It disturbs me that I keep hearing phrases like ‘a passive, feminised Christianity‘ and ‘men are staying away from the feminized church’. Mark Driscoll has me nailed – trust a ‘chickified dude with limp wrists’ to get worried about this stuff. A middle-aged friend complained to me that her church had become too feminine, and that was why some men had stopped coming – never mind that in this church, women aren’t even allowed to lead the service, let alone preach! The misogynistic assumptions behind this language and this concept should be obvious – feminine=negative, masculine=positive; feminine=passive, masculine=active. How can we talk like this, even after our eyes (should) have been opened to centuries of the oppression of women in churches?
Mark Driscoll didn’t invent this thinking; the New York Times quotes Billy Sunday making the complaint in 1916. But Driscoll is certainly the face of an aggressive evangelical masculinity taken up by Young Calvinists. I’ve heard rumours of sermons about cagefighting.
Yet if this language and critique is directed at the emotions-driven, megachurch style of evangelicalism which has become dominant, it is a beast which needs to be targeted. Passive church is not what the body of Christ is meant to look like. Church should be participatory, multi-voiced, the gifts of the Holy Spirit enabling the members to form different parts of the body. (Megachurch advocates will claim this happens in small groups.)
The problem, then, is not the target but the diagnosis. To call ‘emotional’ and ‘passive’ essentially feminine traits is unfair and sexist. To my mind, emotional worship and passive churches have come about from the mainstreaming of Pentecostalism and the rise of megachurches. And actually, passive worship extends right back in time to the transformation from multi-voiced churches to priest-focused churches. Different groups – Anabaptists included – have challenged this, but multi-voiced has never been recovered as the norm.
Six years ago, Sean Michael Lucas wrote a thoughtful post about the historical context of the concept of the ‘feminisation’ of American culture. More recently came a great reflection on the stereotypes involved from a Baptist pastor, Sarah Fegredo.