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Deconstructing Men : a response to Eric Pazdziora

Bored in Church?
I awoke this morning to see that a few FB friends had tagged me in a BLOG that’s making the rounds. As I’ve written on the issue of gender imbalance in the British church before, they thought I may be interested in this article that seeks to deconstruct the ‘muscular Christianity’ movement. And they were right.

I had not heard of Eric Pazdziora before, but apparently, he’s quite an accomplished pianist, writer, and blogger. His gift for word artistry certainly comes through in this article and overall, he makes some fair points.

I welcome his deconstruction of muscular Christianity on a personal level. We have such a movement here in the UK just like they do in the States. I’ve never felt entirely at home in them. I’ve felt uncomfortable largely because of who I am. On Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFP. Typically, that’s a woman’s personality. Among other things, it means I’m a feeler more than a thinker.

I'm also not the typical sporty male – I write poetry more than play football. I'd usually rather be indoors than outdoors. I don’t have an alpha-male personality. By nature, I’m a content beta who likes to go along for the ride if someone else is willing to drive. When I lead, it’s usually reluctantly.

I also never personally related to the whole concept of men ‘having to do something’ when they get together – a refrain that Eric doesn’t address but that is often repeated within the men’s movement. I’m quite happy to meet a friend (male or female) for a coffee or a beer and just talk. I also don’t personally object to the flowery language of some worship songs. I was raised in the church and get the poetry and the theology behind the images. I thrive on expressing affection to and receiving affection from God.

In affirming some of what Eric says, I don't mean to throw the baby out with the lager in regards to the men's movements. I claim no semblance to the average man and these movements are obviously resonating with some. But a critique is still in order.

The Problem

So I welcome some of Eric’s points. I did think a couple of them bordered on strawmen arguments (or perhaps in his part of the world the men’s movement really is as shallow as he makes it out to be), but overall, it was a fair piece.

But we still have a problem. Even if we grant that Eric does a fair job in deconstructing the Men’s Movement, we as pastors are still left with our original problem: we have churches filled with women who come to worship each Sunday without their husbands - and we don’t know how to reach those men. Eric attempts to show us that the men’s movement isn’t the way forward. Ok, thanks. But how then?

Deconstruction can be a lot of fun. Bloggers thrive on it. We're critics. We get to show how silly other movements and ideas are without actually putting forward too much of our own. And taking shots at Doug Wilson, well… how much easier a target can we get?

I walk away from the article thinking, 'Quite. How silly that some people think they can reach unchurched men by painting things blue and making references to Batman films! Ho-ho! Silly masculinists.’ But I don't leave the article with any real answers on how to reach men. Eric has (perhaps) exposed some of the shallowness of the masculine movement, but what are we replacing it with?

Wilson and the Bullies?

In one place Eric does suggest that it may be bully pastors that draw women in but keep men away. When speaking about Doug Wilson he writes,

If we want to know the reason men are staying away from church, maybe we just found it. Maybe they see church people as bullies.

To this suggestion, I can only reply 'really?' Perhaps that is genuinely his experience. Perhaps women in his corner of the world take a particular fancy to bullies. But where I'm at, this would not be in the case.

Spiritual abuse is a problem on both sides of the Atlantic. We have abusive pastors over here as well. But it has not been my experience that such churches are the cause of the male/female percentage divide in general. It also seems to conflate two issues. When I think of the churches in our area who actively accept the practical advice of various men’s movements (they run lots of sporty activities, give out bacon sandwiches on Sunday morning, sing more ‘masculine’ type hymns, etc) I do not think of these as abusive churches nor as ones run by bullies. They are just churches trying their best to reach lost men with the gospel.

And on this point, I think Eric could’ve been clearer. By mixing his deconstruction of the men’s movement alongside his efforts to call out Doug Wilson for being a bully, he seems to suggest that anyone who's involved in the men’s movement ministry is pro-bully. I don’t think that Eric wants to say that, but addressing Wilson’s style would’ve been better reserved for a separate post.

I'm sympathetic to many of Eric’s concerns over superficiality in the men's movement. But as a pastor, I still have the very real issue of single women not being able to find Christian husbands and many British men, in general, being bored of church - an institution which they see as existing to comfort their grannies. We may say the men's movement has immaturities, but what are we replacing it with? Much of the men's movement may not resonate with me as a poet or Eric as a pianist. But for some men, it's touching something that we'd be foolish to dismiss too hastily.

While Islam, Atheism, and Buddhism all have strong masculine representation, Anglo-Saxon Christianity lags behind – and has done here in the UK since the reign of Queen Victoria (though the YMCA movement of the early 20th Century helped – for a while).

While deconstructing a proposed solution may be of some value, unless we are given real solutions to replace them with, then we haven’t gotten very far.
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Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this, and for your very fair tone! I think in fact I broadly agree with what you say here. My main points of response, more in counterpoint than controversy, would be--

    (A) Of course I disagree quite strongly with the statement "anyone who's involved in men’s movement ministry is pro-bully." If I were to nuance my point in the original post more finely, I'd say "The particular trope 'Some forms of worship are effeminate, and that's bad for men' has an inherent tendency toward bullying, or at least unhelpfully posturing machismo." (Note that many of these forms of worship are developed and commonly used by male leaders! The trope cannot be separated from the derogatory statement it entails about those men, which to me is a form of bullying.)

    (B) "What do we replace it with," while certainly a fair question that deserves to be asked, doesn't contain an answer either. Sometimes we have to hack through the foliage before we can see the best way forward. But in fact I did try to allude in the post to what my answer would be: "What would happen if we made our standard of “biblical masculinity” the Bible’s main character, the Son of Man himself?" A large part of the problem, in my view, is that many of the doctrines and activities we develop in church to attract men (and women, and teens, and...) come to take priority over simply living life in Christ. After all, Jesus said "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:32). Perhaps attracting people to church isn't our primary responsibility?

    Again, fair points all around and I appreciate you taking the time to read and write about my thoughts! Peace to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Perhaps attracting people to church isn't our primary responsibility?" Interesting, because while some might view that statement through the lens of "evangelism," I'm viewing it through the lens of "branding," which is so ubiquitous in our churches. Truth shouldn't be dependent upon color schemes and fonts and musical styles, but we make it about that very often. Submitting to one another in love should be our priority in those areas.

      Also, if Islam, Atheism, and Buddhism have strong masculine representation in the laity, but Christianity does not, does that necessarily say that we're failing in some way? Those three religions/movements emphasize good works, denial of the flesh, or other actions that must be taken to achieve a good life, or salvation when we die. Perhaps, since Christianity says that salvation is something we can only *receive*, we're not doing a good enough job of presenting that message to an action-oriented masculine audience.

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