“Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow
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.