They Say the Church is “Too Feminine”

Kate Wallace Nunneley


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Church is Too Feminine


Too Feminine 3

Pet Peeves

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:

  1. Nail biting
  2. Misuse of the word “literally” to mean something figurative – “I literally died when I heard that!”
  3. Saying “I could care less” to mean “I couldn’t care less”. Really? You could care less – meaning you do care somewhat now?
  4. 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.)

The Facts

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.

My Experience

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.

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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  • 35 years ago I was saved, and after a few different churches I settled into a church for 30 + years because I felt the men there were far more assertive and aggressive Christians and I hoped that my husband would eventually be saved and find these men more like he was…I ran from churches that appeared to be led by ‘feminine’ men…

    Well today, I have only recently left that church because I realized that these ‘male’ leaders were not interested in anything women had to offer, leadership for sure, learning, teaching, sharing responsibility, etc. Finally I realized that we weren’t even allowed to pray in services (I had just assumed we hadn’t had time) and that there is not ONE mediator between God and women but many mediators…over 2-3 years it became clear that we were being taught an ALL MALE GOD who preferred and trusted men more than women…even some of the gentler(feminine?) men were being thrown under the bus….

    Now I have begun to attend an Egalitarian church where largely men and women are treated as equals and where there are men of both types but it doesn’t matter because as often as not the preacher is a woman.

    I think that churches that are “too feminine” means that they are the ones run by men who are kind, gentle and considerate, in fact, probably more Christ-like…and that aggressive ‘self-made’ men don’t like this sort of man because they think they aren’t REAL MEN.

    My take is that the problem with the idea mentioned in the blog above is a problem BETWEEN DOMINANT AND LESS DOMINANT MEN…They don’t like one another…and the first group is often abusive to the latter group…I would like to hear from some of those more God-like gentlemen who have found this to be true…I have certainly found this to be the case…

    I actually know a man who left his will to someone who had been ‘abused’ by the church because he found the leaders to be so MALE that they had no heart…their behaviour was the last straw (the church was too masculine?)…any thoughts?

    • What I have experienced in the Mega Churches is catty aggressive women who “mark” women because of jealously and then go up to the “male” leaders to get them also to mark the women they have singled out due to cattiness and then the males protect the women leaders who do this and end up banning the marked woman from ever entering the church again without being arrested. When the banned woman attempts to follow Matt. 18 by calling and attempting to bring The male leaders of the Church are passive aggressive and they hold resentment but refuse to tell you what you have done to be banned and will not let you correct whatever it is you have done wrong—-yet will preach on the pulpit that Jesus forgives and the Church forgives===but their actions say the opposite. No Honesty here. .

      • The women of the Church seems to be the ones who cook, run the nursery, put the programs together and basically run the show but get little recognition and the men seem to be shadowing the programs and get the overall credit for what the women have put together. Although everything is for the Lord, I believe the men of the Church could be more helpful in the programs and activities in the Church. There could be a better equal distribution of work in the Church between men and women. Men need to step up to the plate equally and put the activities of the Church on an equal playing board and work in the nurseries, help cook, help set up things, ……

      • The real problem may be that the churches are actually TOO MASCULINE.

        What you are describing is female misogyny. It exists everywhere but especially when women are powerless to make their own way and feel the NEED to MANIPULATE men to get support and to get power over other women BECAUSE they have NO SAY in church affairs and have no other way of accomplishing what God made them to be. These women also use men as leverage for other reasons. This is not found only in mega is found in tiny churches, and all around us in the world.

        This is politics, pure and simple. This is also PART of the reason many men leave the churches…not because they are too feminine but because of the leaders who try to force men and women into molds of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; molds that only fit a small part of the population. It is like planting desert plants into swamps and wondering why they die. The whole idea of a ‘powerful’ leadership is contrary to the teachings of Christianity…

        ” But Jesus called them unto him, and said , Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.But IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU: but whosoever * will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever * will be chief among you, let him be your servant” Matthew 20:25-26

        Another PART of the answer is for the churches to treat men and women as equals. When strong women are equal (i.e. Salvation Army, in the past, at least) there is no need to USE men as leverage to achieve power…they can simply BE who they are and who God intended them to be…and are not blocked at every step from having any say in the affairs of the churches or in their use of their gifts. In the Salvation Army, where couples often run the churches and where women and men are generally treated as equals, there is NO PROBLEM with having large numbers of men present…so ‘FEMINIZATION’ of churches in this manner is perfectly alright with many men. I suggest that the churches are not feminine enough for most men.

        My argument against male hierarchy is that it is TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. In churches where women give of their hard earned money and have NO women in leadership and no say in the distribution of the money, this is precisely the case. It is also the sin of ‘respect of persons’ that is forbidden in James 2:9…

        The solution is for women to leave and go where they are really wanted. If you can’t find a church where you are free to serve the Lord, LEAVE…find one…or START one…What does it matter if there are only two or three people there? If you are able to serve the Lord AS He called you to do with your particular gifts and callings, there will be accomplishment. Without this, you are not using your talents and are in disobedience to the teachings of Jesus who warned those who were given talents and buried them. (Matt. 25:13-40) . We who have allowed our gifts to be buried by the strong-men of the churches must no longer do so.

        And as we gather our strength we need to confront those churches we have left and, from a new position of strength, we must address this unbiblical treatment of women in the churches…even though they will not hear what you have to say


  • I think that my current church has a good mix of females & males in outreaches (greeters, ushers, worship leaders, etc), but I have been in churches where this isn’t true. For ex, in many churches, the only serving option for women is the nursery. Not my thing.

  • Great food for thought. I never took from the claim that there was blame being leveled at women, but that the men were at fault for lack of presence, engagement, and, dare I say, leadership. What men there are sometimes pander to what they think will go over with the least conflict?

  • Hi, another guy here.

    Let me first state (so that I am not misunderstood) that I absolutely positively do NOT blame women for anything in the church. After all, including the most liberal inclusive denominations, the Church is mostly run by us, so we are to be blamed for all errors we did.

    However, let me also add one story which happened to me just couple of weeks ago. I live in Prague, Czechia, where we had an opportunity to host the European Taizé Youth meeting around this past New Year. It was massive action (for Europeans a Christian action with 30,000 participants is a massive one) and I enjoyed every moment I was able to participate. I actually confessed Christ as my Saviour during one of the Taize-style prayer times (all those 23 years ago!), so I have really soft spot for Taizé, but I have not participated in any kind of the Taize-like fellowship lately, so it felt refreshingly new to me again. These people do really a mystical part of the Christianity well, which is something I believe this world needs a lot.

    Yet, and I don’t know if it is my Protestant side or American church side (although a Czech, I have spent plenty of time in US, and now I am an elder of the international congregation here lead by an American pastor) but I really felt like a lot of something missing. I suddenly realized how much their prayers, songs, etc. are oriented towards suffering, patience, asking for mercy in that “please, keep me or I will betray you” style. I really missed at least a little bit of resolve to fight, call to struggle, a little bit of the good ol’ “Ktož sú Boží bojovníci!” (a stereotypical Hussite war choral, which is said to make Crusaders run just by listening to it; and No I am not rooting for violence and I know very well that our fight is not against the body and blood. Yet, if there is a talk about feminization of the Church than I have to say that I see it (at least in its parts).

    Let me add my suspicion that for many denominations (namely the Roman-Catholic one in Europe) as the general membership and Sunday participants shifted towards women during the last two hundred years or so, the priests instead of fighting to get men back to the Church, started to cater to the customers they have. So, the Church is still lead by men only (almost exclusively for RC), but the message seems to me truly shifted.

    And no, the last thing in the world I want is a separate Church movement for men exclusively (e.g., Promise Keepers or anything labelled “male Christianity”), because as much I believe we men need to hear about patience, suffering, and other stereotypical female virtues (yes, that’s just an awful term in itself), I believe there are many great women who can teach us about fight, resolve and overcoming obstacles. We need to be complete and whole.

  • Audible groans as I read this piece. To hear men in leadership in the church complain that we are taking over “their” churches, even as they have repeatedly and systematically refused to share power with us is beyond painful. It’s egregious. God have mercy.

  • When I was in an abusive marriage, I was forunate enough to have a wonderful minister who happened to be a man. When I called him, crying from both physical and verbal abuse that very night, he told me to wait until my husband left for work the next day, act like I was going to work, come to see him and he would help me find an attorney. I so appreciated all he said and did for me. He pointed out something I had known for years, but not from a priest, that some people need to be in control and don’t like anyone who appears to be smarter than they, so men, women, and sometimes children physically establish their superiority. Ironically, I had joined this Episcopal Church because my husband was a member.

  • Kate, thanks for this.

    Although I have been part of a church organisation in the UK for nearly 2 decades that changed their perspective on this and has continued to follow through on their gender equality (3 of our 5 board members are women), and although I now belong to a church that is not like you have described, I have had my fair share of being told/scolded about the feminisation of the church.

    A teacher in the organisation I belonged to early in my ministry days in Australia. He acknowledged that I was a good preacher with an ‘anointing’ (having just told me that women are rarely anointed to preach) but followed it up by saying that increased the problem of the feminisation of the Church. My gosh, if we have women not only preaching and leading but being ‘anointed’ to do so (presumably by…um… God….) the church is going to rack and ruin. (Ever wondered if these people think that God is schizophrenic – shaping people for a role He will be furious at them functioning in?)

    The thing that irks me even more is that in organisations that distinguish themselves by not allowing/resisting the ordination of women, many of the men who represent the Church in the media are limp fish with no strength or decision in their voices or actions. In times of national pressures, the official ‘Church’ opinion is often given by some guy with no opinion at all, simply mouthing facile platitudes at issues of extreme importance in people’s lives.
    I realise that’s a generalisation and maybe it doesn’t happen in America, but honestly, sometimes I’ve been embarrassed by the pale/stale/frail version of Christianity that is being portrayed and I wish they’d ask me for the Christian opinion.

    • Bev, I always love reading your comments! I wish they’d ask you for the Christian opinion, too! I resonated with your description of being scolded – that is often the tone taken by those who disagree with us here on the blog and it is quite patronizing. I’m thankful for women leaders like you who live out exemplary leadership in real life despite the criticism that inevitably comes your way!

  • Men and women are mostly, though not completely, interchangeable: They are complementary and need the best traits of the other. I am so very tired. I provide financial support, leadership and education and, despite this, I am partly responsible for a church that appeals to few men (including myself) and receive criticism from any number of bloggers about the sad state of the Western Church. I read these blogs and feel a mixture of anger, anxiety, fear, and ultimately a sense of incredulity. It will be interesting to see the change in the Church with more female leadership but I suspect, in the end, women will find (to their surprise) they truly are equal to men. Meet the new boss: Same as the old boss.

    • Douglas, I hear a lot of discouragement in this comment and I’m sad about that! As Bill Hybels once said, there is no job in the world harder than that of leading a church. As a pastor/missionary kid I can relate a little bit to that, although my dad was egalitarian from the start and so women always had significant involvement. I appreciated your honesty in sharing that these blogs cause you to feel anger, anxiety, fear, and incredulity. The changes in the church are already happening, and it is my hope and prayer that more involvement by women will mean more people to share the load, not to increase it. But there is certainly going to be a learning curve for many women and probably some degree of disillusionment at how hard ministry can be. I know pastors have limited time and energy, and can imagine that at times the gender equality issue might feel like one more burden to carry for one’s church. Thanks for recognizing the value of women regardless of the challenges!

  • you misunderstand what feminization of the church means. Its about the attitude and personalities of men not about attendance. it is about the courage of men that has wained.

    • Lance, If that’s true then I think a better word than “feminization” should be used. What you’re describing sounds like a problem within the men, not a problem that is caused by women.

      • Kate, I’m not sure this is what Lance is referring to, but while I agree with everything you said in this post, I don’t think it’s the problem people are trying to pinpoint when they say the church has become to “feminine”. The problem is that both men and women can’t be authentically masculine or feminine. Women can’t be genuinely feminine. They have to either accept a nice girl caricature or take on a masculine persona to be accepted. But it’s also true that men in the church are often emasculated, or expected to take on an authoritarian form of masculinity that isn’t authentic for them. My husband and I have both been criticized, him for the way he expressed his masculinity (in a more nurturing way) and me for the way I expressed my femininity (in a more assertive way). Until it’s safe for both men and women to reflect God’s image in the church and in the world, we have work to do. Thanks for this discussion!

    • Lance: Regarding your reason for the feminization of the church, do you equate “the waned courage of men” to being feminine? If so, I’d have to disagree… possessing feminine qualities or even being a woman doesn’t mean being less courageous. Being courageous isn’t limited to one’s gender.

  • Honestly, in both Catholic parishes I have been a part of, there are more women serving in ministry roles at masses than men–nothing like the evangelical and even mainline protestant churches I used to attend before converting where your description was true. There are more women who are mandated as lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion than men in my parish and my previous parish. More women are involved in music ministry and cantors are more likely to be women. (Catholics seat themselves, so that is not a consideration). Women also dominate leadership roles such as parish boards, religious education, and in parish schools. I don’t think Cardinal Burke is wrong about more women being active in these things at all. But his conclusion that that is the reason that men are not is the problem. First of all, I’ve never heard of a parish having too many cantors, lectors, or EMHCs. There is plenty of room for men to volunteer. And in my parish, the religious ed director BEGS men to become involved in teaching–wanting more role models for the boys.

  • I wrote a book titled WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH. You are assuming because we are concerned about the lack of participation of men in church that we are “blaming women.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Men have controlled the church for centuries. These men have created a system that works well for women age 50+ but is utterly boring to young men (the precise demographic Jesus targeted). I’d invite you to visit my web site, to learn more about the positive solutions we are promoting to get more men and boys involved in church.

    • David, I think its great that you are working to get more men and boys to church. But I need to point out that there are some who DO blame women – as we can see by the article this is written in response to.

      And I really take issue with your statement that “these men have created a system that works well for women age 50+”. From the vantage point of a woman age 50+ the “system” as you call it, is definitely NOT WORKING well for women my age. Many of us are “resigning” from church or have intentionally moved to the margins.

      As the research Kate cited in her post from the Barna Group indicates, women are leaving the church in record numbers, and there are more women than men in the demographic now being called “the dones” (Christians who have left organized church) .

      The most frustrating thing for me is that non-Christian friends my age (male or female) are not the least bit interested in going to the kind of church service that Kate describes here.

    • Mr. Murrow, please prayerfully consider what I’m about to say:

      I’m familiar with your work. In your book entitled, “What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You,” you make a number of assertions about men:

      “If a man is not allowed to be the spiritual leader in his home, he won’t know what role to play because “men are hierarchical thinkers” (p. 152).

      “Modern Christianity has begun morphing into a ‘woman thing’” (p. 134).

      “Today’s church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing and close-knit community.” Men “feel unneeded, so they go passive or leave the church altogether” (p. 138).

      “Men actually get a cocaine-like shot of pleasure from looking at a beautiful woman. So here’s your assignment: Give your husband as many cocaine shots as possible. Satisfy his addiction by looking your best” (pp. 163-164).

      “And why are looks so important to men?” “Men compare. Men compete. Men size each other up by their spouses” (p. 164).

      “Having a knockout wife raises your social standing at work, among your relatives, and even a bit at church” (p. 165).

      “First realize that sex is one of the cornerstones of the male psyche. If a man has a satisfying sex life, everything is right with the world.” “Here’s something else your husband hasn’t told you: It’s his greatest source of comfort. Sometimes it’s the only way he can access the emotions trapped deep in his heart” (p. 167).

      “You are competing for your husband’s body. It’s you versus a thousand foes—food, drink, drugs, illicit sex. Fight for his body and you’ll win his heart” (p. 171).

      As a psychotherapist, Social Worker and former professor of the Social Sciences I can’t tell you how disturbing I find this material. I find it disturbing because in my experience it can be profoundly damaging to women AND men.

      You appear to overgeneralize about men, stating that we are hierarchical and competitive, apparently by nature or by God’s design. You seem to suggest that we “need” to be in charge, or we won’t know our place. You suggest that it is normative for Christian men to compare their wives, and to feel badly if someone else’s wife is perceived as more attractive. You say that sex is the cornerstone of a husband’s psyche and that a wife must “satisfy his addiction” or else he will lose the battle against food, drink, drugs or illicit sex. You say that the need for safety, relationships and nurturing is a “woman thing.”

      Sir, if men do not have genuine relationships, safety and nurturing, they are prone to addiction—especially sexual addiction. This is not normative, and it is not God’s design. It’s a tragedy, and the product of living in a world dominated by sin.

      Men do not need a wife to “satisfy their addiction.” It is not a woman’s responsibility to keep a man from giving in to temptation, sexual or otherwise. Men should not be getting their self-worth out of having a “knock-out” wife. Men need to know that we are deeply loved and valued by our Creator. Indeed we do need intimacy; first with God and then in the context of healthy relationships with others. The cornerstone of these relationships is emotional genuineness, not sex. Safety, genuineness, love, intimacy: these are not “feminine” things. They are basic human needs that men and women share. I urge you to prayerfully reconsider your position, for your own sake, and for the benefit of those you seek to mentor.

      Thank you Kate Wallace for sharing your thoughts on this issue from a woman’s perspective. These are my thoughts as a Christian man. I pray that women will not believe Mr. Murrow speaks for all men (or for God), and I hope that he will accept my invitation to prayerfully reconsider his views.

      • Thank you so much for writing this, Bob. It is very healing for me to hear you say these things! It’s so important that men and women both speak out against gender stereotypes, which are both false and damaging.

      • Thank you Bob. You’ve identified some of the deep-seated stuff that underlies much of the conversation about ‘feminisation’ and presented back in the author’s own words why much is about power, neuro-sexism and stereotypes.

    • So after reading the direct quotes of your writing it sounds as though you actually do place some of the blame on women. More concerning than that, it seems your views of women in general is that they are to be subservient to men. Regardless of how you get men into church, endorsing a system entrenched in patriarchy is no way forward. It will only cater to and encourage the damaging attitudes that have led to the disastrous place the church is in today.

  • Where in the world do people come up with a notion that being “masculine” and “feminine” are so important? Or so opposite? God’s word doesn’t teach a thing like that. Our concepts of male and female behavior are so culturally determined that it isn’t even funny. The implication that all men are alike and all women are alike is malarkey. If we look at the fruits of the flesh vs the fruits of the spirit, it is amazing that so many of the fleshy fruits correspond to what we think of as male attributes, compared to the feminine spiritual fruits.

    We are all made in God’s image. God is beyond gender, yet we all reflect part of that Person. Equally.

    My blood boils at the idea of the church being “feminized.” We all need to be MORE LIKE CHRIST, not like some ideal of male and female.

    Like so many, we have about given up on finding a church that acts like church, that allows everyone to use their gifts, accepts all where they are and helps them move along to be like Christ. The church has no business telling people that they are not smart enough, or male enough. We did not leave the church – the church left us.

  • So, I just read some of the things that he said in his speech, and wow! He really blames females for pedophilia in the Catholic church! Really?! As if women were the reason men are forbidden to marry and they act out their sexual frustration on boys. Wow! Wow! Wow!

    And, if he is truly concerned with feminization of the church and wants to clean it up, he should start at the top–the Catholic church prays to MARY (a woman) and considers her a mediator. They have many female saints. So, let’s start there. That way the priests and their congregations will not be worshiping feminine at all. Do you think that will get more men in the door? I doubt.

    Ok, rant over!

  • Kate! The long lost soul sister. LOVED every single word of the post, and you ended it with a bang: “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.” AMEN, AMEN!

    One of the local churches I visited goes as far as banning women from being on their advisory board (or any boards for that matter), or being in business meetings, because “women are not as smart as men when it comes to business”. I am not kidding you! And apparently these men are totally blind to hundreds of thousands of female business owners, CEOs, CFOs, etc. But, that perhaps is the reason women are leaving church, because when they wake up to do their life and go to work, they do it living in the 21st century, but when they step inside a church, they are transformed back into the medieval times, when being a woman was a crime of its own–any man in the family could order a woman to do as he wished. If a woman refused, she was beat into submission, as disobedience was considered a crime against God. I would have left the church too if I did not find a place where a woman is just a child of God.

    And do not even get started on everyone referring to God as the Father only, forgetting that the Scripture refers to him in feminine and masculine terms. But, God forbid we bring up this as a topic in most Christian circles–we would be considered blasphemers.

    One of the lamest things I heard about women doing grunt work in churches is this: “if men only step up to the plate and do what they should, then the women would not have to do it,” as if women only serve God because men don’t, and if men decided to, then women can just sit down and do nothing at all. But, I digress.

    Great post! I am glad that I have a husband who sees things the same way and we are raising our child to be anything she wants to be in any sphere of her life, without insecurities, or burdening her with societal expectations.

  • Hi Kate- thanks for the grammar tips (literally not my strong suit:)- Nevertheless, as a man, husband, grandpa, and retired fire chief I think I understand a measure of machismo- (defined as “strong or aggressive masculine pride”)- in many men who regularly complain about the church being “too feminine”.

    Personally, I believe the most masculine man in all of history was Jesus Christ. Review his life—He backed down from no one. He engaged in power encounters with Satan and rebuked religious leaders. He also healed the sick, cast out demons, and performed amazing miracles. Jesus made the Marlboro-man (or the latest media-macho-man) look like a poser.

    Interestingly, Jesus also modeled love, He wept openly, was gracious to sinners, and loved women and children. Jesus was fully human and modeled both the masculine and feminine characteristics of God. It’s important to remember that God is not a man (Hosea 11:9, Numbers 23:19); God is love (1 John 4:8).

    At 60 years young, my experience is the most mature followers of Christ that I know are the most gentle, humble, and loving women and men I know. Interestingly, Jesus described Himself only one time saying; “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

    Review the men Jesus discipled, after investing in them for three years, when the going got tough they denied Him and ran and hid. Thankfully, the women stood with Jesus until the end. And as far as men being the “rescuers” … wasn’t the first “rescue” in the Bible God creating a woman to rescue man from his aloneness?

    Unfortunately, throughout history misogyny, male rulership, patriarchy, hierarchy, unbiblical models of male headship, and restricting women from using all the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them has resulted in a church culture where women are often discounted and devalued. And my take is any perception coming from men that the church is “too feminine” appears to likely be more about male pride, fear, and control.

    Keep up the great posts Kate … you have a gift!

    • Tim, I love and appreciate your comment. Reading it is a breath of fresh air. I feel like I’ve been hugged :).

  • I think one of the reasons people are leaving the church is because many churches are nothing more than a rigid set of traditions and rules that cannot be broken or changed in any way, and because of this the Holy Spirit has left the church as well. A church that allows both men and women to use their spiritual gifts will grow and a sign of growth is outreach into the wider community.

  • YES! I love this and you are dead on! Another thing I would add is that it is not women’s fault that they have always (since the first century of Christianity) been more attracted to spirituality. Christianity especially because it offered a new found freedom for women in a male-dominated society. In fact, many sociologists believe that many men came to Christ due to secondary conversions (their wives becoming Christians first). Rodney Stark “The Rise of Christianity” is a great read and he demonstrates the power of female leadership through historical facts.

    • Very interesting point Jory. I like that a lot.

    • It is a great point. I’ve heard it mentioned by others many times before, and I think it might have been mentioned in the Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels book (maybe I am wrong). But yes, women were finally given liberty through following Christ as they had never seen it before. One of early church fathers at that time (the name fails me now, I really have to go dig out some of my books) even complained in his writing that there were too women in the church. (I guess there is nothing new under the sun ;)).

      Thank God that Jesus came to liberate us.

  • Thanks for this post. Methinks however you have just scratched the surface of what people mean when they say, “the church is too feminine.” Generally I don’t think they’re talking about there being more females than men there. (I’ve read elsewhere that the ratio of single females in the church to single males is 3:1, so I’m not sure if the fact that women are leaving the church at larger rates than males which you cited indeed means that there are less women in the church than men, but again, I don’t think this is the actual issue anyway.)
    When people say that church is “too feminine”, sadly I think they actually mean that following the commands of Jesus, such as being meek and humble, turning the other cheek, being kind, civil, etc, are feminine ways to behave. They won’t come right out and say that, of course, but this is what it really boils down to – christian ideals of nonviolence are “feminine.”
    John Eldredge’s books tackle some other issues, the idea of Christianity being an adventure, and so forth, and how these are supposedly masculine ideas that men need to reclaim in the body of Christ etc. I’m not sure about that one either, considering that most missionaries are women, it seems sadly that thus far the women are the ones most willing to do the hard thing, go the distance, take the adventure, etc. But suffice it to say, most people I have talked to say that the number of women in the church are the PROOF that church is “feminine” – not the cause per se.
    And as a woman, yeah, it really does seem to me that church is all about men, not women, but you know, whatever sells.

    • Heather – yes yes yes. You are spot on. And I think it is a bit scary to realize that the very things about the Church that these folks are saying is “too feminine” (and somehow bad) are the very things that make the Church like Christ. SO GOOD!

    • I agree with what Heather G says as well. There is an element of that attitude among some Christians, that being a Christian in and of itself (which may entail showing compassion to others, etc) is considered feminine.

      One result of that, is that some of the churches – seems more like the mega, seeker friendly churches – go too far the other direction, and turn their churches into a Frat Dude Bro environment where the preacher might use football analogies from the pulpit constantly, have contests to give away fire arms or tickets to big monster truck rallies (both these things have actually happened).

      One well known preacher (who recently resigned) definitely fostered a hyper masculine environment, where he would often compare Jesus to a cage fighter, boxer, or Mixed Martial Artist. (I don’t know why such men don’t consider that some women are into boxing, MMA, etc, too, I mean, some of these women actually go to gyms and do these things, not just men.).

      This same preacher would belittle men who did not display his preferred ideas of masculinity, the exaggerated, hyper masculine traits (such as love of football, copious amounts of beer drinking, NASCAR, etc).

      This same guy also felt being masculine apparently also involved keeping Christian women in their place, reminding them during church services (in his view) that they are only to be wives and mothers, obey their husbands, etc.

      Anyway, some of these church leaders who are very concerned about churches or Christianity itself being “too feminine” often over over-compensate by making the church appear way too masculine, so that the church, as they practice it, looks like a caricature of tough guy action films. It comes off looking not just sexist, but very weird, and not at all like biblical Christianity.

      And I dare say that trying to make church appeal to men by going to that extreme alienates a lot of women, so that women no longer want to attend.

  • I too have read in months past that people who keep track of such things note that more and more women are no longer attending church, but most church people continually fixate on the lack of male presence only.

    Another point I’ve raised on other sites when discussing this is identical to the point above, in the original post – in most evangelical or conservative churches, women are not permitted to have positions of leadership, or authority, outside of baking casseroles or baby sitting children in the church nursery.

    In other words, if churches are lacking men, and men are by and large the ones controlling and running churches (with the exception of casserole baking and baby sitting), why do men keep blaming women? It’s a contradiction and hypocritical that they keep doing so.

    Since men are largely “in charge” in most churches, it would seem to me that some of the blame or responsibility for the decline in men (and women) attending might just be due to, oh, I don’t know, other men? But no, the men who run these churches don’t want to investigate that possibility.

    You know what’s even more ironic about all this?

    While I am a woman, I don’t even subscribe to the stereotypical, femininity that most of these churches pressure women to have (I’ve always been a little bit of a tom boy), but they turn around and blame church attendance decline upon this very femininity they promote as being “godly” in the first place.

    To put it another way, many of these churches pressure women to be a certain type of feminine (and at that, usually an American 1950s television situation comedy variety, a la June Cleaver, because it’s supposedly biblical), but then they turn around and get upset that this very femininity is supposedly driving men away.

    Seems to me they have put themselves in a quandry on that one.

    • Wow, GREAT point Daisy!! The very femininity many are forcing upon women as “biblical womanhood”, is the femininity the same folks are blaming for driving the men away. Wow. VERY well said! I wish that was in the post!

      • Kate, if you would like to edit your post to add that point, that is okay with me, and you don’t have to cite me or credit me if you don’t want to – or even if you do, you could just say, “a reader mentioned that…”

        Or, if you’d like to do a new post with that as the entire basis, that would be okay with me too.

        I just think it’s so funny (and hypocritical) that Christians who are very much into promoting gender complementarianism (traditional gender roles) – where women are supposed to be very compliant, dainty, passive, feminine flowers – turn around and blame women for having those very traits because it’s supposedly those traits which are leading to men staying away from church.

        They like femininity… but apparently dislike it at the same time.

        I guess they like traditional femininity when it suits their purposes (to keep women out of teaching or preaching positions, or from being equal partners in marriages), but they hate it if or when they think it is what leading men to quit church. They want to have things both ways.

        I also wonder why, in their perceived view of gender roles and of women in particular, proponents of “biblical womanhood” (that is, the complementarians), never leave room for women who may be more outspoken, assertive, and independent. They seem to think all women should be meek, mild, coy, withdrawn, quiet, and passive.
        (And married with kids… I am a woman who has never married or had children, and for that, I might as well not exist in their worldview.)

        Women are not all identical with identical personalities (or life experiences), but gender complementarians only tend to leave room for a “cookie cutter” type of female personality (which is again, usually based on TV mother June Cleaver, sweet, passive, quiet, unassertive).

        Complementarians do the same thing to men: they usually think of men as only being tough guy, John Wayne types. There’s no room for variation.

        It seems to me that most complementarians hold up what are caricatures of both genders and don’t allow for real people or for variations.

    • Daisy, so well said! I too do not fit into the classic “feminine” expectations. While i am a great cook and keep my house in tip top shape, I love gadgets, taking things apart, fixing them, building something with my hands. When I first got married, my husband did not even know how to hang a curtain rod. He learned it from me. He, on the other hand, also felt societal pressure to feel like he HAD to know how to do these things just because he is a man.

      • Elenae, yes, I relate. I was a little bit of a tom boy as a kid, and even as an adult.

        As a kid, I was interested in cars, science fiction, and other things not usually considered feminine, or feminine enough, by most churches and Christians.

        I was not interested in playing with dolls, and I hated wearing dresses. I eventually became more comfortable with wearing girly, feminine dresses later in life (though I still prefer sneakers and jeans).

        As I was growing up, I was constantly pressured by my Christian mother (not that my mother was mean about it, she was loving and sweet, but she pressured me never- the- less), and in Christian sermons and books, I came across, to conform to their ideal of girlhood or womanhood, which was usually the 1950s era June Cleaver, or Mrs. Brady of The Brady Bunch TV show, type of femininity.

        It was very frustrating to be pressured into conforming into an image that I had no interest in, and to be told (or have it strongly implied) by Christians that God would find me or my life unacceptable if I did not force myself into that ideal.

        I also grew up feeling ashamed of myself, or like there was something wrong with me, because I was not, according to all these Christians, sufficiently girly or feminine enough.

        My sister’s long time boyfriend (they have since broken up) felt some of this, too, he told me once (he was not even a Christian).

        For years, he did not know how to fix cars.

        He felt that most folks in our culture expect men to know all about cars. He did read some books about auto repair later on, but he didn’t like being made to feel like a loser or less than a man, just because he didn’t know anything about cars for awhile.

    • I wanted to add a Post Script onto one of my original posts above. It’s related to something I touched on already.

      Months ago, I was reading a blog by a Christian about domestic abuse. The person who wrote that blog had links to other blogs, which I clicked on and visited.

      One of the links too me to a man’s blog (I do not recall his name or the blog, sorry). I was appalled by what I read.

      The man who wrote it was either a gender complementarian or was into patriarchy, I can’t recall which. But on his one blog page, he basically was telling married women that if they are married to an insensitive, selfish, or rude man, that it’s their fault.

      This man’s rationalization is that too many Christian women are sweet, passive, and un-assertive, ergo, he seemed to reason, it’s their fault when or if their husband is mean or abusive to them or that they chose to marry such a man to start with.

      I was astounded by this, because it’s so hypocritical.

      Men like the one who wrote that page almost always teach Christian women that it’s their godly duty in life, and godly role, to be passive, sweet, and un-assertive, and that God frowns on women who are anything less than totally deferential to their husbands.

      Based on the many blogs and books I’ve read about domestic abuse and related subjects, people who have poor boundaries (that is, people who are passive, un-assertive, too compliant, etc), tend to attract abusive, selfish, mean, or manipulative people.

      Christian Men like the one who wrote that blog page I refer to above, often coach and teach Christian girls and women to be passive, loving, compliant doormats no matter what – because that is supposedly “biblical womanhood.”

      So when these women do in fact behave like passive, compliant doormats, as they are instructed to do, and they therefore attract and get married to abusive or selfish husbands, this blogger man blames them for it.

      It’s his and his compatriot’s very teachings about gender roles that lead so many Christian women to end up married to abusive men, and then they have the audacity to blame these women for having these traits which led them to marry abusers!

      The cherry on top is a lot of these same kinds of guys, who teach Christian women to be passive, which causes them to attract and marry abusive men, prohibit divorce for any reason, or for most reasons, even including abuse.

      Some of these guys promoting these gender role views set women up to be abused or taken advantage of by people (especially by husbands, should they marry), then they blame the women for living out those views, saying, if you want the abuse to stop, then stop being so passive – these were the views these men were promoting in the first place. It is mind-boggling and very cruel.

      (By the way, sometimes the opposite advice is given to women in abusive marriages, which doesn’t work: most preachers will counsel these wives to submit even more to the abusive husbands.
      But I have seen the flip side of this, gender complementarian men who tell wives on their blogs to stop being so passive and unassertive with their husbands.)

  • Saw this linked on Twitter and had to follow since it is a topic dear to my heart. It’s so annoying when faithful women are blamed for men’s supposed lack of involvement. Thanks for making such a clear argument in response.

  • Kate, thank you for this. I belonged to a very small, non denominational church that had the best and the worst of women and men working together/not working together. Men still in charge in major ways. While still being passive. The most influential women seemed to want the men doing the responsibility/sheltering, while allowing women to call the shots. This “umbrella” over the women thing. I wish I could articulate better. It was almost like these people were too comfortable and familiar with each other… Odd for me. The church split and changed. What’s left is much smaller, and my husband and I simply do not fit.

    Why am I mentioning this? I did see women doing a lot of things in this small group, women and men on worship team, had a woman worship leader, women taught frequently, women as trustees, women able to speak occasionally during “sermon” times. Women certainly doing typical woman things, though, like children’s ministry/Sunday School.
    As many problems as there were, there was a lot of good. A very non traditional church, but still male dominated. But, perhaps less so than other places.

    It’s been very difficult to even consider another church. There are several potential places I have to muster up the courage to revisit, and consider more closely.
    I am not the woman who wants doilies all over and frou frou high teas, that supposedly are taking over, or the woman who wants to girly up and romanticise worship songs, either. I’m simply naming some of the stereotypical things that women are supposedly doing that marginalize men. I’m not a bible study expert, either… I’m not athletic, excessively crafty or a shopaholic who must have chocolates at all times… Lol, but cry out loud, too.
    I have no kids of my own, etc… I don’t feel I fit in very well, I like men and women in groups together. I can take a little good natured poking of fun at men/women differences, but less and less these days. I’m changing. I’m looking for the truth about how God created men and women to relate…
    I hope both my husband and I can find a church soon, as it has been over a year. He isn’t into the manly men vs. the girly girls vibe, either. We are both skittish and worn out by church life, after the sad break up of the church we went to for over 20 years, he for over 30.
    Thanks for your article again, and I will be checking out the Junia Project some more.

    • Hi Jean,
      Thank you for being so open. You are not alone in the search for a church. I know many people who are in the same spot. I too prefer small groups that have both men and women. If it’s good for God to encompass both male and female, why shouldn’t a small group? You are very welcome here, as a part of this community! We’re glad to have you.

      • Thanks. I have to really trust God to guide us. I do feel welcome here. I will revisit.

  • You have to have some serious cognitive dissonance going on to think that organizations that are overwhelmingly run by men (especially the Catholic church) are somehow becoming too feminine. Even if it were true that the church was becoming too feminine (which it’s not), then whose fault would that be? Obviously, the people in charge – that is the men. But, it’s far easier to blame the ones without any control.

    While I certainly can understand women leaving the church because of the treatment they receive there, I thought I had read that Barna’s research shows a different factor for people becoming unchurched. I think the far bigger problem is that most churches are no longer preaching Christ but rather some feel-good, pop psychology message with a few jokes thrown in. At least, that’s why my wife and I recently became part of the unchurched. But, we are pursuing Christ more than we ever have before.

    And, if we were truly preaching Christ, then we would we find that there is neither Jew nor Greek (that means no racism), neither slave nor free (that means no classism), and neither male nor female (that means no sexism). Interestingly, I’ve come to that conclusion with the help of my wife, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the intersection of race, class, and gender and their affects on the classroom.

    • “But it’s far easier to blame the ones without any control.” Wow. Great statement. And yes, Steve you’re right about Barna saying that people are becoming unchurched, but not necessarily un spiritual. And the factors were a little different for every group they studied. I love how you clarified each point in Galatians 3:28. Very well said.

  • Fantastic post Kate! I remember Rob Dixon mentioning in the post about gender jokes that they perpetuate a culture of gender brokenness. I think this same brokenness is perpetuated when these church leaders claim the church has become too feminine.

  • As a married dude who is pretty stereotypically masculine (bearded, fairly muscled, loves meat, burps but apologizes), I cannot get around one simple thing:

    Why are we mad at women who are actually attending church, and not mad at dudes who aren’t? That’s like getting mad at someone showing up for work on time, and letting off a dude who calls in sick once a week. I find it very disconcerting that men would see this as a threat to themselves and blame rather than integrate.

    As an aside, to elucidate my ‘stereoscopically masculine’ remark, I attend a church that many would consider feminine: mostly older women, mostly minorities and I love it. Celsus said that, “Christianity is a religion of women, children and slaves.” Thankfully, we’ve taken that to heart and the people who needed Paul and Jesus most are being satisfied in him.

    One must ask, then, why are men feeling famished?

    Anyway. Phew. Time to go eat something. Loved this piece, Kate!


    • “Why are the men feeling famished?” Yes. That would be a much better thing to explore than “the church is too feminine”! Glad you’re in the ministry Nick!

    • “Why are we mad at women who are actually attending church, and not mad at dudes who aren’t? That’s like getting mad at someone showing up for work on time, and letting off a dude who calls in sick once a week. I find it very disconcerting that men would see this as a threat to themselves and blame rather than integrate.”

      DUDE ;), that’s an awesome summary. I will be quoting it from now on…just like you said it. Saying “dude” makes it that much more profound :).

  • C. S. Lewis and J. I. Packer also voiced the opinion that the church needed to be more masculine to represent God’s nature. Lewis advocates, in “Priestesses in the Church” (God in the Dock),the traditional Catholic reason that women should not be priests: that Christ’s maleness is essential and must be represented in the priesthood.I am a C. S. Lewis fan too; but challenge him on that in an article I wrote called “Women Priests: An Image of God.”

  • Oh thank you for writing this. Women fill the pews faithfully each week, coming to church, bringing their children, despite the overwhelming preference for maleness evident at most churches in most denominations. We go to meet God, not men. But men are delicate flowers that can’t function even when they hold all or nearly all leadership, because there are too many women?

    I get angry about this as I look around at the women around me at church. Women who would be doing much more, much different things if they had the opportunity to use their gifts at church as they have opportunity in all the other areas of their lives. Women who are faithful despite *years* of snubbings and microaggressions committed by oblivious Christian males at church. Women who bring their children alone without their husbands and manage alone, week after week, or women who bring the family every week for months and years despite never getting to go to the adult lesson or focus on the sermon for YEARS until the children get older.

    It is so dishonest, oblivious, and incredibly disrespectful to women to treat our faithfulness and our womanhood as something bad and threatening to men. What a *little* person a man must be to take this view of women’s constancy at church.

    And now we are losing women. This, at least, is understandable; your description of church experience makes at least one reason clear for women leaving the church. Finally, some have just tired of being treated badly and then blamed for the men leaving — leaving a situation over which women don’t have control and largely don’t make the decisions.

    Whew. Thanks for letting me rant here. I’m so tired of women’s gifts being wasted and women being treated as second-class, and then on top of it, we’re blamed for men not being there. Perhaps we can all, as women, come together and pray that we won’t become bitter over these accusations but will continue to worship and love and pray and serve as we do now, because our lives are unto the Lord, not unto men. I certainly need that prayer!

    • Your words are SO important! Thank you for sharing!

    • Terri, you’ve expressed so well what I see happening in the church. It takes a lot of grace to hold off bitterness, especially when you are criticized and denied opportunities to serve.

    • I spoke to a pastor once who said that if having a woman preach in his church would cause of one of his (very few) men to leave, he would never have a woman preach. The same person also stated in a conversation that we had on the topic, that if he had a woman preach in his church he would scrutinize her personal life more than if he had a man preach (i.e. her personal home life, relationship with her husband, kids, etc.). It is hypocritical, because most of the work done in his church (all the gritty, get down on your hands and knees stuff) is done by women. I could see that being a part of churches like that would make women want to give up their callings and we, as a church in whole, miss out on their giftings.

  • As a somewhat effiminate male, always took that statement to mean that the men in the church were not “manly” enough – and more to the point I was part of the problem and not part of the solution. Very glad to have found believers that can affirm my place in God’s creation with our fearing loss of their own identity.

    • We are all, as individuals, members of the body of christ. We each have our own strengths and spiritual gifts. And guess what? Those aren’t given based on gender. You bring value to the Church, even if your gifts don’t fit into our cultural gendered stereotypes! I always like to remind the hyper-masculine folks that Jesus doesn’t fit their view of what a Christian man should be. Check this post out for more on that:

  • “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.”

    That’s it in a nutshell, Kate. How can anyone in a congregation like that say the church is too feminine? Thanks for the fact-checking too, showing that the numbers do not support the assertion that women are taking over the church while men are leaving it.

    (I remember when Rachel Held Evans asked for bloggers for thoughts on John Piper’s claim that the church is not masculine enough. Keri Wyatt Kent hosted my response: The Bride Of Christ Isn’t Masculine Enough For Some People.)

      • A loud amen to :

        “dorothygreco says on January 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm”

        Egregious situation for sure!!!! Nauseating, in fact!

  • In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the problem is not the feminization of the church. The problem is the masculiniation of the sacraments. “This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” Thus the proper matter for the sacrament is “flesh,” not “maleness.” The necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is also required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial, and none was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.

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