Saturday, April 28, 2007

“Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow

I remember when my wife and I met again after college. I was back in Nebraska for a year between graduate degrees, and formed a book-reading group with the manager at a local Christian bookstore. He invited some of his friends, I invited some of mine. He invited mainly women, I invited all guys. His friends came to socialize over a book, my friends came to manhandle the book, ripping into it to see how good the argument was. Naturally, the two groups mixed like oil and water. (Being a woman of uncommon discernment, Meg nonetheless grew to love me, although not until after a few related trials.)

I’ve always suspected that my experience with the book-reading group resulted mainly from the gender differences between the two subgroups. So I sympathize with the basic claim that one reason men don’t go to church in the same proportion as women is because the church has become feminized. The thing is, I don’t think that the solution is to re-masculinize the church (assuming that it was a one point "more" masculine), I think the solution is to be a biblical church.

But that probably doesn’t say enough. After all, a lot of practices are adiaphora, so simply saying that worship should be biblical is probably not enough to stop cooing soft-rock "worship" songs with verses like, “I need you, I love you.” So there have to be practical judgments made.

David Murrow argues that the church needs to make men feel more comfortable in order to induce them to come. As I said, I sympathize with much of his argument, but I am also uncomfortable with much of his argument. One distinction I think that he really should have made is the distinction between giving men what we ­want and giving men what we need.

For example, like the average guy in Murrow’s book, I don’t in general like hugging people, and have a particularly extended sense of personal space. If left up to me and my wants, I wouldn’t have changed. My wife changed some of that, but it was my son who dealt with it most severely. For some reason he bonded primarily with me, and was always touching me and wanting to be held. It drove me crazy early on. But he was a persistent (and stubborn) baby. He forced me to adjust my (overextended) sense of personal space. I think that was a good thing for me; something that needed to happen, even though I didn’t want it to happen.

The Christian men I work with in prison hug a lot, too. I think this is a good thing, effectively a “greet each other with a holy kiss,” as Paul and Peter commanded us five times in their epistles. It took a while for me to get used to that as well, but now it seems a bit cold to me in church on Sundays just to shake hands with other people.

Murrow makes a lot of suggestions based on what he admits are generalizations about differences between men and women. I do think that he makes some good points in the sense of making the reader think about the topic. Nonetheless, just as he fails to distinguish between giving men what they want versus what the need, he also fails to draw the critical distinction between “men” and between “American men.” For example, he says flatly that men don’t like to sing. Obviously Murrow has never sat in a beer garden in Germany. I’ve seen groups of the manliest of men spontaneously break out into song in German bars. It seemed weird to me, but it didn’t seem weird to the Germans. He even gets American men significantly wrong on occasion. He says flat out that men don’t like “ceremony.” Yet I dare say there is no institution in the U.S. with more ceremony than the military (even before it was gender integrated).

That being said, I think Murrow broad argument merits attention. Paul gave the Corinthian church the imperative to “stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Co 15.13). So there is positive content for Christian men to aspire to “act like men.” Just what this is, however, is the question. I think that Murrow gets some of it right – for example, to stop asking so little of Christians. (As a former pastor of mine characterized too many worship services: “a mild-mannered person telling mild-mannered people to become more mild mannered”).

At the same time, Murrow seems to me to get a lot of it wrong, insisting that the church conform to whatever it is that men want to do. At the end of the book he points to men who reject the "organized" church altogether, although, ostensibly, they do not reject Christianity. Murrow writes: “Will we accept these men as our brothers in Christ, even though they don’t partake in church sacraments or participate in organized Christian ritual?” (p. 228). Well, there’s more at stake in this question than whether we’re willing to “accept” men who reject the sacramental means of grace that Christ instituted and who reject gathering together with the church that he established.

6 Comments:

Blogger Wayne said...

One of these times I'm going to put a real stinker on my list and see if you take the bait. :-)

April 30, 2007 5:13 PM  
Blogger Paul Buckley said...

"It took a while for me to get used to that [the hugging in prison] as well, but now it seems a bit cold to me in church on Sundays just to shake hands with other people."

Yes, yes, yes. Growing up, I was not very affectionate. Embracing and kissing men wasn't something that came natural to me. But my Orthodox friends taught me well. And yes, my Presbyterian church seems cold in comparison.

"Paul gave the [Corinthian] church the imperative to 'stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong' (1 Co 16.13)."

That's right. And a few lines later he wrote, to the same men (and women, and children), "Greet one another with a holy kiss." So much for Murrow's preference on that score.

Quiz time. Who said this:

“It betrays an unnecessary reserve, if not loss of the ardor of the church’s first love, when the holy kiss is conspicuous by its absence in the Western Church.”

Think.

Think.

Think.

Answer: John Murray, in his commentary on Rom 16:16.

April 30, 2007 10:23 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hey Wayne,

You've already done it -- I'm still trying to get the smell of Hall's "The Cross in Our Context" out of my clothes. Blah!

But I'm finished free-riding on your reading list for the time being, at least. I've finally started N.T. Wright's, "The Resurrection of the Son of God." And, at Rusty's suggestion, I'm reading Gavrilyuk's "The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought."

Maybe I'll start a "what I'm reading" list, so you can free ride as shamelessly as I freerode on you. :-)

May 01, 2007 7:27 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Paul,

Nice point on the proximity of the kiss in 1 Co 16; and a nice Murray quotation as well.

May 01, 2007 7:29 AM  
Blogger Jmucciolo said...

A couple of considerations, if I may:
1.Sometimes the charicature of saying feminized is quite demeaning, there are plenty of strong feminine qualities, the Church is made up of male and female, and the Church is Christ's bride. Perhaps what we mean to say, to give it more umph, is "neutered"!
2.Forget the marketing altogether, it's a waste of time at best, and a mockery at worst. When we try to be salesmen for the Kingdom, then we end up trying to shape God into something a certain segment might like or understand better, and then woe to us. A reshaped god is as good as a golden calf, which was just a reshaped god - an idol.
Thanks!

May 02, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Wayne said...

"Hey Wayne,

You've already done it -- I'm still trying to get the smell of Hall's "The Cross in Our Context" out of my clothes. Blah!"

Oh yeah, I forgot. I suppose I still owe you a few more good title for that one.

May 02, 2007 12:29 PM  

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