Month: October 2012

“Passive, feminised Christianity”: a chickified dude with limp wrists strikes out at a misogynistic concept

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.

Link: a series on deconversion

So many friends have lost their faith that ‘deconversion’ is an issue of existential importance to me. I came across this interesting (unfinished?) series on it by Bradley Wright et al. These scholars examined fifty deconversion stories on a website of ex-Christians, and looked for patterns and convergences in the self-descriptions of why people had left their faith.

They found a lot of the subjects emphasising intellectual problems with Christianity – from the genocide of Noah’s flood to the unfairness of hell. (I suspect that this would not hold true for a more representative and less computer-savvy, wordy sample.) Another common theme was God failing them – not answering prayers, not being true to his promises, not being apparent in any real way. The third main theme was other Christians responding tritely to their doubts. That makes me angry – I can imagine what they’re talking about. Believers who cannot appreciate the problems with Christianity have no business being unsympathetic or dismissive of their brothers and sisters who can. Ironically, so many evangelicals, particularly, would be dismissive of doubt in their zeal to not allow in a sliver of unbelief – and yet this response has only pushed doubters further out of the fold.

The academic article is available free from the Journal of Religion and Society.

It’s my theory that this study misses the silent majority of deconverters, who would not be able to articulate their drift from Christianity so clearly and for whom social factors are just as important: teenagers not fitting into their church youth group; adults finding churches to be uniformly disappointing.