We all have them. And some of us are better than others at hiding them. For me, pet peeves generally fall into two categories: low and high annoyance.
My low-annoyance pet peeves include:
- Nail biting
- Misuse of the word “literally” to mean something figurative – “I literally died when I heard that!”
- Saying “I could care less” to mean “I couldn’t care less”. Really? You could care less – meaning you do care somewhat now?
- When people combine 2 & 3 above into one sentence – “Ya that’s what she said, and I could literally care less.” – ummmm what?
When these come up, I can usually look past them (not always), smile, and continue with my day. But many of us also have one or two pet peeves that we cannot ignore – the kind that are just a little too annoying to let slide.
The claim that the Church is “too feminine” falls into that category for me.
The Church is “Too Feminine”
Every few years or so this claim becomes popular in the Church, and you hear it all over – it’s on the radio, in the magazines, causally placed in sermons from the pulpit or in conversations with Christian leaders.
This claim has come around again recently, from the Catholic camp, and it makes my skin crawl. It instantly hits my annoyance button for the same reason that the misuse of language irks me – it shows that we aren’t thinking things through before we say them.
Cardinal Burke, former highest ranking US cardinal, claimed earlier this month that the “feminization” of the Church is to blame for the lack of male attendance.
Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.”
Despite how benign the claim may sound, it is actually very offensive. Instead of simply saying that there aren’t enough men in church, the blame is placed on women. The real problem, we are saying, is with the women – There are too many of them you see. They are taking over and now there’s no room for the men!
This claim is also offensive because it sends the message that being feminine is something that should be avoided, or at least moderated. It also tends to claim that anything feminine – aka women – is a problem for the church. (I truly loved this response to Cardinal Burke’s words by Alexandra Petri.)
Yes, this statement bothers me, because it shows how little we are actually evaluating the situation and because it is offensive, but most importantly it bothers me because it is completely false.
The Barna Group has been studying Church trends over the last 20 years and they have found that women actually represent the biggest shift away from the Church. They also found that the gap between unchurched men and women is no longer a significant one. “It remains true that churchless people are somewhat more likely to be men than women, but the gap is not huge and has been steadily closing…the gap between men and women has plummeted from 20 points in 2003 to just 8 points currently.” And this is not just in protestant churches. Findings coming out of the Catholic Church do not look much different, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
All of this makes me want to ask those who claim that the Church is “too feminine” what churches they are going to. Are men really walking into churches and becoming overwhelmed with female presence? The idea that the church is “too feminine” goes against the majority of my experiences in church. In fact, as I visited churches on three continents over the last 6 years of my life, I have noticed that the majority of those churches presented the same experience to me, and it doesn’t come close to being feminine.
For those in the church family who have ears to hear, here is this sister’s experience in many (not all) churches:
As I walk into church, I am welcomed by a man who hands me a bulletin.
I am ushered to my seat by a man.
I look through the bulletin in my hand and read the names of men on the elder board and men serving as pastors.
I am welcomed by a man who gives the announcements.
I stand and worship, led by a band of mostly men.
We sing songs that are mostly written by men.
I sit down and listen to a man preach a sermon and give illustrations from his own, male life.
He reads scripture from a Bible that was translated by men. This translation speaks primarily to men through its masculine pronouns.
The sermon usually centers around a man in the Bible.
This male pastor leads me in prayer to a God he calls father.
I walk up to take communion from men.
A man stands up and asks me to give money. Men walk up with baskets to collect it from me.
I stand up and am led in worship one more time, by men.
I walk out to the courtyard and eat the morning treats made by women.
I drink the coffee prepared by women.
Women may indeed make up the majority of people in the pews (for now), but they do not make up even half of the people who make decisions about church services or experience. If men really aren’t going to church, it doesn’t seem to be the fault of women. Perhaps the Church leaders who are making these claims should stop shaming the faithful, and start asking them for help.
Do I care that men aren’t going to church? Of course I do! I also care that women are leaving the Church! We should be concerned about everyone in the Church and how we can better minister to and disciple them. Instead of playing the gender blame game, let’s use our critical thinking skills to better analyze the situation.
Yes we need men in our pews. We also need women in our pulpits, on our elder boards, at the communion tables, on the worship teams, and in our denominational leadership.
The Church is “too feminine”? No. I’d say the Church isn’t feminine enough.
Click here for a Spanish translation of this post.