Friday, October 27, 2006

Near/Far: Second Iteration

Re: Feminization of the Church

My first reaction when I came across this phrase, frankly, was that it seemed incredibly sexist. What makes the church feminized, and why is that seen as bad, a mistake, or substandard?

Sometimes, it sounds like we're being forced to look at worship and worship songs like the above picture. Why the forced dichotomy? Particularly such an over-stated forced/false dichotomy as masculine "versus" feminine worship?

The more I read what people seem concerned about, however, the more it sounds like people are actually reacting against pre-packaged, emotionally-manipulative, forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusion, passionless programs masquerading as worship.

And let's face it -- there are worship leaders and church leaders who appear skilled and deliberate with manipulation and pre-packaged "experiences" that are ultimately hollow and unsatisfying. And I'd be among the first to lead the charge out the door if that were the case.

But equating passion-less worship with being too "feminine" only creates confusion and unnecessary offence. It's not about some fictional "genderization" of worship and church, it's about passion, or the lack of it. Connection with the Divine, or the lack of it.

If intimacy with the Father is seen as too "feminine", or somehow substandard for the he-men of the 21st century, that says more about the men than it does about the worship or the church (and it's not a positive statement).

Two comments from the original Near/Far post that help to sum this up are from Molly
"I think it's not so much "feminization," because then we're basically saying that feminine is wimpy and weak... I think it's just that we've turned Christianity into white bread and twinkies. The gritty is taken out, the raw passion, the hungry searching."
and also this thought from Dave Taylor:
"If intimacy = feminized, which as one commenter said, seems to be used as a synonym for "weak," then we would have to discard many of the psalms and selected passages where the prophets bare their hearts to God in complaint or distress."

Just a quick perusal of the Psalms reveals a very intimate relationship between David and Yahweh; David was a soldier, a king, and a worship leader, whose masculinity was not in the least threatened by telling Yahweh of his love for Him (ie. Psalm 18:1-3, Psalm 23:6, Psalm 36:5-6, Psalm 103:8-12).

And the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, considered by the ancient Jews to be the centrepoint of Judaism, boldly proclaims:

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

When Jesus is questioned as to the heart of the Old Testament covenant, His reply, as recorded in Mark 12:28-31, tells us that the Shema is no less important now than it was then:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Jesus not only reinforced the acceptability -- nay, the assumption -- that intimacy with the Father is important, He goes beyond the Shema to add humanity to the equation as well (another topic with huge implications).

Suffice it to say for now: worship that communicates and expresses a love for Jesus is not wimpy, feminized, or "an 80's thing". If the proliferation of sappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend lyrics fail to adequately capture this biblical reality, the problem is with the songwriters and worship leaders who use these songs; maybe it's time we put songwriters' feet to the fire (so to speak) to come up with better ways of communicating.

I've got some thoughts on how being a "fatherless generation" has changed in meaning and expression recently, and how that might impact this topic; more on that later.


  1. One way to hold songwriters' (and worship leaders') feet to the fire is to require more of them, namely the kind of depth and experience that the psalmists had.

    As I commented in the first Near/Far post, what's lacking is the depth of relationship with God that produces an authentic expression of intimacy rather than a plastic one. Like it or not, we have to admit that certain worship styles have become so popular that songwriters and worship leaders can simply be purveyors of style rather than ministers ministering out of the reality of their experience.

    When the psalmist wrote about being between a rock and a hard place and then being delivered by God, he was writing about something that had actually happened. He wasn't trying to imagine what it was like to be delivered; he was recording the thoughts, feelings and circumstances surrounding actual deliverance.

    To be fair, ministers and Bible teachers do the same thing as songwriters when they don't preach or teach out of their own walk with the Lord. I don't know how many times I've heard messages that just don't ring true simply because they stem from "head knowledge" and not from real experience, wrestling with God in the real world. Song lyrics can have that same tenuous quality as well.

  2. I totally agree that the issue of masculine/feminine worship is a false dichotomy…that we should be able to traverse any portion of this spectrum while holding both ends in tension. I think you nailed it though when you said…

    “…people are actually reacting against pre-packaged, emotionally-manipulative, forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusion, passionless programs masquerading as worship.”

    My question is how do we define these things? What is passion if many equate it as exuberance? How do we avoid forced-to-a-predetermined-conclusions without making it a complete existential free-for-all? At what point does the use of music as a vehicle for worship become emotionally-manipulative when in some respect all music is manipulative?

    We surely want to engage in a spiritual journey together and the use of music is an extremely powerful tool to help with this (although perhaps the consumption of music in our culture has somewhat tainted this)…where do we draw these lines so that we are being authentic, healthy and passionate in our expression of music in church?

  3. Molly & David,

    Again, thank you for your visits and comments. David, your observation about worship (like preaching) having more "weight" when coming from experience is very, very true!


    Dude, you sparked such a thought-storm with your comment that I had to erase what I originally answered you with (it was a comment almost as long as the original post!), and included it as an update to the original post.

    Thanks for stirring the pot so effectively!

  4. Thank you for your post, got me thinking, so much appreciated

    It's an interesting corelation that you make Robby with focus on worship. Personally I don't think it is so much about the feminisation of the church but the lack of authentic masculine engagement - it's one of the reasons i dig Mr Ruis was his tunes were passionate.

    I don't think we should say intimacy is just singing - I think that is as wrong as saying prayer is just bowing my head and closing my eyes or revelation can only come in King James English.

    I think we need to hold up our hands and say there is some musical styles that more men find harder to engage in then women but there are also other ways where men might connect with intimacy easier than women.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with this and I don't think we should try and pretend that this is because of plastic experience or a manufactured mentality - a lot of peope of either sex will find intimacy in both those experiences.

    I think there is a discipline in not making church about just one style that I like at the expense of others.

    One way is to explore as many ways as possible to allow connection/intimacy by making our worship experiences much more interactive and varied other than just singing/word/music based.

    I think it is also fine to say heh the church cannot provide for you ever way that you may need to connect/feel intimacy - that's ok. It's not bad to have an emotional temperature and a zone of engagement and we want to encourage and empower you to exlore this.

    I think we need to get out of the intimacy = love songs to the lord and recognise all the many different ways that men and women connect, some of which may be more generic and some of which may have no relation to gender at all...

  5. One solution is, we could all sing the psalms.

  6. I don't think the issue is just about singing and how we sing...only part of it.

    First, I don't think it's a big debate if the Church is too femine or not. Statistically, there are extremely more women in churches than men - that's just a fact. As such, if women are sitting in the pews (or chairs), and the church ministries are run by women, and the volunteers are women, and the people tithing are women, then over the years, the church is going to become more femine, and it has. It doesn't mean weak - just that literally, it appeals to women. This isn't bad in itself, except that there are many things about church that will just be off-putting to men coming in the door. This is the state of the Church.

    A worship song is just a worship song, but I think there are problems with lyrics if it makes it so that some people in the congregation are distracted from God. If there are lyrics that men are uncomfortable singing because they use words that he would only say in an intimate setting with a woman, then I don't think the song is appropriate for the Church.

    There are lots of things about Church that are more feminine than masculine, and it just makes it so that men aren't as comfortable in church - they may not even recognize why.

    I don't think we should take out all the feminine things (although really, I think we could do without the sexual worship songs) because feminine doesn't mean BAD. But, we should add in things that are more masculine in nature. You might make the women a little uncomfortable, but you might also bring some more of the men back into Church.