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Is church too feminine for men?
Statistics indicate it is

By Melanie B. Smith
DAILY Religion Writer

msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

Women in clerical stoles and skirts stood before fellow ministers, smiling and accepting their applause and symbols of leadership.

That picture was the image captured in news coverage in recent days as two major denominations elected women to top posts.

Katharine Schori: Elected presiding bishop of Episcopal church.
Katharine Schori
Elected presiding bishop of Episcopal church
Such service by women at top levels is new for some denominations but almost routine in others. For the Episcopal Church USA, the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop was a first.

The Rev. Joan Gray of Atlanta follows other women to serve as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The denomination also confirmed the first woman to serve as executive director of its General Assembly Council.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization of moderate Baptists, picked a woman female senior pastor from San Francisco for the first time as moderator.

Such elevation of women to top posts certainly points to their higher profiles in religious life. But are women actually now the "face" of Christianity in the United States?

Predominantly female

Statistics seem to say so.

The Barna Research Group found that women are significantly more likely to go to church. In a 2000 survey, 45 percent of women said they attended a Christian service during the previous week, compared to 35 percent of men.

Joan Gray: Moderator of Presbyterian Church (USA).
Joan Gray
Moderator of Presbyterian Church (USA)
Women are twice as likely as men to be involved in discipleship activities at church, the study found. Also, 50 percent more women than men said they'd attended adult Sunday school the previous week. One in seven women said they'd served in a leadership role at church, not including the role of pastor; 9 percent of men have held leadership positions.

Barna conducted the phone surveys of 4,755 Americans age 18 or older.

A Duke University study of congregational life found that the typical adult audience at a U.S. congregation is 61 percent female. The U.S. population is 51.1 percent female.

In Presbyterian Church (USA) churches, almost half of elders and 70 percent of deacons are female, according to 2004 statistics.

Although males continue to dominate as senior ministers, increasing numbers of women are becoming ministers. More than one in five United Methodist Church's clergy members are female, for instance. At seminaries accredited by the Association for Theological Schools, about one-third of students are female. Some seminaries have more females than males.

Pulpit 'last bastion'

Of course, some churches are not female-led, at least on first glance. Southern Baptists adopted a non-binding creed in 2000 that says the role of pastor should be for men. The Catholic Church ordains only men as priests.

However, Kenneth Woodward, longtime religion reporter for Newsweek, wrote that women predominate in churches, in part because they mostly carry out the important role of nurturing and catechizing children.

"I think it's not an exaggeration to say that the altar and the pulpit represent the last bastions of male presence within American Christianity. But that, too, is changing rapidly."

Woodward said he found a gradual disappearance of things masculine in church, no matter who was in charge.

Tony Moyers, associate professor of religion and philosophy at Athens State University, said that compared to 15 to 20 years ago, women certainly have more visible roles in church. The extent depends on the denomination, he said, noting Southern Baptist and some Episcopalian opposition to women's ordination.

Not friendly to men?

The author of "Why Men Hate Going to Church" thinks the church is so feminine it's driving men away.

David Murrow, a Presbyterian elder and TV documentary maker, said in an email interview that he views churches as masculine deficit; he doesn't use the word "feminized."

"(Churches) attract people who are verbal, sensitive, artistic and relational," he said.

Murrow said that more women than men fit this profile. The result, he said, is that although five of six American men call themselves Christians, only two of six attend church on a given Sunday, he said on his Web site, churchformen.com.

He thinks churches fail to offer the adventure, challenge and risk that most men value. Males are wired for action and argument rather than contemplation and polite discussion, Murrow said.

"Church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing and close-knit community," he wrote.

Some churches may be too male-dominated and harsh, he said, but far more are "comforting" churches where everyone is made to feel loved and busy, which women appreciate more than men.

Murrow cited the Presbyterian Church's decision last week to allow references to the Trinity — traditionally Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in alternative ways as an example of feminization. A report suggested "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Lover, Beloved, Love."

Murrow said he doesn't take a position on female leadership. Ninety-five percent of senior pastors in the U.S. are men, but that hasn't helped male participation, said Murrow.

Male deficit

However, he noted that denominations that have opened their doors widest to female leaders are also those with the largest male deficit.

"I think this is because they tend to elevate relationships over rules . . . This further alienates men, who are more rules-oriented," he said.

He wants, he said, not male dominance but male resurgence in church.

Murrow's solution? He thinks men need male-friendly sermon illustrations and activities, like motorcycle shows.

He also thinks churchmen need to provide rites of passage for boys to give them a vision of Christian manhood.

"It's time to stop pretending that teaching boys Bible facts will make them into followers of Jesus," he said.

He said boys make their own rites of passage to show their manhood. Leaving church is one of them.

Moyers, though, doesn't think that it's so easy to distinguish male traits from female ones. For example, discussion in church might not alienate men as Murrow asserts, Moyers said.

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