Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blaming women

The Church has been struggling over the past few decades with the drop in male attendance at services. There have been many answers to why we have this phenomenon. But it's not unique to the Christian world. The secular world is also seeing a trend of fewer men seeking college degrees, and fewer men in the work force.

Unfortunately, too many people come up with the same answer: women.

Yes. They blame women for the failures of men.

Here are a few statistics:

  • Women are more likely than men to graduate from high school
  • Only 44% of undergraduates at community or four-year colleges are men
  • Female college students have higher grade point averages than men, and are more likely to graduate
  • Among young adults, 35% of women and 27% of men possessed bachelor degrees in 2009
  • Women are 60% more likely than men to earn a bachelor's degree by the time they're 23
  • More women than men are earning advanced degrees; 9% of women and 6% of men
  • Nearly 6 out of 10 adults holding advanced degrees between the ages of 25 and 29 are women
  • There are now more women than men in the workforce, with 3/4 of the jobs lost in the Great Recession by men
  • A third of men aged 22-34 still live at home with their parents; in the ages 18-24, 56% of men and 48% of women still live with their parents

Looking at these statistics, we see that young men are checking out. They're choosing to be slackers while young women are being more disciplined.

Yet the blame falls on women? You have to be kidding me.

I've heard guys say it started with women's suffrage. Yeah, women voting has made men less inclined to make their own lives better.

Or they'll blame the feminist movement of the 1970s, saying women entered the work force and made everything worse for men.

This is completely and demonstrably false.

Woodoodles and Floopdeens

Let's do an object lesson:

There are 100 Woodoodles who work in a mine. They go to work every day and mine 20 kilos of diamonds. One day, the foreman says they need 40 kilos of diamonds, so he's going to bring in 100 Floopdeens, and expand the mine. Over time, as the mine grows, the Floopdeen workers grow as the mine grows to accommodate them. Now there are 100 Floopdeens mining 18 kilos of diamonds, but there are only 80 Woodoodles and they're only mining 14 kilos.

When there are openings for 100 Woodoodles and 100 Floopdeens, why are there only 80 Woodoodles when there were 100? Should the foreman hire a few more Floopdeens to cover the Woodoodle labor that isn't getting done?

It's possible that some Woodoodles are upset that Floopdeens are now working in their mines, but that's irrational behavior, and may even be racist. It's not the Floopdeens' fault the Woodoodles don't want to work any more. It's not their fault they're hated by some of the Woodoodles.

There is clearly a different answer for this problem, because laming women for the failings of men is ridiculous.Women don't keep men from going to college, or earning good grades. And women don't keep men from attending church services.

Belonging and purpose

I've been attending a lot of parenting classes recently as my wife and I are preparing to take foster children with the intention to adopt. In the last class, it was stressed over and over than children act out when they do not feel belonging or significance. These two things are the basic desires of everybody once food, shelter and security are met.

They explained that in the agrarian society, the children worked alongside their parents, so they had significance, and belonging. Now children are to be seen and not heard. They're to go to school where belonging is lacking, and pass tests where significance is lacking. At home, children aren't asked to carry much of the load either.

This is why I think men are failing - especially in the church communities. Our institutions don't provide belonging or significance for men. And this isn't because women are present, it's because they're treated as sheep or machines.

Over the past thirty years, when the churches began noticing the trend of male attendance reduction, we also saw a new type of church structure being formed. These congregations moved away from an elder-centered community, and more into a cult-of-personality around an individual man. It was this one man's vision, and it was this one man's authority that the congregation was asked to submit to. And I know many men who have become sick of this, and have left the typical church community because they weren't given a voice, and when they attempted to exercise their spiritual gifts, they were admonished and sometimes told to leave.

It's not because women took over, or the churches started catering to the needs of women than caused men to leave. It was because the alpha-male model of vertical authority took over, and pushed out the other men.

Bigger, stronger, faster

Recently, I watched a documentary called Bigger Stronger Faster, a discovery of the American infatuation with steroid use and bulging muscles. The host and narrator talked about how the 1980s introduced a new model of masculinity into American culture; a lone wolf with rippling muscles, and kickass attitude. One guest showed how the GI Joe action figure went from a normal-sized guy in the '60s to a muscular guy in the '80s to an inhuman size in the '90s.

Over these years, male culture has praised machismo over brains. Brawn over skills.

Since the 1980s, we’ve been inundated with a new image of man. It was no longer Sean Connery’s multi-skilled gentleman, Cary Grant’s casual elegance, or even John Wayne’s meek toughness. It was Arnold’s biceps, Jean Claude’s speed, Sly Stallone’s will, and Hulk Hogan’s anger.

Men have sloughed off the complete man in favor of the warrior.

Being smart isn’t manly. Being gentle is the price we pay to keep the company of women (but who needs them, right?). Manners are for sissies; ties are for idiots.

And along with this machismo comes homophobia. Having a nice hair cut is gay. Being fit is gay. Wearing nice clothes is gay. Cooking is gay. Reading books is gay. Doing well in school is gay.

It seems like the more we see how gay men are exactly the same as us, the less we want to be like ourselves. So we turn to being fat sloths to get away from the appearance of being gay.

The answer

I'm not really interested in the cultural aspects of masculinity as much as I am the Christian aspects. What can we do to help men in the church?

Look to Christ, of course.

The first chapter of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ is "the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being." (v.3) If we want to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), we should model our church communities and our lives after the Son. (1 Peter 2:21)

Church discipline should no longer follow the feudal system of vertical authority. This is not how Christ lead his disciples, nor is it how the Apostles taught the leaders to behave.

If Jesus is the "exact representation" of God, and he came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28; Luke 12:37), than God's example for us is to serve one another. (Luke 22:26-27; Galatians 5:13) This is especially true of the leaders. Too often the leadership demands service to their needs, and they punish those who do not fall in line with their vision. This is contrary to the way Christ exemplified and taught.

Mark 10:42-45
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Peter told the leaders the same thing, as Jesus taught him as he washed Peter's feet. (John 13:12-17)

1 Peter 5:2-3
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Leaders, provide significance in the congregation for all participants. Find the gifts of everyone and encourage them to use them. Don't hinder their use. You're purpose is not to guide the "sheep" but to provide a place for them to have belonging and significance. You encourage men to be leaders, yet won't let them lead within their church community because you're the leader. Let them lead. Let other men have visions.

This is the same for women. Women find significance in hearing others, so it's not difficult for women's ministries to grow by providing a place of belonging. But women have other gifts as well, and they need to be allowed to participate fully in the congregation as well. All members need to have belonging and significance, and all of their spiritual giftings need to be encouraged and allowed.


His Name Extoled said...

"Being smart isn’t manly. Being gentle is the price we pay to keep the company of women (but who needs them, right?). Manners are for sissies; ties are for idiots."

That quote made me happy. Anyway, bravo on the post. Anyone who has their head on straight must realize that women actually improve society and the church a lot, and I do say this as a complementarian. The cliche to "man up" has been thrown around a lot while meaning "toughen up and don't show weakness" which usually results in some type of proof of said masculinity. Men have failed. We've failed society, we've failed the church, we've failed women, and we've failed ourselves. Part of being a man (and a responsible human being for that matter) is taking responsibility for ones own failure, not shifting it to someone else, and then going about correcting the problem. Well said sir.

Steven Kippel said...

I'm trying to actually provide a way forward now instead of making everything a criticism.