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.