The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity
Reviewed date: 2006 Aug 26
After reading David Murrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church, I was intrigued enough to look for further literature. I ended up with a copy of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity by Leon J. Podles.
The modern Western church is dominated by a feminine spirit that drives masculine men away. Podles looks at the history of the Christian church to figure out why and how we have arrived at the current crisis.
Definitions of Masculine and Feminine
After showing some evidence that the modern church is dominated by women, Podles spends several chapters defining masculinity and femininity. Femininity is characterized by union, communion, fellowship, and immanence. Masculinity is separation, self-sacrifice, and transcendence. Podles offers a bizarre biological and psychological explanation for the difference between men and women: a girl is born and identifies with her mother, then matures to adulthood with an "identity [modeled] after her mother's." Boys, however, identify first with their mothers, but must eventually break from her and form a new male identity. This painful separation is often re-enacted in cultural rites of initiation into manhood. This rejection of women and formation of a new identity is uniquely male, and thus anything that involves separation or isolation or apartness can be considered masculine. Anything that involved continuing union or fellowship can then be considered feminine.
Podles's psychology is junk, but if you can suffer through those chapters, he moves on to an insightful examination of the history of the church. In particular he focuses on the origins of bridal mysticism.
The Heresy of Bridal Mysticism
The Bible refers to the church as the bride of Christ (feminine), but individual believers are sons of God (masculine). A confluence of events in the 12th and 13th centuries resulted in a "massive influx" of women into the church. This provided fruitful soil for a new heresy: bridal mysticism. Thirteenth century preachers taught that each Christian is a bride of Christ. They used sexual metaphors and the romantic imagery to describe the relationship of Jesus to individual believers.
Bridal mysticism took root and continues to thrive even today. The effect of this heresy has been to equate Christian spirituality and morality with that of a feminine receptive bride. Men today are asked to view themselves as brides of Christ rather than sons of God. This romantic imagery is incompatible with masculinity, and consequently drives men from the church. The few men left in the church are meek, gentle men who feel at home in a feminine environment. The stereotypical Christian man is shockingly un-masculine.
A Complement to Why Men Hate Going to Church
Altogether, The Church Impotent is a valuable book. Podles's attempt at psychology is best ignored, but his study of church history and the origins of feminized Christianity is enlightening. The historical emphasis of the book makes it an excellent complement to David Murrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church, which focuses on practical ideas for the modern church struggling to minister to men.