Friday, May 11, 2007

Orthodox are from Mars; Evangelicals are from Venus

I recently came across an interesting article written by Mr. Jim Ellis of the Associated Press. Called “God for Guys” with the subtitle of, “Sports-Oriented Terminology Used To Attract Men to Church,” the article focuses on the attempts of several evangelical pastors across the country to address the problem of declining male membership in their churches.

Various studies have been conducted over the years to examine the “gender imbalance” of American congregations. One prominent survey indicates that the average U.S. adult church congregation is 61% female, and another found that most churches are only about 35% male. Clearly “church going” is not high on the priority list for most American men.

According to David Murrow, author of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004), “Going to church is perceived as womanly behavior. We don’t go to church for the same reason we don’t wear pink.” Chuck McKeown, the pastor of the United Brethren in Christ in Holy Hill, Florida added with concern, “If the church is going to survive, we have to get men plugged back in.”

Clearly there is something deeply wrong with the way that Americans “do church”. The question I have is whether evangelicals will be able to determine the true cause of the problem and confront it, or whether they will simply trot out a new batch of “seeker-sensitive” gimmicks to create a more masculine façade for their churches and declare the issue solved. Unfortunately, the pastors highlighted in the article seem to have opted for the latter. As you may have guessed from the aforementioned subtitle, sports-themed services are now being offered to lure men back to church.

I kid you not.

In some of these churches, special “guys-only” services are now being held each week in the more masculine-friendly environment of the gymnasium rather than in sissy church sanctuaries, with the worship leaders going by the macho title of “coach” instead of “pastor”. Other churches are offering men’s barbecue services, with your choice of chicken or burgers, after which the grill-monkeys separate into smaller discussion groups, perhaps to savor the rich, masculine flavor of the day’s suggested bible passage.

Other thoughtful changes include cutting the length of Sunday services in half, presumably so that men won’t get bored and will be able to get back home to their TVs in time to watch the real game, and introducing worship music designed to appeal more to masculine tastes. Now there’s a change long overdue! The cuddly Jesus depicted in much of contemporary Christian music, who wants to kiss our boo-boos and help us feel better about our inadequacies, plays rather poorly with most men. At least with those men who don’t wear pink.

Leon Podles, author of the book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Spence, 1999), wrote that the historic roots of this problem in evangelicalism go back a tiny bit. “The Second Great Awakening, during the early 1800s, helped to advance the liberation of women and changed some of the dynamics of churchgoing,” Podles writes. “Not only were women attracted to the sweeping reforms pushed by revivalists of the period, but the evangelists would attempt to reach men through their wives, hoping the wives would pressure husbands and sons to join them in church.”

If I am interpreting Podles correctly, it would seem that evangelicalism, eventually born of this American Protestant “Great Awakening” movement, became at its very founding a largely feminine-oriented phenomenon, overwhelmingly populated by—God help us—nagging wives! Nearly a century and a half later, this was cleverly portrayed by Norman Rockwell in his famous painting “Sunday Morning”:

Notwithstanding the obvious error that evangelicals engage in when they deny the actual historical origins of their sect and attempt to portray their movement as authentically representing “First-century” Christianity, there is also the matter of the basic denial of just how much influence feminine sensibilities have had on shaping their distinctive theology during the short time they have actually existed upon this earth. This issue goes well beyond the girly music and soft décor evident in many churches, right to the heart of what they believe about salvation and the nature of the Christian life itself.

If you read about what really took place in the first centuries of Christianity and what was believed by our early Fathers, you will discover a much more militant form of the faith. The history of the first 300 years of Christianity is unmistakably written in the blood of the martyrs. Men put themselves and the lives of their entire families at great and imminent risk if they dared profess belief in Christ. In those days the gospel wasn’t presented by women with big hair and too much makeup, batting their over-laden eyelashes and sobbing, “Jesus just wants to come into your life and show you how much He loves you!” By contrast, many Roman men came to faith in Christ by witnessing the courage and manly determination demonstrated by Christians who chose brutal torture and horrible death over denying Jesus Christ. Like it or not, it is in the nature of men to respond favorably to that kind of brave commitment, and to take it very seriously.

Far from frightening men away from Christian faith, the fiery crucible of Roman persecution actually attracted men to the faith, who found in the witness of the martyrs something truly worth living and dying for themselves. Men are funny that way.

Beyond the ever-present threat of martyrdom, early Christianity also portrayed itself as “the narrow and difficult way” leading to salvation, and a life of spiritual warfare and ascetic struggle. Our early Fathers were true and manly spiritual warriors, wrestling not against the flesh and blood of others as Islamic jihadists do, but against the sins and corruption of their own fallen human nature in order to be conformed by the grace of God into the image of the perfect humanity of Christ. Long vigils of prayer, strict fasting, many prostrations, watchfulness, and ongoing repentance were a few among the many elements which formed the very backbone of the early Church’s understanding of Christ’s command to “deny yourself daily, take up your cross, and follow Me”.

St. Paul well understood the value of such intensive asceticism (“athletic discipline”), though his words are frequently reinterpreted to “spiritualize” and soften their meaning today. Paul often used the metaphor of athletic competition to characterize the Christian faith, speaking of the need to train well, to run with endurance, to compete as to win. He never indicated that simply entering the race would guarantee the prize, but that victory must be won. He wrote to the Corinthians of his own physical conditioning which he directly connected to his hoped-for spiritual victory, telling them that he buffeted his own body, to bring it under submission, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Contemporary evangelicalism is decidedly opposed to such portrayals of the Christian life, which is understandable given the feminine influence that has shaped it. Until recently at least, it was still safe to say that most women were somewhat less attracted to intense struggle, competition, and dying for a good cause than their men, who are simply wired differently. This is another reason why evangelicals long ago set aside the study of early Christian Patristics, and fairly breeze over them in their seminaries. Such writings appear too “hard edged” to modern sensitivities, and delicate evangelical theologians routinely dismiss the early Christians as “having forgotten the gospel of salvation by grace” and of substituting “the theology of works” in its place.

Today’s evangelicalism presents the very picture of salvation without struggle. By simply saying a sinner’s prayer or by shyly raising your hand when everyone else’s heads are bowed, you are instantly and eternally saved. The “narrow and difficult way” of Christianity that Jesus taught is now seen as the narrow and difficult way to Christianity. In other words, the only hard part is moving from unbelief to belief in Christ; after that you are welcomed into the loving arms of Jesus who will take all your hurts away and grant you the abundant life. Rather than being characterized as a diligent and determined commitment to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” and “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), the Christian life has been redefined as a “relationship” (A somewhat soft and feminine description, found nowhere in the bible) in which Jesus promises never to leave us or forsake us, but to love us forever ("Sigh"…doesn’t He sound just dreamy?).

In the bible, we are told that if we believe in Jesus we will be saved. Early Christians understood that the term “believe in Jesus” implied a lifelong reliance upon Him and a determined, faithful obedience to His commandments, without turning back from the effort or denying Him before men. Salvation was seen as the undeserved but gracious crown bestowed by God upon the spiritual athlete who so labored out of love for Him. Christian history is filled with many “hero stories” of courageous men (And women, by the way!) who boldly “fought the good fight” and persevered in the faith with patience until the end.

For salvation purposes, evangelicals interpret all the bible verses which call us to “believe in Jesus” so that they no longer represent a lifetime of actions, but a single action, a one-time declared “acceptance” of Christ that forever seals salvation and ushers one instantly into “the Sabbath rest of God”. Contrast this with earlier Christianity which saw the initial acceptance of Christ as marking the beginning of “the great contest” in which the believer entered into the “arena of souls” to battle against the passions of the fallen flesh and the invisible forces of evil to emerge transformed and victorious by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

The salvation scheme of evangelicalism reminds me of the new children’s sports that are now being pushed by “progressives” in the public education system which allow no competition, no victors or losers, no hurt feelings, and everyone wins an equal prize for simply entering the game. Dear God, the Venusians have landed and have taken over our schools and our churches! No wonder real men prefer to stay home and watch football on Sunday mornings. At least in that setting the outcome is still decided by blood and struggle.

Some of the Orthodox churches in the Old Countries have also experienced a decline in men over the last century, and have sometimes been characterized as “full of children and old Babushkas”. Thankfully this trend has been reversing in recent days in many regions. Nevertheless the problem with the Orthodox churches there is different from the problem with evangelical churches here. There it is simply the old familiar human problem of sin, and many men’s reluctance to submit their lives to Jesus Christ. Here the problem is not just with our men, but with the evangelical churches themselves and the feminized theology they promote. Men are warriors by nature, and denied the opportunity to fight and struggle in church, they truly do prefer to stay home and at least watch others do it on the football field.

The answer to this is not sports-themed services, but perhaps a return to Pauline sports-themed theology. Men need to struggle and compete and emerge victorious. We are simply built that way. While I deeply appreciate women’s efforts to subdue the worst of those traits in us and make us men more civilized, I fear that in evangelical Christianity they have been overly successful and have emasculated the Christian faith in most of their churches. Evangelicalism is not going to reverse this damage with a few gimmicky ideas. It truly needs to rediscover the historic Orthodox Christian faith in which men are allowed to be men and to function as God intended for them. Christian Orthodoxy is not the enemy of evangelicalism as some ill-informed apologists today imagine and portray it. It may well turn out to be the very salvation of it.

17 Comments:

At 5/11/2007 4:44 PM , Blogger The last cause said...

Other churches are offering men’s barbecue services, with your choice of chicken or burgers, after which the grill-monkeys separate into smaller discussion groups, perhaps to savor the rich, masculine flavor of the day’s suggested bible passage.

A Church service with BBQ? Where? Where?

That would be a great time to get to know ones fellow parishoners one on one and share one another's burdens...

Out of curiosuity, would this not be a good opportunity ot have real fellowship outside of listening to the sermon or singing the hyms?

 
At 5/11/2007 5:09 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Yeah, we have barbecues at our parish in our monthly men's meetings. But we do not advertise these events as a viable substitute for Sunday worship services.

There is a difference between the two, or didn't you notice?

 
At 5/11/2007 8:53 PM , Blogger The last cause said...

I didn't really notice actually, one seemed "hot" over all of this. For myself, it is a shame that a Church has to soft pedal so much, "Come to our Nascar 4th of July BBQ and Jamboree and then in small letters "oh yes, we will have a small service before the festivities commence".

That sort of thing never lasts, the bar can only be raised so high and then the whole thing becomes absurd.

All milk, no meat, weak roots.

 
At 5/11/2007 9:21 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

I wonder if you actually read my entire post.

 
At 5/11/2007 11:17 PM , Anonymous trenna said...

Bravo Father!

 
At 5/12/2007 12:28 PM , Blogger Trevor said...

(And women, by the way!)

I was glad to see at least this brief remark, but how about discussing in more detail the way that even women exemplify the ascetic struggle? The Theotokos is "our champion leader," and the countless virgin and mother martyrs put their male captors and torturers to shame with their courage. So, masculine, yes--but any Orthodox man who doesn't respect women is clearly missing the point as well!

And on the flip side, Orthodox heroes are honored for their meekness, submission, humility; and far from the rock star image of a man whose macho is seen in his countless bed-partners, we emulate those who have remained celibate. Where would Orthodoxy be without all those little old ladies and their sons who eschewed the typically male career-centered life, the typically masculine roles of husband and father, and instead became life-long monastics? It's such a radically different picture!

 
At 5/12/2007 4:31 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Quite right, Trevor. Bear in mind however that my post was in response to an AP article on the disppearance of men from evangelical churches, and the silly gimmicks that are being tried to reverse the trend.

There was no intention on my part to slight the women of the Church, but I needed to stick to the issue at hand.

My posts are already WAY too long as it is! :o)

 
At 5/13/2007 2:13 PM , Blogger Philippa said...

Last week I laughed with my husband as we read an article about a new Men's Golf Bible. Its scriptural "lessons" were centered on golf-isms!

Following Christ and living a God centered life is not for chickens! BBQ not withstanding!

(aka Trudy)

 
At 5/13/2007 8:15 PM , Blogger The last cause said...

That would depend on what you mean by "Read your entire post".

Of course I read the whole thing, but like a good homemade mac and cheese, it is very dense chock full of thoughts and insights.

So many in fact it is hard to engage them all actually, and the fact that i tend to agree with your views on this.

I do have to wonder if BBQ's and the whole bit will introduce a few to Christ and then they become sincere Christians not the lukewarm need a gimmick types.

 
At 5/14/2007 10:34 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Quote: "I do have to wonder if BBQ's and the whole bit will introduce a few to Christ and then they become sincere Christians not the lukewarm need a gimmick types."

Well, we could hope for that, I suppose. However that still does not address the feminization of evangelical culture and theology that is the root cause of men disappearing from their churches in the first place. Is some soft and pudgy minister who dons a striped shirt and a whistle and gushes, “Call me ‘coach,’ guys!” truly what real men are looking for in church? Such obvious affectations seem only to underscore the girlish orientation of a faith that has long ago abandoned any genuine masculine content and is trying to “butch up” artificially. It sounds more like “The Village People” than true Christianity. What next, worship leaders who dress up in camouflage and say, “Let’s all play Army men for Jesus”? Most of the men I know would not be caught dead in such a goofy service.

Outreach geared toward men is a necessary idea. A monthly men’s meeting featuring a barbecue is a great opportunity for men in the church to bond and to invite their unchurched friends. But if men avoid the regular Sunday services because they find nothing appealing in them, or indeed find them rather wimpy, then we are right back to the original problem.

As I said, “gimmicks” are not the answer. What is needed is a return to the more ascetical form of Christianity known to our fathers, and the spiritual struggle inherent in such a faith. Christian men don’t need to be coddled and cooed to “in the gentle arms of Jesus”. What they need is a faith that provides them with the strong discipline and training to “take the kingdom of heaven by force” as Jesus taught. Such is in our basic nature, even if it is largely forgotten today.

 
At 5/14/2007 8:06 PM , Blogger Philippa said...

Well said, Father (re: your last comment). Our society has feminized everything. What I believe we women need to do is stop bashing men and putting them down. TV programs like "Everybody Loves Raymond" only allows the continuing of tearing men down rather than raising them up.

It's is almost like women are saying, "Since we can't be powerful like men, then let's tear them down and bring them down to our feminine level."

This is a hot button for me. Raise our boys to be men!! There is nothing wrong with that!

(aka Trudy)

 
At 5/16/2007 5:38 AM , Blogger Canadian Anglican said...

I think that, as long as men in our culture are clueless about what a real man is, churches will have a hard time drawing them in.

I think we would be further ahead to proclaim a genuine manhood under Christ, and men would come. This not something we can fake, nor will it be easy.

For now, men by and large are too afraid to face each other in truth to feel comfortable in the presence of the Lord.

 
At 5/16/2007 12:05 PM , Blogger Martin said...

A good friend of mine reported that the Easter service at his Evangelical Church was called "Opening Day" and the "worship" song for the day was "Take me out to the ballgame!!"

Lord have mercy!!!

 
At 5/20/2007 11:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, Fr. Michael! My current Protestant church is focused on getting men to step up, an ongoing struggle in the Seattle area.

Hope all is well,

Tom

 
At 6/13/2007 11:46 AM , Anonymous Michele said...

Fr. Michael, I am sure you had no intention of slighting women in your post "Orthodox are from Mars; Evangelicals are from Venus." I also understand the need to stick to the issue at hand and to reign in over-long posts.

Still, I think you might have been more accurate and balanced by simply striking "manly" from your remark that "many Roman men came to faith in Christ by witnessing the courage and manly determination demonstrated by Christians who chose brutal torture and horrible death over denying Jesus Christ."

Why "manly"? This martyr's death was something entered into by many women. If a modifier is needed at all, might it instead be "Christ-like" or "God-given"?

It was women who bravely went to the tomb to find it empty. And many, many of the martyrs of the early church -- and since -- are women. Are these "manly" women? Must we Christian women -- in striving to deny ourselves daily, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus Christ –- also seek to become "manly" in order to do so? I think not.

I don't think Christian women necessarily feel belittled when they "can't be powerful like men," as Philippa/Trudy suggests, but I do think they feel -- and are in essence -- belittled when their genuine strength is brushed over or dismissed.

Michele

 
At 6/13/2007 1:03 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Hi Michele,

Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to post your comment.

My use of the word “manly” was deliberate, and follows the custom of Orthodox hymnography in which many women are described as showing forth a manly courage in the midst of their trials and afflictions.

For example, one of the hymns of the Church calls the Myrrh-bearing women “manly” for courageously going forth to care for the body of Christ while the male disciples themselves had scattered and were in hiding. Perhaps the hymnographers who wrote such words were unenlightened and sexist, or perhaps they had an insight into humanity that we moderns lack. I can’t say, and I don’t intend to judge. But I will continue to follow the example of the Church in such matters whenever I can.

Fr. Michael

 
At 9/07/2007 11:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

and Catholics are from...? good thoughts here - i read Podles some time ago and i think his was the book that began my journey of praying for men.
the whole thing puzzles me. Jesus was not only a man,hung out with a motley crew of 12 men, and did men's work as a 'tekton', He was the most manly of men. yet, He is also meek an humble of heart. how can such a Man not be atractive to 21st century men in the church?
and even though i'm a woman, i am deeply concerned about the small numbers of men in church. and not just because it makes for a smaller pool of guys to date, either. (smile) i find that so many men have no vision, and 'without a vision, the people perish'. i weep at the thought of such wonderous maleness going to waste on sinful stupidities as porn and workaholism.
can't blame the modern worship songs. most of them are written by guys like chris tomlin, matt redman, and david crowder.
so. since i do not have the answer, i will constantly pray to the One who had the bright idea of creating men in the first place!

 

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