“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.

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

  1. Haha. I thought to myself what is the coincidence that two Perthites have blogged on the same subject within days, then I saw the comments and clicked on the links. Then the penny dropped. They are in response to each other.

    I think reading both posts has firmed up for me that true Christianity is/should neither be feminine or masculine at the expense of the other. Christianity is whole hearted allegiance to Jesus, whether limp wristed or bulging out of your shirt. And whole hearted allegiance to Jesus should bring out the best in us whether we are either of the above. Should it not?

  2. Personally, I wonder if churches have not been degendered enough. For more fundamentalist churches it can feel like church is the most important thing in the world so that’s why men do it. For more liberal churches it can feel like church is a less important secondary thing so (like school teaching before it) we let the women do that. There seems to be very little in between even Margaret Court comes across more like a Julie or Bishop trying to out men the men at their own game.

    Also I’ve heard about the cage fighting sermons. Of course there is nothing homoerotic about two physically fit near naked young men slathered in oil chasing each other around a closed room until one is able to pin one to the floor and start pounding the other while they lay groaning…

  3. Probably the subtext for this is an anti-gay animus since the two are often related – women and homosexuality, specifically male, seem to ring alarm bells for those in favour of a “muscular, manly Christianity”

  4. @Ben, I agree, and that should be our starting point – bringing out the best in what we are, being more human – which doesn’t mean being more like the male stereotype.
    @Chris, interested to hear more – do you mean the church has started to be degendered, and this is what ‘masculinists’ are angry about, but it needs to go further?
    @surrelativity – that is perceptive, you could be right.

  5. Hi Nathan,

    Driscoll’s muscular Christianity is based partly (I suspect) on his Calvinism and the right wing interpretation of the role of women and cloaking women’s inequality under the guise of the doctrine of complementarity. Men and women are equal but have different roles and only men can lead in the church and in their homes.

    If I have interpreted Driscoll correctly, then I would suggest that more recognition of the patriarchal social structure into which Jesus came and Jesus’ whole message of the Reign of Shalom with its peacemaking and jubilee economics might provide a better framework than the Augustinian -Calvinist framework of Driscoll for enabling us to see the need for women in leadership positions based on their gifting.

    Also seeing God through the lens of he humanity of Jesus might actually take us away from a musclar Christianity with its top down power towards a compassionate and caring Christianity with its bottom up power.

    After all, it is not just about numbers of people in pews, but about following the praxis of Jesus in our socio-economic, religious and politcal contexts today and seeing jesus not only as Saviour (one who makes us whole), but also as model. If men are drifting away because some churches are becoming more tender, compassionate and kind, then it is about time the men of the church began to actually READ THE JESUS STORY and make it their story by LIVING in it.

    John Arthur

  6. Hi Nathan, I’ve been reading your blog a little lately. I find some of your thoughts refreshing, though as you would imagine i disagree at points. I recognise the validity of what you are saying in this post. It is the megachurch ‘feeling’ oriented Churches which drive many men away. This approach, which emphasises feelings and the ability of Christ to meet human needs, is often associated with femininity. Myself and various other men I talk to genuinely struggle with being in Churches which have this approach. Most of us are driven towards more conservative gospel centered Churches such as Saint mathew’s, because of their bible centered preaching. Instead of topical sermons they exegete scripture. The clincher is that they are not afraid to challenge their audience. It is this tendency to challenge people with biblical truth that is missing from mainstream evangelicalism.

  7. Interesting comment – rings true. As you can imagine, I’m no apologist for mainstream evangelicalism / megachurch. I would make some of the same criticisms as the Reformed Evangelicals would. Like Roger Olson, I lament the lack of a strong third way. Yet there are a few preachers out there even in Perth who are not capital R Reformed and challenge with Jesus-truth – which comes, of course, from the Bible. I’m thinking of preachers like Travis Fitch, Michael Bullard and Michael O’Neil. There’s no sense of a strong movement, of course, like the ‘Young Calvinists’ have at AFES-St Matt’s-etc.

  8. I should also add that I do still find it misogynistic to label the mistakes of the megachurch as essentially a feminising of the gospel. (I know you were [only] reporting on what people say.) A focus on feelings and needs isn’t essentially male or female.

  9. I recognise that being feelings oriented isn’t ‘particular’ to either sex Nathan. However, I feel like what i have observed in ‘general’ is that women are more comfortable with that sort of Church than men are. Although you dont agree, I think that women have a predisposition to being more feelings oriented than men. I’m unsure whether it is culturally conditioned or biological. I dont think it is neccesarily a bad thing, for example ive found that women are often more empathetic than men. I honestly dont think that noting any vastly generalised differences between males and females is all that bad. Though I definitely agree with you on one thing. Clearly Driscolls manliness crusade is missguided and his attacks on all the men who do not fit his mold of manliness are outright foolish and are probably damaging to the psyche of ‘limp wristed’ men who hear is sermons. There is no mold of manliness of femininity, just general predispositions which are not true for vast numbers of individuals.

    I’m not really drawn to Saint Mathews as it is too far away. I just admire their biblical preaching. I would take the Calvinists over the mega church any day. I’m happy to send disenchanted mega Churchers there.

    I attend Michael O’neil’s chapel every two weeks. I’ve always loved and respected Michael. He knows I dont like Calvinism (I think Michael would consider himself some sort of Arminian) but is a helpfull guide in developing my own theological system. Although Michael is a ‘kind of Calvinist’ I really enjoy his sermons (which are only really mini sermons, as we discuss as a group more than we sit and listen to Michael speak) because they come from the bible, and arnt some topical pop psychology crap that he cooked up in a board meeting. I’m not as far left as you might think (unless Calvinism is in the center?!!). While I’m certainly not a Calvinist, I still hold that the bible is in some sense inspired, though I would probably emphasise the humanity of the authors. I believe that Christ died and was ressurected. However, I’m unsure whether this is declarative (as in a non violent atonement) or causitive. Though I lean towards this being causitive with some declarative mixed in, I am open to it being strictly declarative.
    Still an open theist Nathan? dont go process on me!
    Ps. will you be at the graduaction night?

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