grace table

Krish Kandiah has some interesting thoughts on men and the church. Asked to comment on the deficit of men in congregations, he has delved into the stats and suggested it’s perhaps more complex than it appears. Breaking down the latest census figures into age groups, it would seem that the fact that women outnumber men in the church could be largely down to the fact that women live longer. When the average age of church goers is increasing, it’s perhaps not surprising that there are more women than men at church because there are more older women than older men in the UK.

I wrote about how to address equality in the church in a chapter in Equals, but deliberately didn’t address the ‘lack of men in the church’ for two reasons. Firstly because many of the responses to there being fewer men depend on an essential view of gender, that men and women are, or should be, fundamentally different in character in stable and consistent ways. Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow, for example, draws heavily from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus which makes it hard to engage with when his source material is so flawed. I don’t think that understanding of gender is either true or helpful – people and cultures are much more diverse than that.

The second reason is because much of the rhetoric around the lack of men is incredibly disparaging to women and to the men that are in church. A couple of weeks ago I heard Susie Leafe from Reform speak and she said ‘We need more real men in the church.’ I’d like to know what a ‘real’ man is, and what a false or pretend one looks like. When I look at my husband, my sons and my male friends I see a wonderfully diverse array of human beings with different gifts, qualities, interests, life choices and ambitions. I suspect that many of them wouldn’t pass Susie’s test of being ‘real’ for which I am very grateful – long live diversity and individuality. Implying that the men who are in church aren’t good enough is extremely insulting and is hardly going to help.Why would you stay when you are judged to be deficient? Oh wait – I know a lot of women who could give a perspective on that.

Krish also points out that there are many women who find church difficult. Kristin Aune’s research a few years back found that 50,000 women left the church every year – some because of the pressures of juggling work and family, while others struggle with the lack of equality, particularly those from younger generations. If that is overlooked, then there’ll be no one left to take the place of the women who’ve traditionally filled the pews.

It’s easy to quote soundbites, but we need to engage in a more nuanced conversation around gender and church and the intersection between the two. I’m grateful for Krish’s thoughts and I hope they spark a deeper conversation.

(Photo by Jonny Baker of a service at Grace)

One thought on “Let’s talk some more about men and the church

  1. I reflect on my upbringing as boy within the Church as ‘boy bad, girl good’ – and the reflection is one that does no good to woman, man or child. It is a series of nested misconceptions that makes the Church a difficult place to be a human being. One of these misconceptions is the way that certain attributes are given a particular gender. Caring, sensitive, compassionate, for example are the attributes of women. Aggression, competiveness, forcefulness¸ for example are the attributes of men. This is, of course, silly and the problem arises in church and world when these attributes become limited to one gender. It is not ‘normal’ for a man to be compassionate, it is not normal for a woman to be aggressive. We know this is our hearts to be absurd, but there it is. What makes the Church so poisonous for human beings, however, is the further step that we making in judging that there is something inherently and inevitably good about caring, and something inherently bad about being aggressive. This is as nonsense as the first assumption that ‘caring’ is a woman’s concern, and ‘aggression’ what ‘those boys will get up to, bless them’. It is not difficult to think of situations when being ‘caring’ in this rather narrow gendered way is actually rather dishonest and unhelpful. And it is not hard to think of times when an aggressive determination to win is the best possible moral choice. But it doesn’t feel that way in a Church where caring is good and aggression is bad, and girls and caring so being a boy in boy mode is bad.
    Because in Church ‘boy bad, girl good’ exists – boys tend to claim their femininity in ways that must make the girls cringe, and fail to face up to obvious idiocy and unfairness in the Church and society by caring (not loving) for sinner and saint alike, and allowing injustice to flourish in a rather pallid and sick form of caring that insults women, and stifles love. But because, ‘boy bad, girl good exists’ – girls end up feeling silenced and marginalised when their righteous anger rises up and there is nowhere or anyone who feels other than embarrassed at such un-girly and frankly unchristian behaviour. We become a fellowship run on passive aggression.
    The liberation we need is for a Church, woman and men alike, to not only see that it is very manly to care, and appropriately womanly to fight your corner and but also the morality of it is the cause, the purpose and the glory of God not the inherent virtue of one attribute of the divine image. I know real caring is much more than softly applied damp facecloths to fevered brows – but in the odd old Church world, we find it far too easy to believe that a man is being natural and Godly when he nurses a sick child than we do a woman in a sharp business suit aggressively tackles a large group of dishonest, bullying corporations.

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