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Christianity is for everyone or, ‘Ooey-gooey no more!’

December 28, 2010 No Comment

by Thomas Prachar

“Churches geared to women, author says.” That was the headline of the September 9 edition of The Globe and Mail that caught my attention. To be sure, this article wasn’t on the front page but was minding its own business in the back pages of the paper.

John Longhurst reports the findings of a book written by David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church. “Christianity’s primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women,” he asserts. Murrow bases his premise on “the warm colours, robes, candles, flowers, sharing, tapestries, long sermons and soft, romantic worship music” that set apart many evangelical churches. “What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?” he asks. “This church system offers little to stir the masculine heart, so men find it dull and irrelevant.” He adds that men who do go to church often seem passive and bored.

Murrow maintains that the definition of a good Christian has been feminized. “Christians are supposed to be gentle, sensitive and nurturing, focused on home, family and hospitality. The godly are supposed to be calm, gentle, polite and sociable.”

Much of Murrow’s criticism is aimed at worship: “Here’s one of the great, unspoken assumptions of worship today: The more emotional the response, the truer the worship. Great worship results in sensation, passion and good feelings. The worship leader’s job is to help the people generate a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus. Whether passionate emotion equals true worship is not what I’m here to debate. I’m merely pointing out the fact that if ooey-gooey feelings are what we’re shooting for, worship will be much easier for women than men.” Murrow adds: “It’s hard for a man to be real in church because he must squeeze himself into this feminine religious mould.” Commenting on male-led denominations like the Roman Catholic church, Murrow contends, “The modern church is an army of women led by a few male generals.”

Finally, Murrow writes: “Men, if you’ve felt out of place in church, it’s not your fault. If you’ve tried and failed to get a men’s ministry going in your church, it’s not your fault. If you can’t get your buddies interested in church, it’s not your fault. The church system is getting the results it’s designed to get. Until that system changes—radically—men will continue to perish, both inside and outside our congregations.”

The author of the newspaper article, John Longhurst, points to a study in England that found “there is no gender gap in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism in that country; slightly more men than women attend worship services in those religions.”

What are we to make of the premise of David Murrow’s book? Are our Lutheran congregations showing more women in the pews than men? If so, what is the reason? Are men threatened by Murrow’s so-called feminization of the church in general and worship in particular?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. Some may even say I’m not qualified to comment since I’m biased: I’m not married, and I am a pastor. Suffice it to say, our church architecture, art and furnishings are designed to teach and edify, not question, “Is that meant for me or the wife?” They are meant for male and female, young and old, for sinners and forgiven sinners, for all of God’s children made so in Christ.

I’ve never thought of our churches or especially our worship as being something we do simply to elicit “ooey-gooey feelings.” I look at our liturgy and hymns as time-tested and “gender neutral.” I believe they are so designed because they incorporate the “theology of the cross,” as well as both Law and Gospel. With these doctrines in place, emotions become secondary. The fact that Jesus died a horrible execution on a wooden Roman cross for everyone’s sins (male and female) leads us to see the seriousness of those offences before God. The Law shows us our great separation from God and our need for a Saviour, leading us to feelings of sorrow, shame and repentance. Once the Law has done its work, the Gospel is all the more sweet, filling us with great joy. The apostle Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 ESV).

Rev. Thomas Prachar is president of Lutheran Church–Canada’s Central District

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