Why don't men go to church?

If you've seen this month's Southern Cross, the newspaper of Sydney Diocese, you won't have missed the feature on 'Why don't Men go to Church?'

Here's my response:

Dear Editor,

Your feature this month on ‘Why Don’t Men go to Church’ raises a very good question, but unfortunately not many good answers.

One quote featured big and bold says: “Christ’s masculine command, ‘Follow me’ is now ‘have a relationship with me’. Men want a leader, not a love object.”

But what’s so masculine about following? A group of women also followed Jesus around. And one gospel makes sure we know that John was the disciple ‘Jesus loved’.

It’s asserted that most Christian ministry opportunities are ‘feminine’. Singing, for example: Have you heard the Welsh male choirs? More than half of the Top 20 artists are male. Would anyone dare call Placido Domingo ‘feminine’? Caring for children. My husband cares for his littlies, and sometimes even babysits. That doesn’t make him feminine. As for organising social gatherings, women have no monopoly on this, although some of us are good at it. My male friends are just as good at getting together as my female friends.

Then there’s the problem of church style, namely silence, sharing, sitting and singing love songs. Silence: Orders of monks have been silent for centuries. And being mischievous, one could argue that silence is not a feminine trait. Sharing: to be honest, not much of this goes on in my church. And most times it’s as awkward for women as it is for men. Sitting? If you’ve ever watched a man fishing, you’ll know he can sit for hours. Singing love songs: Again, women have no monopoly on the language of love. Would we call great poets like John Donne feminine?

The next alleged problem is weak leadership. Men learn best through mentoring and being mentored. True enough, but let’s be real about this: women do too. There’s nothing peculiar to the male gender in desiring good leadership. If leadership is weak (and that’s an amazingly broad-brushed accusation to make), it’s a problem for the whole church, not just for half of it.

Then we get into the boredom factor. Church is boring, safe and not risky, and men like risk. That may be true. Some men do like risk. But so do some women. And lots and lots of men like safety. Why else do we have local corner pubs? Why do men buy Volvos?

‘Men at church don’t get their hands dirty’. This is a class issue, not a gender issue. The much maligned ‘caffe latte’ set is not just made up of women. There are men coffee shoppers out there too! Yes, the ‘Backyard Angels’ sound great. They’re meeting a community need and giving certain men an outlet for their gifts. But not all men. In our family, I’m the one who owns the tools and fixes the toilets and drills the holes. This ‘male issue’ is really a class issue.

So how can we really answer this question of why men don’t go to church? Southern Cross is right to remind us that this has been an issue for at least a hundred years. The answer may be found in problem number 4: “church doesn’t relate to a man’s world’.

Nancy Pearcey in her book ‘Total Truth’ gives perhaps the best explanation I’ve heard.

She argues that since the industrial revolution, western life has been split into two spheres: public and private. Some things belong to the public sphere: the market, business, the law, science and facts, for example. Other things belong to the private sphere: for example, emotions and friendship, family, sex, morality and the idea of home as a refuge. Religion, belief and things that are empirically unprovable are things that belong in the private sphere.

Unfortunately, genders have been separated in this split. Men belong in the public sphere, and women belong in the private sphere and it’s hard to cross the divide.

The problem of why men don’t go to church requires far bigger solutions than just making cosmetic changes to the services or the style of leadership. It’s a cultural problem which can only change if religion and belief are taken back into the public sphere, or if men become part of the private sphere, or both.

On a final note: I’m mildly alarmed by the idea of Jesus being the ultimate male. Yes, he showed these wonderful qualities: authority in teaching, resoluteness, bravery, wit and compassion. But if these are seen as truly and only male qualities, where does that leave me as a woman?

Firewheel Press3 Comments