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Men and church


Men and church

Why do some men seem alienated from Christianity?

Also in this issue, Mary Jackson reviews four books about women, so here are some highlights from a book about men by Leon Podles, a retired federal investigator with a doctorate and six children. His Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated From Christianity (St. Augustine’s Press, 2019) investigates why men are less likely to attend church and listen to sermons than women—not just in 21st-­century America but in many cultures at many times. 

For example, in rural Quebec during the 18th century men often came for the first part of church but walked out as the sermon began. In 19th-century America, as many churches forbade sports on Sunday, men pushed back by avoiding church. In the Southern United States in 1853, one woman complained: “The male members are noted for their regular naps, and after sleeping through the sermon, come kneel and pray as if they had heard it all.” 

Delving deeper, Podles notes the hard question some men asked in ancient Rome: How could a man shamefully executed be a hero, let alone God? One upsetting aspect: Romans were used to flattering the powerful and flattening the weak, but Jesus lambasted the leaders and spoke kindly to the unloved and the unhealthy. In medieval times, some went the other way: Why did Jesus sometimes show anger? (Thomas Aquinas explained: “The praiseworthy man is one who is angry about the right things, at the right time, and in due moderation, since he is angry as he should be, when he should be, and as long as he should be.”)

Part of the problem was the depiction of Christ. In the 19th century, Herman Melville complained about “the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures,” and explorer Richard Burton described the typical French portrait of Jesus as “curiously androgynous, with his wispy beard, doe-like eyes, and delicate, soft-limbed body.” In the 20th century popular author Bruce Barton complained that “painters have made Him soft-faced, and effeminate.” Podles summarizes the subliminal message: “Only if men become like women can they become Christian.”

Christianity doesn’t have to be perceived that way. Podles says the Protestant Reformation for a time “led to a Christianity that was far more masculine than medieval Catholicism had been.” Martin Luther emphasized the way “Christ and Satan wage a cosmic war for mastery over Church and world. … The Devil is the omnipresent threat, and exactly for this reason the faithful need the proper weapons for survival.” War, mastery, threat, weapons: lots of guy stuff.

Podles shows how anti-Catholicism steadily grew in Spain, as priestly vows of celibacy appeared to cloak pederasty, and men often viewed churches as places for women and homosexuals. When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, leftist shooters (almost always men) murdered 283 nuns but 6,549 priests and male church officials. Not many American males have shot up churches, but in categories such as church attendance, belief in God, Bible-reading, and others, polls show women 10 percentage points higher than men.


In To Think Christianly: A History of L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement (IVP, 2020), Pennsylvania Pastor Charles Cotherman tells of a band of brothers who inspired a grand vision of Christ’s lordship over all: science, art, music, film, law, politics, and journalism. ­Francis Schaeffer taught Christians to think at L’Abri. R.C. Sproul explained theology to laypeople through Ligonier Valley Study Center. Regent’s Jim Houston equipped laypeople for ­marketplace effectiveness.

And Yet, Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life by Paula Rinehart and ­Connally Gilliam (NavPress, 2019) acknowledges that life in Christ is harder than ­sometimes advertised. We don’t live happily ever after. The authors walk the reader through their own shattered expectations with rare ­candor. The best lessons are often learned in suffering. They review how our identity and significance come in Christ, not in promotions, marriage, children, or titles. —Russ Pulliam


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  • AlanE
    Posted: Sat, 07/25/2020 01:26 pm

    I'm not sure I see the conclusion Podles is trying to lead us to regarding the subtitle of his book. Is it that pictures of Jesus that tend toward effeminate turn off male followers? Is that that Sunday sports bans pull men away from the church (if so, men ought to be flocking to church these days because nobody speaks against Sunday sports today!). And, if men sleep through sermons, at least they're in church, right? I confess, I've slept through a few sermons--I think the church desperately needs something more interactive than sermons as the focal point of teaching, but I have doubts that explains why men's attendance trails women's.

    I'm puzzled. And, at this point, I'm not adequately intrigued to pick up the book and read it for myself. I don't have any research to back it up, but I suspect men cling more tenaciously to the kind of sins that would keep us from church than women.

  • RC
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 08:40 am

    If anyone is falling asleep during a sermon, fix the sermon.  

    Wow? The Spanish leftist shooters killing off the Catholic clergy. That shows how crazy mad those men were at the church.

    So, what does the 10 percent difference tell us? Not much. Which direction is it going? Does the authors answer to why men have not attended church, etc. throughout history, help tell us how to fix it?

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 11:41 am

    I've no idea how to delete a comment. Unfortunately mine posted twice after I edited its punctuation. I will just add this: my dear husband, who never drinks coffee, struggles manfully to keep awake during sermons which wax long and abstruse...

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 11:34 am

    Isn't it likely that the almost wholly verbal and passive experience of a typical church service just doesn't appeal to men as much as it does to women? I read the New Testament and it sounds for all the world as if Jesus simply took his disciples on a long (a VERY long) walk during which they regularly did deeds of spiritual derring-do. My husband and sons would've loved that...

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 03:01 pm

    Thanks Ann. I appreciate both of your comments. And wholeheartedly agree. I drink coffee and have a hard time. But having to use the rest room gives me an escape and keeps me awake!

    The call of the church seems to be, "Come and join. You might end up as a parking lot attendant and direct traffic. If you are really lucky you can welcome the parents of toddlers and make sure they are signed it. "

    I should add that fact checking Bible references or use of the original languages keeps me awake. I don't know what they teach in seminary anymore.

  • Dave42
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 03:43 pm

    Very interesting.  Here I read a review of Podles' book that men attend chuch less because Christianity tends towards the feminine and effeminate (which was promoted a lot during the Iron Sharpening / Promise Keeping past decades) and then, in the Salt Lake City Tribune I read that white evangelicals are big supporters of Trump because of the toxic maculinity of the American church . 

    I'm not sure if this is a case of writers seeing what they want to see or chuches being built in man's image.  But it doesn't seem Biblical.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Tue, 07/28/2020 01:15 pm

    Could the toxicity displayed by Driscoll, Hybels, Tchividjian, et. al., perhaps be attributed to an overgrowth, if you will, of their respective egos, and a failure on the part of their (male) peers to admonish and correct them? Perhaps part of the equation being that, within their own particular community, they didn't truly have peers?

    I think Martin Luther posited that mankind is like a drunk on a horse. We tend to fall off on one side, into one error, get back on the horse and fall off the other side, into an opposite error. If masculinity is sometimes exercised in a way that is toxic, that is unsurprising given the history of the world. What happened at the high school in Parkland, FL shows what the total absence of masculinity looks like.