Voices
Krieg Barrie/WORLD

Where are the men?

Assigning blame for the dearth of males at church

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

Daniel, in sackcloth and ashes: "To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame" (Daniel 9:7).

In the ninth century b.c., during a famine in Samaria, the king was passing by on the wall and a woman called out and asked him to adjudicate in an argument between her and her neighbor:

"This woman said to me, 'Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.' So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, 'Give your son, that we may eat him.' But she has hidden her son" (2 Kings 6:28-29).

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I submit to you that this is not a food distribution problem. There is something terribly wrong here.

If you don't mind a little cross-pollination, this essay concerns a post on World on the Web, and the responses that lit up the switchboard. The jumping-off point was a book titled Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow, who writes, "Almost everything about today's church . . . is designed to meet the needs and expectations of a largely female audience. Church is sweet and sentimental, nurturing and nice."

"Prom song" lyrics of contemporary church music are adduced with a sneer: "Oh, sweet angel of mercy / With your grace like the morning / Wrap your loving arms around me / . . ."

Then, having lit a match in the gasoline-doused theater, the blog writer walks out and the fun begins:

The very first commenter is happy to be reminded of why he doesn't like "praise songs." No, the problem isn't the praise songs, someone chimes in. The problem is "the church has a huge problem with men."

A woman hastens to go on record as not liking the "girly" stuff either, and adds, "I detest the choruses." A man ups the ante with his own entry for "Horrible, Feminized Lyrics": "Safe in the arms of Jesus / Safe on His gentle breast / There by His love o'ershaded / Sweetly my soul shall find rest."

But lo and behold, these risible words are not by the CCM folks but by Fanny Crosby.

The post has undoubtedly tapped a groundswell of hatred (not too strong a word for this thread) for church music, which is now cathartically ridiculed for pages.

Stories start pouring out-of what 18- to 29-year-old men are doing on Saturday nights that makes them too tired for church on Sunday; one woman indicting her church for abusive church leadership; one man indicting women, who "have taken over most of the volunteer tasks in the church and dominate in the lay leadership."

By this time I start thinking of my own lyrics:

"Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke / You gotta understand / It's just our bringin' up-ke / That gets us out of hand / Our mothers all are junkies / Our fathers all are drunks / Golly, Moses, natcherly we're punks" (West Side Story). And the conclusion of the song: "The trouble is he's crazy / The trouble is he drinks / The trouble is he's lazy / The trouble is he stinks / The trouble is he's growing / The trouble is he's grown."

A concrete solution to the male attrition problem is finally raised ("challenging, Word-oriented programs, men's gatherings") and rejected ("I don't believe we can get men to come to church just by dressing it in men's clothes").

Ah, I say to myself, so this is a problem of "getting men to come to church."

Let me ask you all, if you were engaged to a man-if you had his ring and his verbal promise-and if he never came to see you, or came reluctantly, or came with a hangover, or complained about your visits being too long, or about the kind of music you played, do you think your biggest problem would be that the format of your visits needs tinkering?

This discussion went on for pages, with opinions on music and gender from every stripe on the spectrum. And it was beside the point. This is not a church music or feminism problem. This is two women quarreling on a wall in a city of famine, who are already defeated, and just dickering over whose son to eat next.

We just don't love Jesus. We are covered with shame. We need revival. And unfortunately there's no program for that.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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