I watched a rather splendid social media spat the other day. A friend of mine had somehow found a facebook page about Christianity for men. Or rather, Christianity for MEN. Real Men. Really Real Men.
I don’t want to ridicule them overly much, because I think their intentions were good. Even though I’m still not sure that it isn’t satire of a sort. The facebook page was called “Duderonomy” – geddit?
The contention was that men aren’t going to church – and there were two reasons for this. One is that the church has been effeminised, so that men aren’t being Real Men any more – and secondly that dudes (yes, dudes) need to “man up” and “get some guts” and go to church.
The came hard on the heels of an email I received recently from a friend, asking our church to buy a magazine for male Christians. It was of a completely different order from “Duderonomy”, in a good way, and it was trying to deal with the same problem – the role and identity of men in church.
Is there a problem?
There are many problems with lack of people finding their spiritual life, people feeling locked into a mechanistic worldview. But the problem with the church is not, I think a problem to be solved by butching up the church.
The church is organised as a patriarchal institution, which is still run by men, organised on very male lines, where the language, structure and modus operandi is very male. More than that – it’s designed for men whose children are either at boarding school or have left home. Our church structurally is still living in a world where there is one answer to every question, where we are organised on military lines of hierarchy, designed to cater to those who have curates or assistants to do the church work, and which floats on a sea of bureaucracy. I emphasise, that is not how the church is, or how the church behaves – but it is how it is structured. The church seeks not to be a patriarchal institution, but it is left with the operating machinery of a Victorian church, and we’ve not come to terms with that nearly as much as we should.
But there is too no doubt men in the western world are suffering something of an identity crisis.
Well, not all men. But for some of the once-ruling heterosexual, white, pater-familias breadwinners, we live in something of a troubling new world. That’s not news – the change of status of men and the change of circumstance in job security, the rise of increasingly equal pay and status for women (increasingly, not actually there yet) and the multiplicity of identities which we all have for ourselves in this melting pot world of culture, sexuality, class and faith, have all been well reported and documented.
All of that is true. But it is one truth among many. Do we think it’s easier for women to find their own role in this changing world, where they have to be both top earner and perfect wife/mother? Oh, and obviously very pretty too, that matters. I’ve seen my own wife’s struggles to find the balance and it’s not easy. And I suspect it’s not made any easier by the suggestion that men should somehow be reclaiming the territory of “being in charge”.
We live in a world where identity is no longer inherited or given. We have to find out who we are, without society telling us. It is very tempting to want to go back to a more reassuring time, when men were really very much real men, but then again, I don’t know much about replacing a carburettor or skinning a bear. Those old identities won’t fit for anyone north of 1950.
As Christians, I don’t think those identities are our first port of call. Our identity should be as Christians, before we find our identity as “men”. Those throughout history who have taken their Christian identity seriously have often done so at the expense of the prevailing ideas of gender roles. There was nothing demure about Hildegaard, just as there was nothing butch about St Francis. But they were wholly themselves, and didn’t need the prop of cultural norms to bolster their faith.
There is a problem with fewer men attending church, but the answer I hope is more evangelism, more outreach, more God, more Jesus, not perhaps more chainsaws and sweat.