When I flagged up this book a couple of weeks ago it sparked quite a bit of debate. My review is now published in The Door so I can post the full piece. Here it is …
(the published piece had to be trimmed for space reasons so this is the rare Directors Cut, lol)
One of the services, at a Church I attend, closes with everyone being encouraged to hold hands as the Grace is said. This ritual puts me so far out of my comfort zone that I would rather be anywhere else at this point (and as a result, quite often am). Is it me? I mean, just me? Or is this something that any average bloke would be uncomfortable with?
This feels like an important question, you see Iâ€™m a Bible believing, Christ following Christian who feels called to a Ministry through the Church and Iâ€™m a man. So should my faith over-ride my masculine discomfort at holding hands with other blokes, or is Church inappropriately subjugating my masculinity? This issue obviously goes wider than one particular example and it interests me to look at whether church is a place that men are comfortable with and welcomed into.
The Times (Sept 2004) published statistics for the Church in the UK which reckoned a 45%-55% Male Female Split 10 years previously had by then become a 37% to 63% split. It would be difficult to argue, either from statistics or from observation, that Church is not more popular with women than men (even when hand holding is not mandatory!)
I therefore jumped at the chance to read and review, â€œWhy men hate going to Churchâ€ by David Murrow
David introduces the book with the quote from W.Edwards Deming, “Your system is perfectly designed for the results you’re getting” and develops this into a look at the church being less attended by men and what he sees as the feminisation that it has undergone. He contrasts Masculine and Feminine attributes and builds a picture of a Church that doesnâ€™t meet menâ€™s needs and then, in the gifts that it needs, doesnâ€™t need men.
It seemed to me that the American culture (as described) has a much great gender division and more distinct gender stereotyping than the UK but the observations and questions raised, remain valid and important.
The thrust of the book is that itâ€™s not so much that men have turned away from the church but that church has turned away from men. Murrow argues very much for Church to be balanced in the involvement of both men and women but argues what has happened is an over-feminisation of the church, the result is a place that makes men uncomfortable.
He gives examples of aspects of church with which a lot of men are not comfortable. For example, singing, being singled out, experiencing passivity rather than risk taking, processing a torrent of words, touch-feely community and ministers who adopt a â€˜preaching voice!â€™ (to name a few). Itâ€™s not an easy book to review as doesnâ€™t follow a neat line of argument, Murrow just continues to explore his central argument. What it does do well though, is explore masculinity and explore church practice, holding the two along side each other. There are some important insights about the sociological needs of men and women that bring some of these issues into sharp focus. You will not necessarily agree with all of the comparisons or conclusions but they do open up a vital area of debate, posing questions to us about the way we â€˜doâ€™ church and what the implications might be.
This is a very easy book to read, itâ€™s written for anyone rather than just clergy. It does suffer a little from over use of metaphor, but itâ€™s written with humour and passion. It is critiquing a North American model but is well worth reading nevertheless if you long to see men engaged with church and living a risk-taking radical faith.