I clearly remember in the Spring of 2006 when the Biola “Connections” magazine centered around an article about the “feminization of the church”. Without Orthodoxy even being on the map, I began several conversations about this problem, and one thing became very apparent: the more seeker-friendly the Evangelical church became, the more men seemed less interested. This held true even when men where targeted – where “pastors” were replaced with “spiritual coaches” and meetings were held in more masculine settings like gymnasiums.
To Biola’s credit, they did what they could to fight this feminization within its male student body. Residence Life worked hard to emphasize the manliness of the Christian life, and I saw male leadership sometimes exemplify strength, fortitude, courage. More often than that though were more obvious feats of manliness: bench-pressing and intra-mural sports come to mind. We were encouraged to yell, growl, and guffaw.
What brought this to mind is Frederica Matthewes-Green’s talk about the health of Orthodoxy’s male participation. Orthodoxy alone is stably male – it even seems that most of the converts are male, and they bring their wives.
And I remember once summing up what I appreciated about my turn to Orthodoxy by saying that “I’ve realized that prayer isn’t something relegated to women or pastel-colored Christian bookstores”. That seems obvious, but I know, despite of their best efforts, that most of the men I knew at Biola shared the same misconception.
So why are all other traditions becoming more girly? The wonderful Nancy Pearcy offers a possible reason (from the Biola “Connections” article):
Pearcey said industrialization forced men to seek work away from home, in factories and offices, which created a split between the public and private spheres of life. The public sphere became secularized through the new values of competition and self-interest, and the private sphere came to represent the old values of nurturing and religion, Pearcey said. Thus, religion came to be seen as for women and children and not as relevant to the “real” world of business, politics and academia, she said.
Men’s absence is especially noteworthy, they said, given that men were a strong force in the early church.
Leon J. Podles, author ofThe Church Impotent, offers another suggestion rather than Pearcy’s socio- economic one – a theological one. The tipping point, claims Podles, occurred when bridal imagery in the Christian life became applied to the individual as opposed to the Church. The error is thinking that you are the bride of Christ; not the Church.
A feminized spirituality began in the 13th century, Podles said in his book The Church Impotent. One cause, he said, was women mystics who popularized “bridal imagery,” the metaphor of an individual Christian as the bride of Christ. (The biblical metaphor is of the corporate church as the bride of Christ, not the individual person.) They also used erotic imagery to describe their soul’s relationship with Christ. This feminization explains the abrupt departure of men from the church beginning in the 13th century, according to Podles.
Today the bridal imagery continues. Many books, for example, have titles like Falling in Love With Jesus: Abandoning Yourself to the Greatest Romance of Your Life (Nelson Impact), released, ironically, by the publisher of Murrow’s book. This may be because Christian publishers know women are the main consumers of Christian books. Seventy percent of customers in Christian retail stories are women, according to Bill Anderson, the president and CEO of the Christian Booksellers Association and a member of Biola’s School of Business Advisory Board.
One of the more interesting points that Frederica points out is the feminization of the icons of Christ. Compare.