Generous Orthodoxy  




Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What about the men?

My husband and I have been worrying for some time about the disproportionate numbers of women now going into the ministry. If the Christian ministry becomes more than 50% women, that will not be a good thing. I just looked at a photo of the candidates for ministry from one of our major Protestant churches and five out of six were women, most of them middle-aged. Some mainline Protestant seminaries are already more than 50% women. The heterosexual male is an underrepresented species.

As for the disproportion in the pews, it is a situation of long standing. A book that strongly affected me when I read it in the 70s was Ann Douglas' now-classic work, The Feminization of American Culture. She traces the way that the Protestant ministry changed from one of power in the community to one of mere "influence," and she notes how the 19th-century ministers spent most of their time with women in domestic settings.

In a striking article in the Wall Street Journal on October 21 (their "Houses of Worship" column every Friday is frequently a must-read), Christine Rosen cites a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. "Church is sweet and sentimental, nurturing and nice. Women thrive in this environment. Men do not." Ms. Rosen also cites another author, Charlotte Allen, who states, "The problem is that men love ritual and solemnity, and women, influenced by our all-pervasive therapeutic culture, bring a therapeutic style to the liturgy." That sounds right to me.

There are other aspects of this WSJ article that I do not necessarily agree with, but the column highlights the fundamental problem in a stark and arresting way. This problem is not even being discussed, let alone addressed, by our church leadership. Unless and until prominent, respected lay men step forward to recruit promising boys of high school age to think seriously about the ministry as a career, I don't see this trend changing.