From time to time I’ve read articles by Western feminist theologians on the need for Christianity, or theology, or something to be “gendered”, and it’s always made me feel a bit uncomfortable because I’ve never been quite sure what it meant. Then I came across this, and had the same uncomfortable feeling. Why Orthodox Men Love Church : Journey To Orthodoxy:
In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing. This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women.
It’s an interesting article, though I’m not quite sure whether it’s “gendered” or not. It goes on to speak of the “feminization” of Christianity, which does sound gendered, but the article seems to be saying that Orthodoxy neutralises this “feminization” and, unlike other varieties of Christianity, attracts both sexes equally. But I still have this strange feeling that the “feminization” that the article speaks of is not quite what the feminist theologians have in mind when they say “gendered”.
The article says why Orthodoxy appeals to males, but it seems that it appeals to females for the very same reasons
“In Orthodoxy, the theme of spiritual warfare is ubiquitous; saints, including female saints, are warriors. Warfare requires courage, fortitude, and heroism. We are called to be ‘strugglers’ against sin, to be ‘athletes’ as St. Paul says. And the prize is given to the victor. The fact that you must ‘struggle’ during worship by standing up throughout long services is itself a challenge men are willing to take up.”
In those long services, however, it is the babushkas who put the males in their place — upbraiding teenage boys who saunter up to communion with their hands in their pockets, and who, in the Bolskevik era in Russia, could always tell the KGB men by the way they stood in church, and would make remarks about the way they couldn’t stand still, “Perhaps the devil put nuts under your feet.”
I’m not sure which varieties of Christianity are feminized, though.
If you look at the “Christian” shelves in secular book shops most ofn the books on offer are written by megapastors of megachurches out to make megabucks, and nearly all of them are male. The few books written by women seem to be written specifically for women, and their vision of femininity seems to resemble nothing so much as The Stepford wives. It would be inaccurate to say thay they resemble androids; gynoids is probably closer to the mark. But I also supect that some feminist writers really do think the world is like that.
It wasn’t so in the old days. I think Aimee Semple McPherson would have given any of today’s megapastors a run for their money. And then there was Ma Nku, the founder of the St John Apostolic Faith Mission.
The very word “gender” seems to be confusing nowadays, and often seems to be used as a longer and more pretentious substitute for “sex”. In the past it was simple: the sexes were male and female, and the genders were masculine, feminine and neuter. Sociologists began to use “gender” for the social construction of sex, meaning that sex was biological, whereas gender was more cultural. And that’s were it gets rather complicated. If gender is cultural, then it varies from one culture to another, and that is precisely the point at which I mistrust Americans writing about the “feminization” of Christianity.
Some years ago some British online friends went to work for a Christian NGO in Colorado in the USA, and they went to a local Protestant church in Colorado Springs. They were hit by culture shock when the minister of the church preached a sermon on the need for macho males. He said that parents should discourage their sons from playing “girls’ games” like soccer, and rather encourage them to play more macho games, like basketball. But in other cultures the gender of the games is quite different. Soccer is seen as a primarily male game, while netball (the equivalent of basketball), is seen as a “girly game”, as Arnold Schwarzenegger might say. Gender certainly differs from culture to culture, so what do you fill in on those forms that ask for your “gender”? Think about how you feel about soccer today, and think about whether you are in the USA or in the rest of the world?
The article I quoted goes on to say Why Orthodox Men Love Church : Journey To Orthodoxy:
In “The Church Impotent,” cited above (and recommended by several of these men), Leon Podles offers a theory about how Western Christian piety became feminized. In the 12th-13th centuries a particularly tender, even erotic, strain of devotion arose, one which invited the individual believer to picture himself or herself (rather than the Church as a whole) as the Bride of Christ. “Bridal Mysticism” was enthusiastically adopted by devout women, and left an enduring stamp on Western Christianity. It understandably had less appeal for guys. For centuries in the West, men who chose the ministry have been stereotyped as effeminate.
And worship can have its own cultural assumptions. An Orthodox woman I know was quite shocked when seeing Pentecostal worship on TV, “all those people with closed eyes and bared teeth.”
I read the article, and think yes, most of what is says about Orthodoxy is true, but there is such a thing as being too self-consciously gendered. Perhaps it’s American gender angst. The point about Orthodoxy isn’t that it’s macho, it’s rather that it’s true.