One of the challenges women face in ministry today is the accusation of the feminization of the church. There are a variety of platforms on which this accusation is hurled, but each of the platforms works against women in ministry.
How do these accusations fit with women’s experience of feeling marginalized in ministry in the church? Are these accusations legitimate? Men — what’s your experience in the local church? Do you sense this feminization? If so, how?
And, as you read this, I’m game for your comments and criticisms, but (again) keep them to the point and let’s exhibit Christian charity toward one another.
Here are the three accusations about feminization I have heard:
First, there is the accusation that the numbers of men are dwindling, and I hear lots of numbers — usually 60/40% of women/men in church participation. I looked at Barna and he has a number of men vs. women when it comes to church attendance, and his numbers are 44 (men) vs. 50 (women)%. I’m not sure what the “official” numbers are, nor do I know of careful longitudinal studies that would prove or disprove any significant change underway, but one thing is probably true: more women participate in the church than men. However, I doubt this is either news or that there are major shifts underway.
If the numbers of males are dwindling, that must indicate — so it is argued — that the church has become feminized and there needs to be a change in order to attract males.
Second, there is the accusation that the Christian faith has been feminized. The most quoted study I’ve seen on this is Leon Podles, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. He contends it all took place in the 13th Century, and that it involved three themes: bridal mysticism (Bernard of Clairvaux), the women’s movement of that era, and academic, theological scholasticism — leading to the dominant image of the “feminine” as receptivity. And this led to the centralization of the image of “receptivity” as the central Christian virtue, leading more women to be interested in the Church.
In more recent popular discussion, I’m hearing about songs that treat Jesus as a woman or that our songs are really just love songs. Actually, I think if the songs are depicting Christ as the female, this trend would have to be that the Church has been masculinized. (I doubt anyone makes that case.)
Which leads to a third accusation:
There is the accusation of the lack of masculine image in the church. So, the feminine image has replaced the masculine image. To become a good Christian, a male — in effect according to Podles and others — has to become feminine. So, some are proposing a more masculine, or muscular, form of Christianity and each of these threatens women in ministry as well. Here are the elements in that version:
1. Christian males are to pursue manliness and physicality.
2. Christian males are to become moral examples to others.
3. Christian males are to be more conscious of their health.
4. Christian males are to be patriotic.
Pursuit of such goals develops character. Such character, and here I draw a bit from Podles, will lead to genuinely masculine characteristics: self-sacrifice, martyrdom, brotherly love, and this will create an environment of challenge followed by struggle and victory. The technical word here is that Church would become more “agonistic.”