Egalitarianism, theology

On the Feminization of Christianity

worship-in-churchChristianity is being feminized–men just don’t go to church anymore!

Worship is so feminine now, with all of its appeals to emotions.

Christianity has a “masculine” feel to it.

I had a conversation recently in which several men were bemoaning the “feminization of Christianity,” particularly worship. I asked them what they meant by this and one man illustrated it with a story: he was at a church one time and this guy was up front singing this lovey-dovey song he had written about how Jesus loved him and wanted to hold him or something and he–the one telling the story–thought it was ridiculous. This, he said, was an example of the feminization of worship. It makes men leave the church.

I pointed out that his example was about a man singing a song written by a man–himself–leading worship in a church in which (the man had told me) the only leaders were men. He nodded and reiterated his point. …This, it seems, is the result of feminizing the church.

I thought that was rather odd, to be frank, but the conversation has stuck with me for its message. I’ve had many like it over the past year or two. I’ve seen fellow bloggers post on this apparently insidious trend of the “feminization of Christianity.” A prominent apologist recently issued a similar complaint, noting that worship has gotten more “emotional” and therefore more “feminine.” Some theologians and books I’ve read have had similar concerns about this “feminine” aspect being brought into churches. Apparently, from my reading of these sources and the conversations I’ve had, the message is that this is A Bad Thing.

Do you really think that Christianity is masculine? What does that even mean?

What does it mean to say worship is “feminine” or “masculine”? Does that mean that if I, a man, worship, then my praise is somehow “manly,” while my wife’s praise is “womanly”?

I want to focus on this notion that “feminization of Christianity” is A Bad Thing. What does this say about men and women?

It seems to me that if feminizing Christianity inherently makes it somehow deficient, then that means females are also deficient. If “feminized” worship is bad, or at least not as good as “masculine” worship–whatever either one of those things means–then that means that what are identified as male patterns of worship have higher value. But can such patterns really even be identified? If “feminization of the Church” is to be avoided, while making it more “masculine” is to be lauded, then what does that say about our position, male and female, as the image of God? On the one hand, humanity, male and female, were each created in God’s likeness, in the image of God. On the other, we are told that “feminine” themes within Christianity are to be avoided and downplayed, while “masculine” themes are to be pursued and emphasized.

The most common answer I’ve gotten to questions about the nature of masculine or feminine worship is that that which is feminine is emotional or passive, while masculine is rational or active. I would like to ask: how is this reflected in God’s Word? Recall that God gets angry (Psalm 7:11) or grieved by sin (Genesis 6:6), takes pleasure in obedience (Psalm 147:111), delights (Zephaniah 3:17), etc. God is a God with emotions and whether we set this aside as anthropomorphism or not, it seems clear that Scripture understands God not rejecting emotions but rather, in some sense, taking part in them. But if God’s Word does not denigrate emotions and even attributes them to God, why should we not worship in emotional ways? And why are emotions treated as something to be avoided, as necessarily feminine and somehow not good, or at least not as good as that which is identified as masculine?

I’m not trying to advocate for one side or the other in the so-called “worship wars.” Instead, my point is that the narrative of complaints about the “feminization of Christianity” is misguided and far from the truth. Being female is not bad, nor is it somehow less perfect than being male. Similarly, having a “feminine” Christianity is not an imperfection. To be honest, I’d like to call my Christian brothers and sisters to a more complete understanding of God and God’s word.

There is hope for us that applies to us all as people:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

These are words of hope, words of reconciliation. But they are also words which cut against the notion that in our church there is masculine worship vs. feminine worship; masculine music vs. feminine music; masculine sermons vs. feminine ones. “Nor is there male and female… you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My heart leaps at these words. These words tell me I need have no fear, for our God–a great God–has reconciled us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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I found the image on Bing searching for images of worshipers in church and I claim no rights to it and saw no claims to rights upon it.

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

26 thoughts on “On the Feminization of Christianity

  1. Thank you J. W. for your words.

    Posted by Lisa Guinther | June 9, 2014, 8:00 AM
  2. Your post made me think immediately of David, who wrote the poetry that is the basis for many of the worship songs that may be characterized as “feminine”…and yet also killed a lion and bear with his bare hands, took down the mighty giant Goliath and was a war hero. Nothing feminine in that. I think maybe we need a broadening of how we define “masculine” and “feminine.” While these words have essential meanings that are opposites, rarely is it that simple in a particular human being. Was David masculine because he was a fierce warrior or feminine because he wrote emotional poetry?

    Posted by Justin Miller | June 9, 2014, 10:15 AM
    • Thanks for your comment. I think you’re on to something with David. I might suggest going even farther, however, and wonder about whether “killing a lion” is necessarily a masculine action. I think it is because we view it as such, but I’m not sure that there is such a disjunction. Your point about how both things we think are masculine and feminine coexist in such biblical (and modern!) persons is very well taken.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 9, 2014, 1:25 PM
  3. Hear, hear! Maybe your best post yet. Sharing.

    Posted by Robert Whitaker | June 9, 2014, 11:25 AM
  4. Men do not want to sing about Jesus touching them and relating to Jesus like He is our boyfriend. It really is that simple. I have no problem with emotion. I think worship should be full of emotion. But I work in a machine shop. Most of the guys I work with would fell very awkward singing a llting melody about how tenderly they love Jesus.

    Posted by Jim | June 9, 2014, 5:02 PM
    • The Bible is full of that sort of imagery, Jim. The reason men don’t like it is because they have been conditioned not to like it – they think that people will think they’re gay – that’s homophobia. I don’t like the ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff much either and I’m female. But I figure that’s my problem, not the fault or oversight of everybody else at church because they choose to worship a different way to me.

      Posted by fluffybabybunnyrabbit | June 11, 2014, 5:07 AM
      • I’m not sure the Bible is full of imagery about treating Jesus like a boyfriend. Could you give me an example of what you mean? As for the homophobia, maybe that is the case with some, but really, is it a flaw to say I’m not comfortable using that kind of approach in relating to Christ? I don’t relate that way to any male figure in my life, and while there are some cultural factors in that (i.e. contrast the way men in some Asian cultures hold hands while hanging out without any homosexual implications), isn’t cultural contextualization a valid principle here? IOW, I’m not saying this is an absolute principle that we should be dogmatic about, but a practical one. Just as someone like me needs to be a bit flexible and not make a snap judgment about the masculinity of a guy who enjoys the “touchy” style, worship leaders might want to take into account the cultural sensitivities of the men in their congregations and regions. This style just doesn’t play well with the kind of guys in my area.

        Posted by Jim | June 11, 2014, 10:45 AM
    • Jim – could not reply to your latter comment for some reason so had to do so to the original one. No, the Bible does not talk about Jesus being anyone’s boyfriend! I meant imagery of the love of God and the love we should have for one another which is often put into song words, sermons, prayers and discussion. This is not physical or romantic love but the love of God!

      I absolutely do not get the idea that we are compelled – either at church or by reading the Word – to think of Jesus as our boyfriend. That is my point: why do other people get that idea? My husband is a farm labourer and has spent many years in construction and fabrication workshops of various sorts. He does not get that idea from church either. So why do other men get that idea?

      I can’t speak for all cultures, but for western white middle class men the thought of being seen as gay is a major stumbling block. It’s as if it’s the worst thing they can think of. Either that or they can’t get their heads around the fact that there is more than one type of love, and if they always interpret love as being physical or romantic then that is their problem – not their churches’ worship style.

      If people don’t like their churches’ worship style they could always negotiate to include alternative styles or simply go elsewhere. I’d love to go to a church where we just sit around and have theological discussions – but my hubby is happy where we are so I stay there. I could go to another local church that takes a more emotional approach – many of my friends do – I don’t like that approach but I figure that’s MY problem, not that church’s problem and I can simply choose not to go there.

      I’m just sick of hearing men complain about church being ‘feminised’ when it is their cultural perception of what is feminine that is the problem. Talking and praying and singing about God’s love is what King David did. Does that make him a girl? Jesus wept and showed love and compassion: does that make him a girl? Paul spoke of the profound love of God in a passage (1 Cor 13) that western culture has twisted into suiting marriage ceremonies – does that make Paul a girl? Of course not! It’s our PERCEPTION of such passages that is the problem.

      My other problem with these ‘anti-feminine’ whingers is this: even if we do agree that in our current societies some worship styles are more ‘feminine’ than others (and I’m not saying they are – just playing devil’s advocate) what gives anyone the right to make ‘feminine’ sound like a dirty word: that it’s somehow ‘less’ Godly or even ‘weak’ to worship in a feminine style? This is just putting women down – again, and again and again. We’re sick of it.

      I ask men to ‘man up’. And that doesn’t mean act the macho-man. It means finding your identity in Christ – who came to earth as much as for woman as for ‘man’. Christ. Not some culturally defined and completely arbitrary image of ‘manhood’.

      Posted by fluffybabybunnyrabbit | June 20, 2014, 6:39 PM
      • “what gives anyone the right to make ‘feminine’ sound like a dirty word”

        When about 2/3 of the church is composed of women and this number is increasing, we need to acknowledge there’s a problem and that it’s not a healthy situation. Shaming and blaming men and telling them to ‘man up’ are a ugly feminist tactics that are not only unhelpful but are losing their efficacy with a group of young men who have developed deaf ears to this mantra.

        Yes, there is a problem if a church worships by singing homo-erotic love songs to Jesus. But the real issue is suggesting that our definition of manhood is merely “culturally defined and completely arbitrary.” It’s not cultural when Paul tells Christian men to “act like men, be strong” and when Peter tells Christian women to develop “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Rather, there exist real God-created tangible differences between the genders. If fearlessly overcoming the dangers of a lion and a bear and showing the leadership and initiative to take on a Goliath to honor God and protect those you love are not masculine traits, then I don’t know what is. Even a cursory comparison of the lives of Ruth/Esther with David will bear out these differences. And when churches don’t provide men an environment that encourages them to exhibit masculine traits then the church will become increasing “feminized.”

        Posted by B | July 9, 2014, 4:09 PM
      • “Yes, there is a problem if a church worships by singing homo-erotic love songs to Jesus.”

        I’m curious as to what this line means. I mean “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”- Are these examples of homo-eroticism? I would like a definition of a homo-erotic song. And of course, I’m not at all arguing that all Christian music is good or even helpful.

        “If fearlessly overcoming the dangers of a lion and a bear and showing the leadership and initiative to take on a Goliath to honor God and protect those you love are not masculine traits, then I don’t know what is.”

        If ‘judging’ Israel and ordering them into battle or driving a tent peg through someone’s head are not masculine traits, then I don’t know what… Oh.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 9, 2014, 4:57 PM
      • “Are these examples of homo-eroticism?”

        No. These are Bible verses and I never consider Scripture to have that connotation.

        “I would like a definition of a homo-erotic song”

        One example would be any song that treats the love of Christ in romantic terms, applies it to the individual, and then is sung by a man. Below summarizes this idea for me (From http://magazine.biola.edu/article/06-spring/the-feminization-of-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.”

        And here’s a practical example of it – http://www.songlyrics.com/bethel-music/my-dear-lyrics/

        “If ‘judging’ Israel and ordering them into battle or driving a tent peg through someone’s head are not masculine traits, then I don’t know what”

        I agree. These are masculine traits. And just because there are a few examples of women who exhibit the occasional masculine trait is hardly support for the idea that these traits are characteristic of those women, women as a whole, or God’s ideal for women generally – which is explicitly stated as, “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.”

        Posted by B | July 10, 2014, 1:11 PM
  5. A little off topic, but I think there is a trend for women to be more religious than men. (I wonder why?) Maybe thats what they also mean about “feminisation” of Christianity?

    Posted by Daren H | June 10, 2014, 11:51 AM
  6. I think the real problem behind the complaint of the feminization of Christianity stems from the hypersexualization of the world’s definition of love and how it has affected the lyrics in pop songs. We recently sang a song in church where one of the lyrics was about giving Jesus a sloppy wet kiss. Men incorrectly attribute lyrics like these to feminization because they bring to mind a female (singer) to male (Jesus) relationship. The real problem is the shallowness of current worship songs and their influence from current day pop songs.

    Posted by Devin | June 18, 2014, 10:25 PM
  7. If you want to know why the western church is referred to as feminized, try to introduce apologetics / logic / reason into your church and see who pushes back the most against it. It will most likely be the women. So, I have no problem with emotion or different aspects of the ‘feminized’ church but to carry out 1 Peter 3:15 requires we be ready with an answer via logic and reason, not just emotion and feelings. The church which combines the relational aspects (feminine) with the logic/reason aspects (masculine) of Christianity will be the church that begins the process of reclaiming secular societies for Christ.

    But make no mistake, without the men leading and ‘on board’ the stats don’t look too good (see second half of article in particular)

    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/how-fathers-teach-children-to-work-hard-and-believe-in-god/

    Posted by Andrew | June 25, 2014, 3:16 PM
  8. I don’t know, I think JW Wartick may be cherry-picking scripture to make his case for something closer to a uni-sex culture. I think his points are slightly off kilter and I think that our church services need to, in large degree, reflect the cultural roles of man and woman that have organically evolved over centuries. The church ought not, IMO, reflect the worse aspects of culture, and follow the radical aspects of the zeitgeist in it’s agenda to erase male/female distinctions and celebrate gay and lesbian unions. There is an agenda behind a lot of the sentiments expressed in these comments. I do not really see what JW sees when I read the Old and New Testaments. Rather I see fairly rigid roles for men and women, and that is not a bad thing,but a necessary aspect of every stable culture. Piper may lay his stress too far in one direction, but I think his may be more biblical.

    I agree with what Jim has had to say in his comments and think that “FluffyBabyBunnyRabbit” clearly expresses a modern feminist view, which I think is antithetical to a healthy church and society. Maybe we need a better historical perspective, devoid of chronological snobbery. Look at the hymns written prior to the 1960’s; they were not chanting four word sentences over and over like Buddhist monks in meditation, nor singing about wet kisses for Jesus. The content was heavy on doctrine, and rather than feel-good emotion, the stress was a right understanding of God, man, grace, and redemption.

    Posted by williamfrancisbrown | June 30, 2014, 7:14 AM
  9. Hello in that wonderful that day in sun shine here and knowing that God is good even today and this no difference between man and woman in Christ and that will give me so joy and care to move on in love of God and try to be victorious for glory to the Father in Jesus name ,thanks and bless,keijo sweden

    Posted by keijo leppioja | July 10, 2014, 2:48 AM
  10. Look, I get the point some of you are making, and on a certain level I concede some of your points. What I know though is that culturally speaking for a certain segment of the male population, certain styles of worship are a turn off. This is so trite and obvious as to be banal. All I’m trying to say is that it is biblical and helpful to recognize that just as some of you want to get rid of certain stereotypes about male/female personality traits and tendencies, others embrace those traits and tendencies and maybe trying to avoid putting stumbling blocks in their way is a good idea. Are those attitudes about gender wrong headed? Maybe, maybe not. So chalk it up as a weaker brother thing. The weaker brother shouldn’t be quick to slap the “feminine” label on certain worship styles, and those who like those styles shouldn’t be telling the weaker brother, “You need to get over your chauvinism and just start singing.”. If a guy who loves AC/DC, Korn, or just grew up associating congregational music with a Southern Baptist, countrified style comes in and wrinkles his nose at what he takes to be “touchy feely” music, instead of banging him over the head with “You’re just a dinosaur who needs to get over it”, accomodate him a bit. Give him a chance to sing in a way he can relate to a bit. I’m not saying put a hardcore screamo band on the platform. Just recognize that people are coming in from different backgrounds and even if you’re convinced the “feminine” style is appropriate or even better, let the guy arrive there when he’s ready. Just basic Romans 14 stuff.

    If you tried the holy kiss thing with a lot of the guys I know, you’d get your teeth knocked out. Maybe in Asia Minor in 50 A.D. that sort of thing flew. We’re not in Asia Minor 50 A.D. Just because something in scripture culturally worked then doesn’t translate into it being the best idea in 2014.

    Posted by yankeejwb | July 10, 2014, 11:07 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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