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Monday, 26 July 2010

Church FAIL

A couple of readers have pointed me to this sublime aberration: Man Church. The website describes it as "church the way a man expects it to be done. No singing, short sermon, time to talk with other guys, no women present, and coffee and donuts. That's the way men want to do church. The topics of discussion will have a definite manly focus – being the best possible husband, father, employee, leader – being a real man.... This ain't your mama's church!" Whoa, totally manly! But where are the guns, the fast cars, the barbecued meat? Where are the lap dancers? (Oh, I forgot: what men really want is "no women present".)

There's a memorable passage in Karl Barth's dogmatics about the perversion that results whenever special men's or women's groups are formed (he's not talking here about sexual relationships, but about wider forms of sociality):
Everything which points in the direction of male or female seclusion, or of religious or secular orders or communities, or of male or female segregation – if it is undertaken in principle and not consciously and temporarily as an emergency measure – is obviously disobedience. All due respect to the comradeship of a company of soldiers! But neither men nor women can seriously wish to be alone, as in clubs and ladies’ circles. Who commands or permits them to run away from each other? That such an attitude is all wrong is shown symptomatically in the fact that every artificially induced and maintained isolation of the sexes tends as such – usually very quickly and certainly morosely and blindly – to become philistinish in the case of men and precious in that of women, and in both cases more or less inhuman. It is well to pay heed even to the first steps in this direction. (Church Dogmatics III/4, 165)
This testimony is true. It's why, in the church, I have always refused to participate in those grimly edifying "men's groups"; and why, in spite of my natural fondness for female company, I even find myself avoiding the "women's groups"!

Man Church – or any variation thereof – is an ecclesiological FAIL. In the body of Christ, "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" (Gal. 3:28).


Stuart Heath said...

Can we add dividing young and old, single and family, tertiary-educated and not to this ecclesiological fail?

Meanwhile, I reckon single-sex groups can have a place in the overall life of the church. But not if such small groups are the only time in a week you see one another. But then, that's a more systemic problem.

jridenour said...

I don't understand these groups. They basically presuppose that men are unemotional, attention-deficit idiots. How strange. It must be hard for these men to worship an illiterate, homeless, crucified savior.

Paul Tyson said...

Hooray at last! The idiocy and ecclesiological slander of men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups, singles groups, seniors groups and every other segregated attempt at generating artificial comfort zones for the like minded is at last denounced! Thanks Karl and Ben. In fact (with apologies to Augustine) I think ‘Man church’ is about as sensible a theological idea as ‘just war’.

Nathan Smith said...

I think the implicit question behind "Man Church" is "what is wrong with the church that men don't like it?"

However, I'd suggest the converse question: "what is wrong with men that they don't like the church?" Besides the problem of segregating the genders, I'm not sure that this is the masculinity which the church ought to be affirming.

Jimmy Brennan said...

I think there are times when you can and should have separate discussion about certain topics but that is inside mixed groups but "MAN CHURCH" what a Joke!!! if that is the description of "MAN CHURCH" then maybe I should start wearing a skirt? I would hands down rather be at "woman church"

Man church should be called "no passion church" where you listen to someone talk then hang out and talk footy, and the only reason we don't have beers is because we can't have them in the church building.
this isn't just a FAIL it is an EPIC FAIL!

Adam Couchman said...

If this is supposed to be church the "way a man expects it to be done" then why does it start at 6:30am?1?!?!

I love the way you have highlighted how the homogenous unit principal and the gospel are in reality incoherent.

kim fabricius said...

The question is, how, as a minister, do you kill off these groups? They'e like goddam badgers. When I arrived at my church, there were two women's groups, one for the elderly, the Sisterhood, and one for younger, the Friendship Club (so ageism as well as sexism - a double fail!), but no men's group. I was urged to start one, but I resisted, and it never happened. The Sisterhood finally died of depletion - and, mirabile dictu, was reborn as a mixed group, the Thursday Circle. The Friendship Club continues (though in denial, as the women can hardly be described as young). The good news is that ageism is no longer a problem. The bad news is that's because we have no young people in the church. (Not even students even though I am a university chaplain. That's because I am considered theologically unsound by the only Protestant student group, the conservative evangelical Christian Union. Jesus the friendly ghost, biblical inerrancy, homophobia, etc. But that's another story.)

My Mansfield College chaplain warned us ordinands that you're making a storm of trouble for yourself if you try to dissolve uni-sex church groups. But he did at least suggest a way of avoiding being asked to speak at Sisterhoods. When you speak to them for the very first time, argue the case for euthanasia.

Jacob Sherman said...

Okay, yes, so clearly MAN Church is worthy of every lampoon possible but this is low-hanging fruit. With regard to Ben's comments, however, I've two response, one snarky, the other a bit more serious.

Snarky:Careful with the criticism... I was under the impression that theology blogs WERE de facto men's groups.

Serious: I know it's fashionable to denounce these sort of affinity groups, and denunciation is understandable given the way they've functioned in the churchgrowth paradigm that's now rampant in churches big and small of almost every stripe. But I'd be cautious about reading some sort of formal necessity out of an accidental situation. Not every gathering of men devolves into either a stag-do or a Promise Keeper's meeting. Barth's notion that every such gathering tends necessarily to become philistinish while every gathering of women tends to become precious is not only an empirically false and somewhat stupid statement, but it's also indicative of a rather base gender stereotype. Seriously, cavemen or wilting flowers? Gender FAIL.

Karl Hand said...

Isn't Barth's philistinish/precious dichotomy an example of exactly what's he's denouncing?

Emerson Fast said...

Gotta love the attachment of liberal life-coaching in the description of Man church's homiletical thrust. "How to be a better..." The statement should be verboten from all sermons for a century. "As a leopard cannot change its spots nor an Ethiopian his skin, so you cannot do good who are accustomed to doing evil." All of this pseudo-Pelagianism really avoids the gospel altogether.

Ben Myers said...

You've got that right, Emerson. It would be better if we preached sermons on "why God doesn't care whether you're a good husband, father, employee, leader..."

Peter Lockhart said...

Absolutely right Ben but how stale and sour the taste of bread and wine in a church divided by so many other things... denominations, traditional versus contemporary, east verse west, now male versus female. The church in the image of our broken humanity as opposed to church in the image of the Triune God, reconciling and making us one in Jesus and through the Spirit. We can only ask for forgiveness for what (we and) they do for they do not know what they are doing...

arthurandtamie said...

The ecclesiological fail with which I'm *equally* concerned in Australian churches is the annulment of gender -- the temptation to speak to people as androgynous, almost disembodied, Christians.

If Gal 3:28 is paradigmatic for the Body's standing before God, the Body imagery itself reflects the diversity of redeemed community, a community in which there are many different parts to be played under the one Head. This is a continuation of the gender diversity established in Gen 1-2: humanity is a jigsaw of interlocking halves.

Cliché though it may be, God seems to be on about unity in diversity, which means men and women need gender empowerment, not gender denial...


Paul Tyson said...

The serious theological issue here is that we have made the church into a religious ‘society’ (a collection of individuals who meet together for some personal benefit derived from the association) – ie, a ‘club’ – in the first place. So we select which ‘church’ we want to go to (one that suits an age/interest/demographic/program/image/doctrinal-comfort-zone profile that is ‘right’ for us), and then, in order to ensure that even this travesty of the Body of Christ does not interfere with the sovereign consumer ‘I’ that we serve, we further subdivide this club into little clubs consisting of, as near as we can make it, reflections of our self. It is all atomised and driven by the felt needs of brandable religious consumer sub-cultures. Christian unity just doesn’t exist here. Christian fellowship is not the same thing as the interpersonally safe conviviality of a bowls club or a toast masters club. I fear we modern consumer individuals have little idea at all of what toughly bonded, and not necessarily friendly oikos love is in the context of the church, and we seem to have even less idea that this sort of love is a work of the Spirit which is accomplished across all natural ties and divisions, and our marketing and ‘ministering’ strategies just can’t manufacture it.

Anna M Blanch said...

I think that opportunities to meet and discuss issues relevant to each sex is actually important in the life of the church, but not to the exclusion of fellowship. I don't like young singles groups - i'm not interested in a quasi Christian dating service thankyou very much, but i value the occasional women's event and I really appreciate that the men in my church sometimes want to get together to encourage one another.

I was with you on this post right up until you universally declared men's and women's events/groups off limits. I think Barth has a point and may - let's be fair- reacting against monastic orders and i'd be a little horrified to find a church community where men or women were excluded - my how much you would miss the richness of fellowship but be careful not to through the baby out with the bathwater please.

Robert A said...

It is always a hoot come here and read over comments whenever a non-liturgical methodology is reviewed.

Creating affinity groups based on gender isn't a bad thing. Our church (a large evangelical church in US south) has over two dozen such groups and we encourage people to attend. There is wisdom in allowing these things.

Now this "Man Church" concept is ridiculous if for no other reason than it appeals to the lowest common denominator and maligns men to be boorish buffoons who cannot concentrate beyond the next set of downs before the commercial break. A second objection is that it unnecessarily divides men in women in corporate worship which is foolish. Finally, "How to be a better..." is a ridiculous way to approach biblical teaching. Blatantly appealing to a consumerist mindset like this is foolish.

Having affinity based small groups isn't a bad idea. In fact it can help build a strong and healthy church. This kind of thing is just myopic.

As a closing note: In salvation (ala at the point of justification) there is no male or female, Greek or Hebrew...but in life there are differences. We shouldn't forget that in ministry.

Donna Fausse said...

I resent that comment about blogs being only for men. Just because we don't say as much doesn't mean we're not here.

Emerson Fast said...

Or even: "Why God does care but has decided to overlook it for the sake of His Son's righteousness." Something that (for once!) introduces the audience to the grace of God rather than more and more damnable human activity.

Steve Bauer said...

There is much room for criticism when it comes to "man church." However, there wouldn't be much of a need for 'man church' if church weren't so womanly to begin with. There's a reason Charles Grandison Finney considered women the essential foundation of his ministry. His theology was based on an emotional choice, not the objective promises in God's word. In most mega-churches, on a given Sunday, the women outnumber the men at least 2 to 1. If you're not a real man unless you've worked yourself into an emotional state where you're trying to conjure up emotions you don't necessarily have, then don't expect men to follow what is neither genuine to them or to God's word.

jlundewhitler said...

Apparently men like to get up at 6 FREAKIN' AM to go to Man Church.

On a Thursday!

So yeah, just another layer to why this is the worst idea for a church community ever.

Dave said...

I believe we must take care to not go to extremes with our conclusions from Galatians 3. After all, if there is no Male or Female in Christ, should we therefore do away with Mens and Womens restrooms? Is Paul advocating androgyny? I don't think that Paul was making the point that we lose our gender upon entering relationship with Jesus. Rather we are equal in Christ, and become "heirs according to the promise".

I do not know why this particular church chooses to segment into "Man Church" however, I do not think it is proper to assume that they "wish to be alone, as in clubs and ladies’ circles". Evidence of some segmentation in part, is not evidence that they wish to segment themselves as a whole. In other words one being a part of a men's group does not mean that one wishes to be altogether separate from women. Let us be not be prone to excess, but reasonable hoping for the best from our brothers and sisters in Christ. (Philippians 4:5)Brothers and Sisters, let us not be accusers, rather in repentance and love admonish one another. Have any one of us approached "The Man Church" and rebuked them for their "failure"?...It is easy to be critical, it is difficult to love.

Fundamental Charlie said...

I think it would be laughable, if it were not so tragic, to attempt to establish a sham church based upon what anyone other than Jesus Christ would expect the church to look like. The tag line on the marquis should read, "We bend the Gospel for you!" Besides, there are already many churches like this, they are all the churches that are not truly Christian.

Fundamental Charlie

Anonymous said...

Man Church as a stand alone entity is a big fail.
I'd suggest, though, that gender based groups have a place in church fellowship.

For instance, 'Men's Shed' is a valuable and vibrantly alive mission outreach for many churches.The last one I visited had a production line for over 100 skipping ropes, ready for the Christmas Box appeal.

Complementing this was a crafting group, consisting mainly of women, who were knitting and sewing for the same charity.

I have seen excellent pastoral care happening in what is assumed to be a social gathering, and there was nothing 'precious' about it(though I freely admit I have seen 'precious'in such groups).

I think too, we often don't look past our own generation in judging 'men's only' and 'women's only' groups. Life was different once.

The women's group I declined to join due to my busy working life and family responsibilities consisted of women who had lived in an earlier time, when working outside the home was not so common. The women's fellowship was, for them, an opportunity get out of the house and have a night off in the company of fellow Christians. It was supported by husbands who were happy to mind the kids once a fortnight so the wife could have a break.

Men's brotherhood, which stil occurs in my hometown(though is now open for women also) was a once a month night off the farm for the men; a time to listen to guest speakers and then go home and share with the wife (unless she was already there catering for the dinner). That group started before television was commonplace in homes. Wives were happy to see their husbands go out and enjoy fellowship.

So.. no great theological debate from me, but a gentle reminder to look at what purpose various gender support groups may have served in our congregations before we decry them gender intolerant or faithless. Barth was talking through his theologian's hat, not his pastoral demeanour.

Gordon Hackman said...

I am in general agreement with both the original post and with some of the commenters who have pointed out that there is a place for gender based groups in the church.

I find groups like Man Church offensive for both personal and theological reasons. Personally, I have never fit the stereotype that such groups lift up as being "manhood." I'm still single at the age of 39, love reading and the intellectual life, don't care much about sports (though I do work out and lift weights on a regular basis), etc. Theologically, I agree that this is just another example of the consumer driven "what's in it for me?" mindset that plagues some sectors of the modern evangelical church, which assumes that church should be about what I want or like rather than about having to come and participate in and submit to something bigger than my own desires or perceived needs.

The church I attend is about as far from man church as it could possibly be. And yet, we have spiritual formation groups that are divided by gender. In these groups we come together to share our lives, confess our sins to one another, and work through issues and struggles together. I know that, for me at least, doing this exclusively with other men is a necessary thing. This is especially true when it comes to confessing sins. There are some things that I would be totally uncomfortable confessing in a mixed gender group and, in fact, would not confess there. The same goes for working through certain struggles and issues in my life. I'm guessing many women feel the same way, too.

I think there are times when it is fitting and right for men and women to meet in groups that are gender exclusive, and even that it is something that is necessary. It should not, however, be a model for the church generally, nor should certain narrow gender stereotypes be lifted up as representing "what men (or women) want."

Rob L said...

What troubles me about this, is that they try to play on all these macho stereotypes - men don't like singing, talking about emotions, listening to long sermons and so on, because men are stoic, tough, pragmatic etc, but then they say something completely retarded, like "...and did we mention coffee and donughts??" because, of course, all tough men sit around drinking coffee and eating donughts. Gimme a fuckn break. Police sit around having coffee and donughts, and it's a trope routinely employed in a satirical mood to indicate precisely how un-manly that kind of cop is. It's like they're trying to be super relevant, but of course they have these southern American 'christian' moral pecadillos about not drinking etc, so at the fork-in-the-road moment when they could opt for something genuinely macho, they instead offer a substitute - to imbibe this warm, friendly, matriarchal lactated beverage for the neutered bourgeois who sit in their fuckn corporate temple of the green goddess and drink themselves into a foggy haze of fairtrade feel good. And this is supposed to be "man" church? FFS.
(P.S. I also agree with the whole sentiment that these groups, in principle, are anti-gospel)
(P.P.S. Which would be important if, y'know, I believed there was any good news)
(P.P.P.S I am entirely serious)

Anonymous said...

It's like they're trying to be super relevant, but of course they have these southern American 'christian' moral pecadillos about not drinking etc, so at the fork-in-the-road moment when they could opt for something genuinely macho, they instead offer a substitute - to imbibe this warm, friendly, matriarchal lactated beverage for the neutered bourgeois who sit in their fuckn corporate temple of the green goddess and drink themselves into a foggy haze of fairtrade feel good. And this is supposed to be "man" church? FFS.

That may be on the best things I've ever read on a blog. Well done sir.

Paul Tyson said...

Hi Rob

Yes, we seem to have the worst of all worlds. So we have police who will put on a display of being chummy and indulgent when it suits them, who often enough love being licensed to use violence in the service of protecting the rich and powerful against the weak and oppressed. (I was mugged and arrested at a peaceful student protest by a pack of coppers, and I have to say, when they decided it was time to move in, they loved their work, knowing you couldn’t do a thing to protect yourself. And as for female empowerment, the police women were particularly fearful and seemed positively joyful as they belting up defenceless men.) Brutality and ‘femininity’ seem naturally allied in our world. Seldom do we see a truly ‘manly’ use of power – after the self giving model of Christ – or the deep nurturing care of true ‘womanhood’ as I have seen in my wife caring for our two terminally ill children. But, good news, we do see it sometimes. I see it when I open the gospel and when the gospel is opened to me by men and women who demonstrate the way of Christ here and now.

Mark said...

The key part of Barth's qualifications seem to be - if it is taken in principle and not consciously and temporarily.

The occasional men's and women's groups would seem to be okay. Everybody knows that they are just an every other month excuse to get out of the house for a couple of hours. They are not an in principle separation. They are consciously done and temporary in nature (even if on a consistent calendar).

Now you could complain about the church as a social club....

jridenour said...

It's funny how Barth could so be wise in this passage and then in the following paragraph he calls homosexuality a malady. A malady that he encourages a pastor trained in psycho-therapy to cure. I understand this was the common understanding of the time (hell psychiatrists (mis)construed homosexuality as a pathology until the 70s). But damn it, it seems as I read something great in Barth's CD he always manages to drop the ball shortly thereafter. For example, for me the magnificence of CD II/2 was weakened by his less than flattering comments about the Jews.

Ben Myers said...

Good point, Jridenour. But you know at the end of his life (in a letter of 1968), Barth partially retracted his "former, incidental comments" about homosexuality, and he admitted that he would now need to "come to a new judgment" in conversation with current research. So I think it's worth noting that Barth believed his own comments in CD III/4 were merely incidental remarks (reflecting the basic assumptions of his time), not a careful or substantive reflection on homosexuality.

jridenour said...

Thanks for the comments Ben. Where could I read this letter?

Ben Myers said...

The letter has been translated in a couple of different places. You can find it as chapter 14 in the Eugene Rogers anthology, Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings — available for viewing here.

Incidentally, it's also well worth reading Rogers' next excerpt, from Barth's Romans commentary — here, Barth interprets Romans 1 as divine judgment not on homosexuality, but on heterosexual marriage and family life!

Anonymous said...

"But neither men nor women can seriously wish to be alone, as in clubs and ladies’ circles. Who commands or permits them to run away from each other? That such an attitude is all wrong is shown symptomatically in the fact that every artificially induced and maintained isolation of the sexes tends as such – usually very quickly and certainly morosely and blindly – to become philistinish in the case of men and precious in that of women, and in both cases more or less inhuman."

What on earth is he talking about? Clearly Barth didn't play enough sports growing up. There are all kinds on activities in which women or men can hang out with only women or men and cultivate virtues. Becoming philistinish is most definitely not a necessary outcome.

Furthermore, when did Barth become an authority on male/female relationships in the Church? This is the guy who moved his female secretary into his family home.

Your basic point about the "man church" is spot on, however.

remylow said...

I'm in a process of writing a psycho-crit paper on this phenomenon of 'Evangelical Masculinity', but many people who've been around for a while are telling me that this whole macho thing goes through different reincarnations over time. I haven't lived in these circles long enough to know, but I wouldn't be surprised. Jamie Smith from Calvin College wrote a good article addressing this issue from a critical reformed perspective a few years ago (in relation to John Eldridge's pop-Jungian drivel).

Most importantly, this 'Man Church' logo obviously plagiarises the Nutri-Grain logo... minus those random guys in speedos/footy players that scream in the ads. Or maybe they do have guys that get up at 6am and randomly do tough guy things like scream, fight, talk about blowing stuff up and scratch/adjust themselves between the legs on stage, I wouldn't know.

Carrie said...

Ben, I love this post!!

Nicole said...

What seems particularly an oddity is the need for an apparently hyper-masculinised model of church life, when for many women internationally the experience of church is that is has always been man-church.

pastormack said...

I think Volf's comments in Exclusion & Embrace might be useful here. He commends the Trinity as a model for Christian relationships between the sexes; for an idea of positive differentiation that has no implicit hierarchy. Of course, he implies, the road to getting there is the self-denial of the cross, which none of us finds easy. Personally, I've found a great deal of grace in men's and women's groups (as a pastor I'm considered a member of the women's group as well). I think we'd find Jesus going to both circles, and to every circle, sitting, eating, laughing, and building relationships instead of quoting Barth and arrogantly thumbing his nose at the lot of them.

The kind of Christian community to which you are pointing via Gal. 3:28 will only be seen in the fullness of the Kingdom. Only by God's grace will we overcome every prejudice and sociological habit, however guilty or innocent.

Sonja said...

This is awesome. A couple of guys I knew in college who are now involved with evangelical churches run men's groups that put on events with over-the-top names like "MAN NIGHT" in which they go to steak houses, shooting ranges, cigar shops and other "masculine" venues. I always suspect that these are events that are designed ironically but then end up being enjoyed unironically. In the end, all I can really think is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosociality .

Anonymous said...

I don't find the accomplishments of the great men's religious orders "philistinish;" still less are those of the great women's orders "precious." Barth sees through only narrow Protestant blinders, methinks.

Anonymous said...

Like Dr. Cole often said, "Being a male is a matter of birth. Being a man is a matter of choice." Its time men stood up and stopped letting the single mom's raise their children and accept responsibility for this fatherless nation. This is only on Wednesdays in our church and it blesses the women because its effectiveness is phenominal."Maturity does not come with age, but with the acceptance of responsibility."
Ed Cole. I thank God for our MAN CHURCH because it is helping men to understand their role and become warriors for Christ and their families. "Do not let others create your world for you, for they will always create it too small."
Ed Cole again. Jordan Ranch is a great example.

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