Thursday, February 09, 2006

New church fad

It seems that all sorts of fads sweep through the American churches. The latest one is the "church for men" movement. While they recognize what is in some cases a real problem --- a lot of men avoid church like the plague --- their analysis of the situation and their proposed solutions are misguided at best.

To their way of thinking, the typical church has become "feminized" (and that is viewed as a bad thing) and discriminatory to men. Anyone who reads this, of course, can't help but voice the obvious: "Wait a moment! It's the men who are in charge of the churches! How could they possibly be turning feminine?" The "church for men" have a quick answer. According to them, men in charge of churches and men who like going to church are not really masculine. They are not manly men. The problem with the church is that it is full of "little old ladies of both genders". (Hey, let's insult both men and women!) Their solution is to create a "church for men", one that will embrace the "masculine spirit".

I could not help but post to their online forum in response to the question, "What does a church for men do with women and children?"

My first post:
I can relate to this question, as I spent more than half of my marriage in churches that were more men-friendly than women-and-children-friendly. Because the leadership and the focus of these churches was directed towards men, a lot of "women and children" needs and issues simply didn't register to these well-meaning men.

For example, in order to help the men feel more comfortable in one church's services, women were discouraged from bringing their babies and small children. Some women were fine with this; they wanted a break from their children, or also found the presence of children distracting. (If we were distracted by the guy who always clipped his nails in church, we were told to keep quiet --- it was more important that he was there than that we were "comfortable".)

However, it never dawned on the church leadership that there would be a significant number of mothers with young infants who would not want to leave their little ones in the nursery, which was across the church campus from the sanctuary. It also did not dawn on the men that some of the mothers would need a place to nurse their infants other than in their cars in the parking lot. The women were then given access to the church library, and a closed circuit TV was set up so that they would not miss out on the service. I won't even go into how this supposed "Mother's Room" turned into a hangout room for some of the men (who seemed amused and fascinated by the TV, and who made the nursing mothers very uncomfortable by complaining about their breastfeeding!)

When I had babies while at that church, to be frank, it was extremely hard to go to church. At times it seemed pointless. Wouldn't it be much easier and more comfortable for me to stay home and watch a far better Bible expositor on TV, without having to run out to the car to nurse my baby so that I wouldn't have to deal with the breastfeeding jokes from men and the leers from teenage boys who had taken over the "mothers' room"?

That was just one symptom of a much bigger problem that I've seen in a number of churches. When women are not included in the leadership and decision making, when the focus of the church is primarily on the men, the needs of women and children are often ignored. It's not necessarily because the men are selfish; it's just that they simply do not think of these issues! (My husband, a very unselfish and caring sort, has spent years of our marriage saying in bewilderment, "I just never thought of that. I had no idea. Good thing you told me!")

In our previous church situation, and in others like it, I've noticed a pattern: the husbands who attend will usually be delighted with the church and want to stay. They will not understand their wives' discomfort. However, eventually something will happen that will open their eyes. Often, for involved fathers, it will be the realization that the church is somewhat family-unfriendly...a bit too focused on individualism...lacking in opportunities for their daughters...dismissing of women...They will begin to realize that, while their masculinity is being affirmed, their wives are feeling less and less a part of the church. As several fathers told me, they began to "miss" their wives and children while at church --- they felt that church was separating their family rather than bringing it together. So a number of men that I know have sought out churches that are more family-friendly, churches that will minister to their wives and children just as much as to the men.

I suppose that many here would view these men as having become "feminized". What I know is that, after over two decades of marriage, my husband seems at his most masculine to me when he is acting as a heroic husband and father, putting our needs above his own comfort level. When he chose our current church, in great part because he felt it would powerfully minister to our children, that seemed far more masculine to me than when he was unwilling to leave a church that made me feel out of place, unwelcome, and demeaned for embracing my role of motherhood.

What bothers me the most about this whole "church for men" movement is that, in order to sidestep the obvious reality that most churches in American are led by men, the leadership of this movement feels a need to call into question the masculinity of godly and righteous men who are willing to lay down their lives for others. Who are the real men? I think they are the ones who don't whine about needing a "church for men", but who are far more concerned with radical discipleship, and the needs of others.

If an exhausted nursing mother can drag herself to church Sunday after Sunday, while feeling unwelcome, I see no reason why a man can't be equally willing to sit in an environment he thinks doesn't affirm his masculinity. (Let's face it --- who designed those pews that men suddenly have decided are some sort of feminist plot against them?) After all, as I told myself for all those years, isn't church more about God than about me? Shouldn't I be there out of obedience, and in order to set an example for my children?

My second post:

One of the complaints of the "church for men" movement is that the churches are full of little old ladies (and then they usually go on to insult men and women by adding, "of both genders")

However, I would argue that the church should be full of little old ladies --- at least if we are practicing what the Bible calls "pure and undefiled religion". If so, we should be so concerned about widows and orphans that our churches are a haven for them.

Will a "church for men" be full of little old ladies? Will they be ministered to in their distress? Will they be welcomed and embraced?

Our church used to have a Valentine's Day banquet. I noticed something interesting since I've been attending. When a woman headed up the social committee, one of the major concerns was that this event be inclusive, and that the widows in the church would feel welcome. The "romance" theme was downplayed in favor of a Biblical message of the importance of love in the church body and in all of our relationships. But when men were in charge of the event, it was geared to married couples and to the marriage relationship. One year, for example, the men in the church were urged to bring their wives out to a special date where all the work would already be done for them. (The women had decorated the church hall, brought in their own china, made the tables look gorgeous, and helped with the cooking.)

One of the women in the church had just buried her husband. This banquet had been a special event for them, and she looked forward to spending the evening with friends from church. However, it seemed like the invitation was addressed to husbands only. She approached the man in charge and asked if she would still be welcome to attend. He told her it was for couples only and then quipped, "Do you want me to find you a date?" (He actually thought this was a hilarious joke, even when the men in church leadership later tried to persuade him otherwise.) She barely managed to control her tears, feeling hurt and bewildered. Why were the widows suddenly being excluded from this event? Why had it turned into a "cheap, easy date" for the convenience of the men in the church? (It was actually announced that way!)

I'm not saying that Valentine's Day banquets can not be husband-and-wife events. However, I found it interesting that when the women were in charge, they were concerned about the widows...but when the event became about the husbands, widows were treated insensitively.

When it is seen as a bad thing that there are widows in church, then we have gone far astray from the Bible. That is one of my concerns about a "church for men". We do not find a passage in Scripture that says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after men and create a church for them and their masculine spirit." Instead, we find:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

If our churches are full of little old ladies, we must be doing something right.
Hhmmm...I get the feeling they won't like me over there. How long before someone accuses me of being a feminist?


  1. Not long, Rebecca. In fact, I'll do it now if you need an official nomination....feminism: the radical notion that women are people. Rebecca...welcome to the feminist movement. Lois

  2. OK - maybe I am just a hopelessly insensitive male, and I agree that the "Do you want me to find you a date" joke was horrible, but if you stand back from it a bit, the whole valentine's adventure is quite funny. It reminds me of something you might see on an old Bob Newhart sitcom.

    That being said, I do agree completely with the point of this entry. But it is funny! (sorry)

    --A guy