Men and the Church

October 25, 2007 Length: 8:12

This week we catch Frederica in her car driving to Washington, D.C., and reflecting on the differences between the Orthodox Church and other Christian churches when it comes to the involvement of men.

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I’m in the car today driving down I-95, going south (as usual) toward Washington, this time toward northern Virginia, where I’m going to a reunion of my seminary class at Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary. It’s our 30th anniversary so I’m going back on campus to hear some speakers today and to attempt to give the seminary library a stack of my books; we’ll see if they will accept these, we’ll see what happens. I expect so; they’re actually very gracious people at Virginia Seminary.

I’m thinking about a conversation I’ve been having, an email conversation, with a lot of people in the last couple of weeks, that has led up to an article just published on Beliefnet.com. Beliefnet was doing an interview with John Eldridge. Now if you don’t know that name, he’s become a very significant name among evangelical Protestants. He’s written a book called Wild at Heart that attempts to restore a sense of masculinity to evangelical Protestantism. As you may know, virtually all Christian churches, except for Orthodox churches, are unbalanced in terms of gender. That is, they attract many more women than men. This is true even in churches like the Catholic Church, where there’s an all-male leadership. Nevertheless, the people who sit in the pews and actually run the day-to-day church tend to be women. So this is kind of mysterious: why do men stay away from so many western Christian churches?

Well, Eldridge proposes some things that each man has to do, each man needs a quest and each man needs to feel noble and each man needs to save a princess, and things like that, I think; you know, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen these points enumerated.

So they interviewed him, and they asked me to chime in with anything I wanted to say about men and women and church, and I thought I wanted to talk about, well, why is Orthodoxy more attractive to men? You know, we really don’t have this problem, that men don’t want to come to church. In fact, often enough we see that if there’s a couple that’s an inquirer couple, they’re investigating Orthodoxy, one of them wants to be Orthodox and one doesn’t, generally it’s going to be the husband that’s most excited about Orthodoxy, the wife who’s reluctant. I’ve had so many women tell me, ‘My husband had to drag me kicking and screaming.’ And I was one of them. I think I didn’t *get* Orthodoxy, because it was focused on God, it wasn’t focused on me. I was used to a soft evangelicalism that mostly was about inspiring me, uplifting me, and making me feel the presence of God, and making me feel emotionally moved. And Orthodoxy is just real objective.

So instead of just writing out my theory of why Orthodoxy was attractive to men, I picked out about 100 guys from my address book, most of them converts to Orthodoxy, and asked them why they thought this is. I got fascinating replies; I ended up with a piece that was over 3000 words long, mostly made of quotes, from these respondents, sorted into categories.

For example, they said men like the clarity of Orthodoxy. That you know what you’re supposed to do. You know what the fast is supposed to be like. You know what the liturgy is going to be like. There’s not vagueness about it. And you feel assured that if you keep doing this, it’s going to have an effect; it’s not just vague. The sole effect is not that you feel emotional; that it is having an actual transformative effect.

So there were things like that: the objectivity, the discovery that the words of the Christian vocabulary are not mere empty emotionally charged words, that they actually correspond to spiritual noetic reality. Some terrific quotes in there. One of the priests wrote and said, ‘We have to keep in mind the dangerousness of Orthodoxy, the danger of attempting to live in humility, the danger of trying to love your enemies, the unknown frontiers that this will call you to.’ And he said that if we lose that dash of danger, we will become ‘the JoAnn Fabric Store of churches: very nice colors and very subdued clientele.’ I thought that was a terrific line.

Anyway, I sent this out to my email list and posted it on my website just a couple of days ago. Today I got two emails pointing out something I hadn’t thought about yet, which was that the kind of masculinity that John Eldridge proposes is sort of a stereotyped Marlboro Man, macho guy, masculinity, and that is not really something we find in Orthodoxy. In fact, fascinatingly, in Orthodoxy we don’t find an emphasis on the difference between men and women, or what masculinity is characterized by, as opposed to what characterizes femininity.

I heard a tape from Bishop Kallistos where he pointed out something I’d never thought of: you know, western Christians who oppose women’s ordination often say, well, Jesus was male so therefore the priest has to be male. Bp. Kallistos said that in all his reading in the Fathers, there’s just no reference, no interest in, the fact of the maleness of Christ. It’s all about his humanity. The fact that he was male is not isolated or held up as something different or contrary to the female. And I love that about Orthodoxy, that the transformation has to do with making us into individuals, not conforming us to male and female stereotypes.

So I thought that was a fascinating, a very liberating idea, that we don’t have to have in mind these categories of, ‘What are men like? What do men want?’, and then you kind of aspire to that. There’s something competitive and artificial and self-centered about it. I just think if you’re not naturally the Marlboro Man, it’s so pathetic and phony to try to approximate it.

So these were some interesting and new ideas, and I’ll wrap up with that, with one of the emails I got today that was from a priest. He said it doesn’t conform to these macho stereotypes, and for example, what about the whole fact of tears, of spiritual weeping? That we don’t think a saint is unmanly because he had this gift of tears. It breaks those stereotypes. There is something that where both men and women stand side by side in Orthodoxy, not shoved off into opposite corners just for the sake of being opposite.

And he concluded with this really lovely thought, he said, on Holy and Great Friday evening at the service of the burial of Christ, if you look around, it’s those men who are the most strong and manly and filled with fortitude and the most prayerful, those are the ones that you’ll see that have tears in their eyes.

Well, that’s a lovely thought. That’s the church I want to be part of.