This wasn’t your Daddy’s religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a day-long spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and Jackass-style stunts […]
The event was the first of what Stine and other organizers hope will be a series of testosterone-fueled Christian men’s gatherings across the country. Their purpose: to reassert masculinity within a church structure that they say has been weakened by feminization.
It’s bad enough when blathering fools like James Dobson are trying to tell me that my manhood is under attack by gays and feminist—hey, Jim, my manhood is just fine. Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a Bible-thumping, queer-hating misogynist to be considered comfortably male.
But apparently that brand of dick-shaking Christianity is still alive and well, at least in GodMen. Now how, you might ask, can you possibly believe that the church has been “weakened by feminization” when it’s one of the few institutions that can apparently legally bar woman from holding office1? In fact, if there’s any part of culture that’s been less feminized than church, I can’t think of it—the porn industry has more evidence of female influence, for goodness’ sake.
Stine and his friend and manager Mike Smith dreamed up GodMen after reading David Murrow’s 2005 book, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” In it, Murrow points out that on any given Sunday, 13 million more adult women than men attend church in America. “We have to find a way to give [men] something that matters to them,” says Stine.
Point of contention: church has been boring since time immemorial. If 13 million fewer men than women are attending church, what’s more likely: there’s something wrong with church? Or there’s something wrong with the men? Either you justify getting up on Sunday mornings and going, or you don’t. It’s church, not daycare: your congregation never has and never will provide you with entertainment. Either it matters to you, or it doesn’t. If you feel as though you need to add explosions to feel close to Jesus, you might want to rethink your stance on religion.
One way is to create a worship space where guys can be guys. “In most churches, you’ll see flowers and ferns at the front,” says Stine. “That’s saying, ‘This is a place that a woman has composed.'” So GodMen sought to create a place where men could admit to flaws without being judged bad Christians and be unapologetically male, including plenty of rock and roll and sex talk. “There’s this idea if you don’t drink or don’t say bad words, you are doing your Christianity appropriately, and meanwhile, that same guy is on the Internet looking at pornography,” Stine says. “It’s all a smoke screen. We need to admit these issues in order to be free.”
Here, Stine is both crazynuts and actually coherent. When he insists that the flowers and plants that decorate many church altars is the work of females, and that it makes an environment unsuited for males. It is just as ridiculous to associate flowers only with females as it is to associate excesses of alcohol and explosions to males. This is a movement that seeks to encourage stupid males by apologize for ever bothering them with such niceties as floral arrangements.
But something else that Stine says rings true: there’s a sense that one has to dichotomize the Church life from the rest of life. On Sunday mornings, you spiff up, tithe, and try to pretend as though you didn’t watch any dirty movies or swear this past week. There’s a spectre of Christian moralism hanging over people, trying to guilt them into giving up arbitrary vices. Masturbation, for instance, is a favorite boogieman—though it’s really only harped on by the Catholic Church, even though Protestant denominations officially discourage it as well. There’s a pervasive, stifling sort of atmosphere that proceeds from the Christian ideal that drives these vices underground and into stubborn hiding. But many of these things really have nothing to do with faith or the lives of the faithful.
The article goes on for several more pages, raising up a graven image of Rambo Jesus for all the manly men to worship—to pretend that Jesus was a truck-driving, shotgun-toting Republican is much easier for them than to think he was a Liberal2). It’s much easier to justify male excesses and tendencies to anger and violence when you can pretend that Jesus’ upsetting of the merchant tables in the temple is his defining moment—as opposed to, say, Jesus’ stopping Simon Peter from physically defending him in Gethsemane, or his defense of an adulteress from being stoned to death.
At the same time that the US is becoming more fundamentally Christian than any other developed Western country (in terms of religious conservatism, we technically sit beside Middle Eastern countries), its churches are apparently struggling to remain relevant to people. If they think it has something to do with the flowers on the alter or the hymns, maybe they’re looking in the wrong place.
- I realize that many denominations have made the jump to allowing female ministers. Some haven’t. Their evidence is a passage by St. Paul commanding women to ‘be silent’ in church (and cover their heads). Even my mother finds this shaky at best[↩]
- Even Marx, despite his hatred of religion, paraphrased Jesus in Critique of the Gotha Program (1875[↩]