Do you attend any worship services regularly? Why or why not?

If you don't attend worship services regularly, what would help?

If you could design the ideal worship service and/or faith community (or church), what would it look like or be like? What activities would there be--religious, social, or other?

What is it you want religion to be able to provide for you--greater influence in a congregation; greater influence in society; a sense of belonging; a greater understanding of why bad things happen to good people; a guaranteed solution for difficult social concerns; something else?

Just a few more things to stir the pot!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up


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