October 28, 2013
The Feminization of Christianity
Dear Dr. Craig,
I have usually found your words to be a source of information and reassurance in my Christian faith, and have often sought out your writings and videos in times of doubt or questioning.
So I was really disappointed, almost shocked, when I read your newsletter of April of this year in which you casually stereotypes men and women, and complain that the church is becoming increasingly feminized, and has difficulties in attracting men.
Your compared the audiences at a couple of your speaking engagements to the audience from a clip of a Downton Abbey Q&A at another location - concluding that they were all men at the former and almost all women at the latter "simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men."
I believe that you are using stereotypes here, which you justify by making a ridiculous comparison that holds zero statistical significance. Not only is your statement unreasonable, it is potentially damaging - especially when made so carelessly. Stereotypes are shortcuts in classifying people. They can, and often do, limit and distort the way we perceive others and the world. Stereotypes are a lazy way of thinking that can lead to discrimination, and their use should not be encouraged.
I'm also a little disturbed by your claim regarding the feminisation of the church. What do you mean by that, and how do you support that statement?
I'm curious because the church has historically been a largely male-dominated institution (sometimes criminally so), and the bible's instructions to and about women are often difficult to swallow. If anything, the church has had difficulty in attracting women. And if we are truly seeing more women in leadership roles at the church (I have to assume this is what you meant by feminizing), I believe this is not something to fear and resist. It would be a welcome change, and has every opportunity to challenge how we think about each other - allowing us to love each other better and see each other more clearly.
This newsletter called your expertise in some areas into question for me. Could you help to rebuild some of the faith I've lost in your words? I would very much appreciate it.
My observations about the peculiar attraction that Christian apologetics has for men involves several claims. Let’s tease these apart to see which of them are objectionable.
First is my observation that apologetics seems to have far more interest for men than for women. That observation is based upon an enormous amount of experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and in classroom teaching. It is a realization that gradually and unexpectedly forced itself upon me. It became very evident to me not only that the audiences which came to these events were largely male but that in event after event only the men stood up to ask a question. These facts seem to me to be undeniable.
Second is my hypothesis that this disparity is to be explained by the fact that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to respond more to relational approaches. Of course, this is just my best suggestion, and if you’ve got a better hypothesis to explain the disparity, Alexandra, I’m open to it. But there has to be an explanation.
Please understand that what I’m doing is not stereotyping but generalizing. There’s a difference between a stereotype and a generalization. A generalization admits of exceptions but remains an accurate characterization of most members of a group. Most women do respond better to relational appeals, whereas men tend to like the rational approach. Books on marriage improvement strongly emphasize this difference. In her fascinating book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tanner, for example, says that the way men and women communicate is so different that when a man talks to a woman it’s a case of cross-cultural communication!
I thought at first that maybe the reason women almost never stood up to ask a question was due the intimidation factor: they just feel less comfortable than men getting up publicly to ask a question. That’s why the experience of seeing the Downton Abbey panel was so intriguing to me. Though there were men in the audience, everyone who got up and asked a question was a woman! When a man finally stood up and asked something, this was almost a cause of celebration and was noticed by everyone. Now obviously, this evidence is anecdotal, not statistical, as you point out, but still this was not just accidental. What is the explanation? Those of us who, like Jan and me, are fans of Downton Abbey know how relational the program is, as it follows the personal lives and struggles of those in the house. It’s striking that women didn’t feel intimidated about getting up publicly and asking questions about very relational matters.
Maybe I’m wrong about why apologetics consistently draws out more men than women, but if so, then we still need to find some explanation of why this is.
Third is my claim that the church is becoming increasingly feminized. What I mean by this is that church services and programs are increasingly based on emotional and relational factors that appeal more to women than to men. The problem of the church’s lack of appeal to men has been recognized by men’s movements like Promise Keepers and books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Nowhere is this feminization more evident than in contemporary worship music. Someone aptly remarked that if you were to replace references to God in many praise songs with “Baby,” they would sound just like romantic songs between a man and a woman! This is not true of classic hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” or “And Can It be?” Talking with young men, I find that many of them are just turned off by these touchy-feely worship services and would rather not go.
We see this same feminization though relational factors in network coverage of sports, traditionally a male bastion. Coverage of Olympic Games has deliberately targeted women in order to increase viewership by the addition of personal stories about athletes’ lives, rather than simply televising the events themselves. In professional sports have you noticed how in recent years television networks have engaged female reporters to go down on the field and interview baseball or football players, usually about how they felt about this or that? Jan and I had to laugh when, following the Broncos’ recent blowout of the Ravens, the female reporter asked Peyton Manning, “Didn’t you feel bad for the other team when you looked up at the scoreboard?” Uh, I don’t think so!
You’re right that the predominance of women in Christianity is a relatively new phenomenon. It is only over the last 200 years that Christianity has become increasingly female in its demographics. I’m very worried that the church is on a course that will end in relatively few men’s being active Christians.
Fourth is my claim that apologetics is a key to making the church and Christian faith relevant to men once more. People think that by having sports programs or men’s barbecues the church will draw in more men. But I’m convinced that the best kept secret to drawing in men is apologetics. Men need to see that Jesus of Nazareth was not only a tough guy but a smart guy. I never suspected that apologetics would have this special effect on men. I had no intention of ministering particularly to men in this ministry. But the appeal of apologetics to men is just undeniable. In my Defenders class we’ve got guys who don’t even attend church but who regularly come for my lectures on Christian doctrine and apologetics. One woman in the class told me, “I don’t understand a lot of what you say. But I’m glad to come because this is the only spiritual activity that my husband will participate in with me.” Wow!
I doubt that what I’ve said in response to your question, Alexandra, will do much to rebuild your faith in my words! My observations about the peculiar attraction that Christian apologetics has for men may not be politically correct, but I believe that they are accurate, even if disappointing and shocking to some.