Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Feminization" of the Church


I'm way behind on my Issues, Etc. listening. I tend to listen based on the order in my playlist, which is generally quasi-alphabetical, so I am not getting things chronologically. Most of the time I thoroughly enjoy listening and have learned so much. I can't believe that I missed this for how many years?

However, a couple of weeks ago I listened to the podcast which was a round table of pastors discussing the feminization of the church. There was an error made at the very beginning. They did not define their terms before they jumped right in to the discussion. It was not established exactly what "feminizing" means.

Here's the definition from

tr.v. fem·i·nized, fem·i·niz·ing, fem·i·niz·es
To give a feminine appearance or character to.
To cause (a male) to assume feminine characteristics.

Still, this doesn't tell us much. We still have to define "feminine."

The American Heritage Dictionary listing defines it thusly:

Of or relating to women or girls. See Synonyms at female.
Characterized by or possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman.
Effeminate; womanish.
Grammar Designating or belonging to the gender of words or grammatical forms that refer chiefly to females or to things classified as female.

I thought the entry for the Websters Revised Dictionary makes an interesting point as well:

Note: Effeminate and womanish are generally used in a reproachful sense; feminine and womanly, applied to women, are epithets of propriety or commendation.

Still, these don't really list what qualities are considered feminine. And I think that is the problem, because that is what I heard when the pastors started in on their round table the instant that they were asked about "the feminization of the church."

From the starting gate, "subjective theology," "being ruled by emotion," "personal experience valued above doctrine," and contemporary Christian music and its emotional base, its inherent sexuality (from the beat, the swaying, and the "worship babes" were discussed as well as the groupies that the guys attracted-- sorry, this didn't ring true to my experience of contemporary worship. The guys that led it were tall, skinny, and didn't have a shred of animal magnetism to was the pastor that was cute).

I fail to see how these attributes are uniquely feminine. These characteristics are much more representative of a post-modern culture that is filled with people who have never been trained in critical thinking or objective morality. Women have often been the safeguards of morality in our culture (possibly before The Pill made this guardianship of virtue unnecessary), and in different decades, subjective and seeker-sensitive could've just as easily been replaced with stern, inflexible, or pietistic. This alone tells me that attributing emotion and flexibility with gender is inaccurate.

Now, I do realize that the feminist movement has done a lot to destroy the culture of The Church. But these have been power issues and tearing down of doctrine in those areas. They have been related mostly to the office of the Holy Ministry as well as taking over areas where men have historically served as laymen as well. Also, with the increase in divorce, the feminist focus on career and degradation of the roles of wife and mother, and their insistence on "reproductive rights" have definitely torn apart all aspects of life, and The Church is definitely not immune to that.

But I am thinking that another word than "feminize" needs to apply to that phenomenon in particular. Maybe "feministication" would be better, because really, there is nothing feminine about what the Feminist Movement has done to our society. It has torn down all that has been valued in women throughout history and masculinized women, and left men completely confused as to their place in society -- without definition as to what it means to be a man).

To a large extent, The Church should be feminized. She is feminine. She is the Bride of Christ. She nurtures, strengthens, teaches, and protects her children. She is loyal and devoted to Her Bridegroom. And like any good mother, she understands there is right and wrong (Law), absolutes (doctrine and dogma), and forgiveness and need for rest and love (Gospel). These traits have always been recognized as feminine. They have always been desirable qualities in a wife and mother...and feminine is a word that is supposed to describe what is good in a woman, not what is bad. Too often anymore, woman is used to describe what is bad and I find that disturbing.

I am not saying these men hate women. I am saying that to a certain extent, they were guilty of "feminizing" if I were to use their term..since to them it meant hasty, emotional, nondescript, nebulous, subjective. There is nothing about contemporary worship that is uniquely fact, for a long time, it was a movement that was created and pushed more by men than women. Music is an expression of what is important to us. While I question the use of the medium in worship or the theology that most of these songs convey, it is not feminine. There is nothing particularly or uniquely feminine about the rejection of doctrine and replacing it with subjective experience and emotional guidance. This is not gender-based, unless you are falling into cruel stereotypes.

I notice that concern for paraments and vestments was not listed in the definition of feminine. In any other realm, how a table is dressed, the symbolism behind the knot of a sincture, the condition of the embroidery, the quality of linen, and the presence of lace is relegated to women, yet this is something that deeply concerns many liturgical pastors. In any other aspect of life save the military, such attention to dress or to decor would be labeled as effeminate or metrosexual. Yet the fact that this is characteristic of The Church and developed solely under the guidance of men shows that it indeed is not...and at one time, in real life would not have been the case in regular life. After all, John Hancock and George Washington definitely cared about the powdering of their hair, the quality of their lace, and how favorably their knickers showed their calves...yet they were brave and very manly. And in The Church, it is perfectly natural and masculine to want to adorn the Bride with things that emphasize her beauty.

We need to be careful what traits we attribute to men or women. I grew up thinking men were cold and unfeeling, yet that is not the case and such a perspective is insulting to men as a whole. They are often nurturing and gentle, yet hopefully strong and courageous. I would attribute the same traits to women as well.

I take it as a good sign that in over a month of broadcasts, this is the only one that I have really had an issue with. The rest, gentlemen, if you are reading, have been impeccable, enjoyable, and enlightening.

Well, I feel better now. This has been on my chest for a few weeks, but I was too PMS'd and emotional to even think about blogging about it before now I needed time to consider and gather my thoughts. ;)


Thursday's Child said...

Thank you, RPW. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who had a problem with that broadcast. But, like you said, as a whole, it's a wonderful, educational, and enlightening program. I don't know what I ever did without it.

Todd Wilken said...


Believe it or not, I came to the end of that roundtable interview saying to myself, "We should have called it The Emasculation of the Church."

Unfortunately, the term feminization is too easy to go to. And I agree, it doesn't say what we were trying to say. Although, I do recommend a book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity by Dr. Leon Podles. We've interviewed him several times.

What we were really talking about was Pietism and the erosive effect it has on doctrine and practice in the Church.

Thanks for listening. We need all the constructive criticism we can get.


Blogversary said...

Excellent thoughts. I have that episode in my future selections to listen to as well.

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Hey, I heard the boys talking about you with this post, and I'm glad they directed me to it.

I also felt this about a previous radio show where it was mentioned the same way, and I'm glad you cleared it up a bit Pastor Wilken.

Nice post, RPW!

Unashamed said...

Great thoughts and well said. Am I the only one who thinks that RPW would make a great guest on Issues?

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Oh, Issues, Etc. is not my radio ambition. I want Pirate Christian Radio to hire me as their traffic announcer...I can even do it from Indiana...

"and the traffic is clearing on the 405 right at Junipero Serra. There is an accident on the 110 at Sepulveda, and traffic is backed up for miles on I-5 going into the Valley."

When I lived in California, I always maintained that it must be impossible to have a bad day when you got to say "Junipero Serra" 3x a day.


Orianna Laun said...

Congratulations on being "Blog of the Week"!
Junipero Serra, Junipero Serra, Junipero Serra. [I'm a CA missions buff, so I like reading about him in addition to saying the name] ;)

Frank Gillespie said...

Congrats on being Issues, Etc. "Blog of the Week" RPW!

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Thank you! I am really honored. And I was really surprised.

I promise I won't let it go to my head though :)

(its hard to do that when I was cleaning some really disgusting muck out of my garbage disposal when I heard Pastor Wilken announce it....and I still had more to go :P )