Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Equal But Subordinate" and Soft Complementarianism

My analysis of the "Equal but Subordinate" teaching on women in Christianity seems to be turning into a series.  I didn't intend to do this, but I do believe the implications of this teaching in its various manifestations should be addressed fully.  This, then, is Part 3 (and I hope the conclusion!)

My last two posts were on the basic position taught by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") that male authority and female subordination is intrinsic to manhood and womanhood, even to the point where it will continue in the new creation.  As I said in Part 2, if the CBMW really believed that male headship was not part of what it means to be a man--
then there ought to be times and places where women are not expected to defer to men or to acknowledge any inborn, natural ability and inclination towards authority in men over women, simply because of being born men.
The CBMW allows for no such exceptions, and thus their position is actually that women are inferior and men are superior, no matter what they may say otherwise.  This harms and damages women and belittles the image of God in us-- and it really isn't great for men either.  So before I proceed, I want to ask my readers to support the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition by signing their petition on demanding an apology from the CMBW for these harmful and erroneous teachings.  I don't think it matters whether this succeeds in changing the CBMW at all (it probably won't).  But we can still make a difference by adding our voices to call the CBMW to account, so that those who have been subjected to spiritual, emotional and/or physical harm will know they are not alone or unheard.

That said, I'll move on to the question that remains:  What about those who don't go as far as the CBMW does, but still believe in some form of male authority and female subordination as God's will for Christians?  People in this camp usually call themselves "soft complementarians," and they distinguish themselves from the "hard patriarchy" of the CBMW.  In general, soft complementarians disagree with the CBMW by saying that women may take positions of authority over men in the world of business or politics without violating their feminine natures.  Soft complementarians also don't generally say that male headship and female subordination in the church and in marriage (which they do uphold as God's will) is "part of the reality of creation" or the "divine principle weaved into the fabric of God's order for the universe," as I quoted the CBMW saying in my earlier posts.

The soft complementarian position is fairly well defined on the Bible Questions Answered!  website.  Here is on women in the church:
God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers, or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function.
 And here is on marriage:
A wife should submit to her husband, not because women are inferior, but because that is how God designed the marital relationship to function.
Notice how this position ties female subordination to the "function" of the church or of marriage rather than to essential male or female humanity.  When my second blog post on this was reposted on No Longer Quivering, an astute commenter gave me feedback as follows:
[You said] "You can be equal and still in a position of submission to authority if the submission is part of the position, not part of who you are." By this do you mean you are OK with the husband having authority and the wife rendering submission to his position of authority in their marriage?
"Kristen clearly expresses her disagreement with an "ontological inequality" as John Piper teaches it (while denying he's teaching it, of course), but states she has no problem with "functional inequality".  Complementarians teach and practice what they believe to be functional inequality. . . [S]ome complementarians would have no problem working for a female boss, complementarian wives work outside of the home, some as employees and some even as employers or in positions above men. Some complementarian women teach, even at Christian colleges, but they may be restricted from teaching doctrine. It seems like SOME complementarians really do believe in in a more functional and restricted inequality.
So the question is, if I have no problem with "functional inequality," (such as exists between a boss and an employee, related to their functions or positions and not to their being), why would I have a problem with the soft complementarian position that limits male headship to the "functions" or "positions" of church and marriage, and does not support it in other areas of life?

Well, here's the problem.  I disagree that either of these are ultimately about function or position just because they're limited to the marriage relationship or within the church. A woman is not under authority in marriage or restricted in the church because she's married or because she's a church member-- she's under authority or restricted because she's a woman. Hence her subordination is still not related to her position but to her being.

This is clear because when men become church members, they are not automatically restricted from the pastorate. In other words, the restriction from becoming a pastor is not related to one's position as a church member. It's related to one's being as a female. A man is restricted from the pastorate only by his qualifications, training and giftings. The woman is restricted even if she has the appropriate qualifications, training and giftings.

The same goes for marriage. One doesn't come under authority by getting married-- one comes under authority by being a woman who gets married.

The employer-employee situation is easy to distinguish from these.  Either a woman or a man may be an employee or a boss in an employment relationship. The difference is in the position, not in one's being when entering the employment relationship.

Soft complementarianism still says the woman must be subordinate in these two areas-- the church and the home-- without exceptions.  So the equality it grants women in business and politics does not negate the implication of her being-related lack of authority in the home and church.  Although her subordination is limited to those two situations, within those situations it still applies across the board and is related to the woman's being within the function, not to the function itself.

So since this is ultimately about being and not function, the question is why a woman's being would be subordinated in these two areas.  If not because of her essential nature, then why?

What does it say about women when you insist that they are functionally equal only in the more external worlds of business and politics, but in their intimate personal and spiritual lives they are subordinate?  Are you saying something, intentionally or not, about the personal and spiritual nature of women?  Or if you still insist this is not about women's nature, are you maybe saying something unintentional about the nature of the God who would so subordinate her?

I addressed this question some time back in my blog post entitled  "But That's What the Bible Says":
Either women are not equal to men, because God created them with a certain lack of authority over themselves, or ability to lead others, that men do not lack. And this lack is intrinsic to womanhood, while any lack a particular man may have in the area of leadership, is simply an individual characteristic, not intrinsic to his manhood. This makes women, in their essence as women, inferior to men.

Or women are equal to men, but God simply decided that women, because they are women, despite lacking nothing that He gave men for authority over themselves or leadership of others, may not use that authority or leadership. In other words, they are to be under male authority even though God did not design them or create them to be suited for being under male authority. This makes God, in His essence, arbitrary and unjust. He makes rules without good reasons.
You see, you can't tie the fundamentally unequal characteristics of authority to one group and subordination to another group, based on something like the sexes (which people are born with and have no control over), without rendering them as groups unequal.  If you tie the characteristic to the group's very nature (as CBMW does), then you deny the equality of that group in any real sense at all.  But if you tie the characteristic to the group functionally, as soft complementarianism does, even though you say the groups are equal by nature and there is no difference in the group's ability, as a group, to perform the function-- then you have no justifiable basis for the unequal treatment. And if you then claim this unjustifiable, unequal treatment is from God-- you have turned God into something you never intended.  "Because God said so" doesn't exactly glorify God.

Dividing humanity into two subsets based on their chromosomes, and then giving each entire subset a different and unequal status, results in a class system.  If a woman must be under male authority in the church and in the home because she's a woman, then regardless of what she can do in other areas of life, she's in a lower class-- just one with a few less restrictions than the CBMW would impose.

Jesus did not come to enforce a class system. He came to teach mutual service and that "the last shall be first." (Matthew 20:16)

So why am I so angry with the CBMW and not with soft complementarians?

Because soft complementarians, in treating women's inequality as functional and limited, do avoid in practice the harmful and degrading view of womanhood as intrinsically subordinate, as espoused by the CBMW. Soft complementarians do often unconsciously act on the unspoken (and un-faced-up-to) implications of their view in a certain paternalism towards women-- but because they acknowledge that woman are able to lead men at least in the public sphere, they do usually truly respect the strengths, talents and giftings of women.

Also, when soft complementarian men follow the biblical admonitions to love and serve their wives, they often end up, instead of giving lip-service to equality, giving lip-service to headship. A soft complementarian couple may claim the man is the "head," but in practical day-to-day living they function as equals, with the man taking very seriously his duty to serve his wife and put her needs first.  In short, I think they end up where Paul's teaching to first-century patriarchal marriages intended to lead them-- each partner focusing on serving the other, in mutual submission (see Eph. 5:21), without worrying about who was in charge.

Ultimately, "equal but subordinate" as a view of women doesn't work.  It is self-contradictory whether viewed in terms of being or of function-- it's simply more dangerous to women when viewed in terms of being.  In marriage, soft complementarians usually end up acknowledging a watered-down version in theory, while ignoring it in practice.  But the best way to deal with the concept "equal but subordinate" is simply to scrap it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Protesting "Equal But Subordinate" is Not Just Me Having a Problem with Authority

I received some feedback in the comments on my last post regarding the logical fallacy of claiming women are equal and yet divinely intended for eternal subordination to men.  Here is a quote from the comments:
I feel so sad that whether or not you are are subordinate or authoritative is the means by which you determine whether or not you want to go to or will enjoy heaven? We will all be subordinate to Christ. . . I have been both a boss and an employee, both roles have their perks and unpleasantries, I for one am glad to be in submission to Christ and if He determines that a man should be in authority over me, then in His wisdom I welcome it. Not all men are abusive and brutish with their leadership. . .When the new heaven and the new earth are brought about. . . authority and submission will not be the same as here under this fleshly existence and curse.
When it was pointed out to her that my post was not about the abuse of authority, but about assigning authority to men because they are men and denying it to women because they are women, the same commenter responded:
[I]f abuse of power is not the issue, then what is? What difference does it make then who is in submission to whom?  I have seen people who initially did not seem qualified and capable of serving by the gifts they presently possessed, rise and exceed expectation. . . As an older woman I have placed myself under the authority of younger men and women and rather than watch them for inadequacies, I rather encouraged and helped them succeed in their role. Submission is not an inferior thing unless you make it so by your prideful reaction to authority. That's why I say this real, argument has not gone beyond that line of thinking. . . I for the life of me can not see what is so evil about authority and submission in and of themselves. People can corrupt those positions, but I don't see where one is greater than another?
I promised the commenter that I would try to explain more fully using some concrete examples, so this is not an attempt to put her on the spot, but rather to address the issues she has raised.

This appears to me to be related to the argument from the article from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") that male authority and female subordination are mere "functional" differences.  My commenter is saying that there is nothing inherently superior about being in authority, nor anything inherently inferior about being in submission to authority.  In terms of "functional" differences, she is of course, quite right.  Despite her reference to my "prideful reaction to authority," it really is not authority in and of itself that I am reacting against.  What I object to is the idea that one group has a divine right to have authority over another group, based on nothing other than their identity from birth as part of the authority-holding group.

To put it in the simplest terms, it makes a difference who is in submission to whom if the nature of man is to be in authority over woman, and the nature of woman is to be under the authority of man-- because submitting to authority is not equal to being in authority, and I believe this is self-evident. To be the one who acts and commands (authority) is not equal to being the one who is acted upon and commanded.  That's why the one under authority is called a "subordinate." The very word means "under."

You can be equal and still in a position of submission to authority if the submission is part of the position, not part of who you are.  But if these unequal things then become part of our very natures as men or women, then men and women not equal. I'm not against authority; I'm against being made unequal when the Scriptures say I'm equal.

This shows more clearly when we look at how it works in other distinctions besides that of male/female.  Look at it in terms of economic class, for instance.  A century or so ago, if I had been born into the aristocracy, I could feel confident that my God-given identity was as part of the ruling class.  That is, for no other reason than what family I was born into, my inherent, inborn nature was to rule over the lesser classes.  Many older novels refer to "an unmistakable air of breeding" or similar words meant to show that a member of this class had not just been taught refined manners, but that he or she was inclined by nature and inborn ability to take authority over the serving and working classes (who were taught to "obey their betters").

Another obvious example would be that of race.  If people of one race, for no other reason than being born of that race, are created and decreed by God to be in authority over people of another race, then there is no equality, no matter what anyone claims otherwise.

This really is something different from what the commenter calls "authority and submission in and of themselves."  Here is what "authority and submission in and of themselves" look like.  My boss is in authority over me by virtue of the fact that he hired me and is paying me, while I was hired by him to work for pay.  This is what is actually meant by "functional" authority.  My boss's authority over me is not essential to his being or to mine-- it is circumstantial, time-bound and limited.  When the workday is over, his authority over me ceases.  If I invite him to dinner at my house, he cannot command me to make him steak instead of of pork chops-- and if he did get that obnoxious and I asked him to leave, he would have to go if he didn't want me to call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!  (It's true that I might not keep my job after that, but that doesn't change the fact that the law considers me to be in authority in my own home.)

Even the authority of the police is time-bound and limited.  They cannot search my home without a warrant, for instance, and when a policewoman clocks off her shift and changes into her own clothes, she no longer has the power to direct traffic.

Furthermore, neither my boss nor that policewoman were born into their roles.  They had to go through training and prove themselves capable, before they could take on any authority over me. And since they have gone through that training, I am perfectly willing to submit to their authority.  Nor do I protest even if (as the commenter described) they don't seem qualified or very capable at first and need to grow into their positions.  In fact, I too have helped a less experienced new boss succeed.  No prideful reaction against authority has ever been noticed by a boss of mine.

The question, then, is how the authority of men over women is viewed and treated by the CBMW.  If it is a matter of "authority and submission in and of themselves," then there ought to be times and places where women are not expected to defer to men or to acknowledge any inborn, natural ability and inclination towards authority in men over women, simply because of being born men.

Furthermore, if CBMW considers the difference in authority between men and women to be functional rather than essential, then the philosophical differentiation between "necessary" and "accidental" traits as I discussed in my last post should apply.  CBMW should not be found saying that all men have "headship" over women, but that some, because of certain personal traits and circumstances of their lives, have simply lost or missed out on"headship," just as a person can miss out on being able to do calculus or ballroom dancing.

But here are the kinds of things CBMW and its spokesmen actually say:

John Piper gives this definition of manhood and womanhood, in his contribution to the CMBW book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 29 (he used all caps to show the centrality of this point, so I am rendering the text as he did):
On page 37 he quotes J.I. Packer:
[T]he man-woman relationship is intrinsically nonreversible. By this I mean that, other things being equal, a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary, or a marriage in which the woman (as we say) wears the trousers, will put more strain on the humanity of both parties than if it were the other way around. This is part of the reality of the creation, a given fact that nothing will change. [Emphases added.]
Notice that reversal of male authority and female submission is said to put a strain, not on the parties' roles or even on their sense of their own masculinity or femininity, but on their humanity.  Male authority is part of male humanity, and female subordination is part of female humanity.  Therefore, if they don't act in accordance with their own, very different kinds (and it would not be inaccurate to say classes) of humanity, they are going against creation itself.

On pages 41-42 Piper gives examples of appropriate behavior for men and for women which affirms male humanity in terms of its authority over female humanity.  First, for men:
The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. . . Some of the more obvious[situations] would be in military combat settings if women were positioned so as to deploy and command men; or in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settleheated disputes among men. And I would stress that this is not necessarily owing to male egotism, but to a natural and good penchant given by God. [Emphasis added.]
And for women:
[A] mature woman. . will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men. This is true even though she may find herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her. . . One or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point . . . [but]her demeanor-the tone and style and disposition and discourse of her ranking position-can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead. . . To illustrate: it is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. It is not a contradiction to speak of certain kinds of influence coming from women to men in ways that affirm the responsibility of men to provide a pattern of strength and initiative.
But as I said earlier, there are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive and healthy for the overall structure of home and society. Some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role.
It appears that there are in fact no times when the CBMW would say women are not expected to acknowledge the God-given and innate authority of men.  The proof of the pudding, though, would be in a real-life situation where it might make sense to say that male authority and female subordination are not functioning due to the particular circumstances involved.  If male authority is functional and not essential, then there ought to be exceptions to the pattern.  If there are no exceptions-- if male authority holds true even in the most adverse circumstances possible-- then we are certainly not talking about "authority and submission in and of themselves," but of inborn and innate authority which puts male humanity and female humanity in different and unequal states of being. 

So here is the test case: the sad and lovely marriage of Ian and Larissa Murphy. Here is Ian and Larissa Murphy's Story on John Piper's Website.  If you have time, please view the entire 8-minute video.  

Her-Meneutics Article on the Murphys from May 2012 describes it like this:
They met in college and fell in love. They talked about getting married, and he started looking for a ring. They dreamed about life together, a life of beauty and joy, raising babies and laughing with friends and growing old. They did not imagine a car accident. They did not imagine his brain injury. They did not dream about the need for constant care and a wheelchair and fear that food might choke him. They did not plan for this.
Larissa agreed to marry Ian even though in every practical way, she is required to be the leader in their relationship.  She must manage the household, she must be the breadwinner, she must take care of the finances.  She does all of this while feeding and bathing him and giving him his medications, because she loves him, and he clearly is capable at least of loving her.  I admire her and that kind of love very much. 

The Her-meneutics article goes on to say:
She differentiates (following John Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage) between primary and secondary things within marriage: "Ian can't do many of the secondary things, like working or making a meal for me. Everything that's primary, though, he can do, which is leading me spiritually."
I'm glad that Larissa and Ian Murphy have found some way that he can contribute some strength of his own to the relationship, so that it's not entirely one-sided.  And it's possible that, despite his severe brain injury and inability to communicate more than the simplest concepts, he is in some way leading her spiritually.  But to focus on that as the one primary aspect of their relationship, passing over all the ways that she can and must be leading him, is pretty good proof that in CMBW's view of manhood and womanhood, authority for leadership is essential to maleness-- without exception.

The Wartburg Watch wrote about the Murphys in June 2012:
In the video we learn that Larissa, along with her pastor, had to go before a judge to be granted permission to be marry Ian. This means that Ian was judged incapable of making that independent legal decision. . . Larissa must do just about everything for Ian. She works, cares for the home, etc. She holds his head while he throws up, and she interprets what he is saying. She is in charge.
[But] this story is quite threatening to the patriarchal movement. It is obvious the Larissa is in control and has authority but that is an anathema to their “authority” definition. So, this situation has been reinterpreted to put Ian back in the driver's seat.
 Piper said in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (see link above), pages 29-30:
[A] man may not be physically able to provide for or protect his family and yet be mature in his masculinity. He may be paralyzed. He may have a disabling disease. His wife may be the main breadwinner in such a circumstance.
And she may be the one who must get up at night to investigate a frightening noise in the house. This is not easy for the man. But if he still has a sense of his own benevolent responsibility under God he will not lose his masculinity.
His sense of responsibility will find expression in the ways he conquers self-pity, and gives moral and spiritual leadership for his family. . . .
Piper wrote these words in 1991, long before Ian and Larissa's story began-- but his words and their story dovetail together.  Whatever else a man may lose, he cannot lose his spiritual authority, because it's essential to his manhood.  He may not be able to act on his authority, but he never loses it; and no matter how much she may be required to lead, a woman never truly loses her innate disposition to submit to the man.

Piper, and CBMW, clearly believe that this is about the God-given, inborn and innate authority of men and the God-given, inborn and innate subordination of women.  When men and women don't function according to these inborn directives, they are in rebellion against God and their own natures. But gender distinctions really are not different in any way from the distinctions of race or class. When one group of human beings has a natural, inborn trait of (and divine right to) authority over another group of human beings, equality is simply gone.  Just saying there is still equality will not make it so. 

So this really isn't about my having a problem with authority.  It's about me having a problem with being delineated as a woman in such a way that the image-of-God equality of all human beings set forth in Genesis 1:26 is to all intents and purposes negated and denied to me.

Lip-service to equality doesn't satisfy me.  I want the real thing. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Logical Fallacy of "Equal But Subordinate"

Julie Anne over at Spiritual Sounding Board has drawn the blogosphere's attention this week to an article that the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") posted in its Spring 2006 Journal entitled "Relationships and Roles in the New Creation," written by Mark David Walton. Spiritual Sounding Board put up its first post on this dated March 12, 2014, and the CBMW has since removed this article from its website.  However, this screen shot captures the withdrawn article.

The gist of the article is that male headship and female subordination are part of the very nature of manhood and womanhood, and thus will continue in the next life: that the full arrival of the New Creation in Christ will simply be a more complete and joyful enacting of our gender roles.

In referring to "gender roles," CMBW does not mean only that women take care of the house while men provide for the house; indeed, if that were the extent of it, it would be annoying but not nearly so dangerous.  No, what CBMW means by "gender roles" is that men were designed by God for "headship" over women, while women were designed by God for "joyful submission" to male headship (i.e., willing subordination).  Since according to CBMW, headship and subordination are part and parcel of what it means, respectively, to be a man or a woman, the logical conclusion would in fact be that these would continue into the next life. As the article puts it:
Complementarity [by which is meant male headship/female subordination] is not just an accommodation to the less-than-perfect conditions that prevailed during the first century.  Rather, it is a divine principle weaved into the fabric of God's order for the universe. . . . To deny the very concept of male headship on the false assumption that it is incompatible with creation ideals is, at best, reckless theology.
The Strange Figures blog has written a very humorous parody of the article-- here's a sample:
To our dear sisters in Christ, 
Greetings to you in the name of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who has bought us with His blood, purchasing for Himself a people reflecting the richness of biblical manhood and womanhood. . .

For we have taught you always that your rank as women is part of the divine order, God’s prelapsarian will for the “better half” of his highest creation (if you will permit us a tiny and theologically unsound joke). If submission is God’s will for you in this mortal life, would it not also be His will for you in heaven? Heaven will be a return to the lost edenic dream in which you were created to be helpmeets to the “adams” God has appointed over you, and we look forward with anticipation to the blessings that will come to you when that perfect vision is restored.
Besides the fact that the idea of a new heavens and new earth in which I as a woman will be eternally subordinate-- perhaps to all males, but at least to my husband, my father, my father-in-law, my grandfather, my grandfather-in-law (and so on down to the roots of the family tree) smells a bit more of fire and brimstone than any self-respecting concept of eternal bliss really has any business smelling of-- there are some serious logical flaws in this whole line of thought.

I want to particularly address this line of reasoning from the article:
At the very heart of the feminist movement is the conviction that there can be no true equality as long as gender-based differentiation of roles and responsibility remain. . . Only where there is functional equivalence between the sexes does equality exist. . . [But this] premise is false because functional equivalence cannot be genuinely necessary to genuine equality.  A biblical worldview understands that the locus of worth of a human life does not reside in any physical, emotional or intellectual attribute or possession.  Neither is it to be found in the individual's functionality or potential for productivity.  The worth of each person is based upon the truth that he or she bears the imago dei, the image of God. . . . Feminists, both secular and evangelical, define equality in terms of functionality rather than ontologically-- on the basis of being.  They err by effectively reducing equality to "sameness". . . We can be certain, however, that the new creation will be characterized not by sameness but by incredible diversity- diversity of abilities, diversity of gifts, and diversity of rewards. [Emphases in original.]
CBMW is here saying that all individuals have differing gifts and abilities and thus are not functionally equal, but are still ontologically equal: equal in their essential being or nature.  Male and female gender roles are like this, the article implies.  Just because women have differing gifts and abilities (and thus differing roles and responsibilities) than men does not make them essentially non-equal.  If one person is gifted to be an entrepreneur and another to be a car mechanic, this functional difference does not equal an ontological difference.  Both are made in the image of God and are thus equal in their very being, even though not equal in their gifts and abilities.

The difficulty here, of course, is that no "feminists" have actually denied this.  As a Christian egalitarian and a Jesus feminist, I do not in fact believe what he says I believe: that functional equivalence is necessary for true equality-- nor is this conclusion implied by my position.  The idea is not that a particular man and a particular woman cannot be equal if he is leadership-oriented and she really prefers a supportive role.  No-- the egalitarian/feminist objection to male headship is not based on a requirement for functional equivalence.  The objection is actually based on a false equation: that male headship/female subordination IS actually a functional difference. It is in reality an ontological one. 

In order to see where I'm going with this, it's important to understand the distinction between necessary (or essential) and accidental properties, as these terms are used in philosophy.  As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:
[A]n essential property of an object is a property that it must have while an accidental property of an object is one that it happens to have but that it could lack. . . In the characterization just given of the distinction between essential and accidental properties, the use of the word “must” reflects the fact that necessity is invoked, while the use of the word “could” reflects that possibility is invoked. . . [T]o say that an object must have a certain property is to say that it could not lack it; and to say that an object could have a certain property is to say that it is not the case that it must lack it. 
Many would say that each individual human could not fail to be human; if so, . . . the property of being human [is] an essential property of each human. And, too, many would say that although someone, say X, is in fact fond of dogs, X could have lacked that property; if that is right, then. . . the property of being fond of dogs [is] an accidental property of X.
Keeping those definitions in mind, it is clear that maleness or femaleness is an accidental property of being human.  A human could be male and still be human; she could be female and still be human; a human could in fact be intersex and still be human.  There is, then, a subset of humanity which is male and a subset which is female, and both subsets are human.  Let's look, then at what the CBMW article does with the concepts of headship and subordination as they relate to male and female humanity.
In the ordering of his creation. . . God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.  This headship, far from being a result of the fall - feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding - is a central feature of the divine created order.  Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation. . . . The principle of headship and submission in male-female relations is clearly affirmed in the New Testament. Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this principle replaced or rescinded. . .  There is every reason to believe, then, that male headship will continue as the divine order for male-female relationships. [Emphasis added.]
Notice what is happening here. God built male headship into humanity at creation and ordained that it would continue always. In other words, CMBW has assigned this quality - headship - as an essential attribute of those possessing one particular accidental trait: that of maleness. And they have assigned another quality - subordination/submission - as an essential attribute of those possessing another accidental trait: that of femaleness.  Remember that it is the essential traits that make a thing ontologically itself.  A human cannot be genetically non-human, because the human genome is essential to the being (the ontology) of humanness.  CBMW is saying that headship is part of what makes male humans ontologically male, while subordination is part of what makes female humans ontologically female.

Now, we might say that possession of the XX chromosome is essential to being a female human, and that possession of the XY chromosome is essential to being a male human.  We might also say that the potential ability to bear children is essential to being female, though a particular female human can have the accidental quality of being actually unable to bear children. Equivalently, the potential ability to engender children is essential to being a male human, while an actual inability to engender children would be an accidental quality of a particular male human. But notice how the essential qualities are equivalent.  There is no essential ability in the one that does not correspond to an equal and corresponding essential ability in the other.  One does not have an essential ability (potential procreation) which the other lacks, but both male and female are essential to human procreation.  In other words, these essential properties are equal and result in ontological equality in male and female human beings. 

The same is true of the imago dei which the CBMW article quite rightly identifies as the essential spiritual quality of humanness.  Both male and female humans are equally made in the image of God. The image of God is not lesser or diminished in one human sex. To be made in the image of God is what it means to be human: this is a necessary/essential property of humanness.

But what does it mean to say that the subset of humans with the trait of maleness essentially possess headship, while the subset with the trait of femaleness essentially are subordinate to that headship? Submission and subordination are not positive ontological qualities in and of themselves; they are, rather, responses to the ontological quality of headship in the other.  The human with headship is the agent, the mover, the one who acts.  The subordinate human follows and responds to the agent and mover. Subordination is not an essential ability which is equal and corresponding to headship.  It is in every way a lesser and dependent quality to the quality of headship.

If headship is essential to male humanity and subordination/submission is essential to female humanity, and since the essential attributes are what make a thing ontologically itself, then male humanity in its very essence possesses a quality which female humanity in its very essence lacks and is dependent upon.  The result is that given these definitions of the nature of male and female humans, female humanity then logically and necessarily becomes ontologically lesser to male humanity.

We simply are not talking about functional differences here!  If the nature of human maleness is headship and the nature of human femaleness is subordination, then what we have are two classes of humanity which are superior and inferior by their very natures. This is what egalitarians and feminists object to-- and this is what CBMW, intentionally or not, is holding forth as a truth not simply of this world, but of the one to come.

What, then, happens to a verse like Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"?  CBMW's position is that this applies only to our standing in Christ in terms of salvation; that it means nothing with regards to male headship and female subordination in the body of Christ today or in eternity.  But if headship and subordination are essential and therefore ontological traits of male vs. female humanity, and if headship and subordination are therefore going to continue even into the fullness of the New Creation, then Galatians 3:28 means exactly nothing at all.  Our standing in Christ does not and never will add to female humanity this additional human quality of headship which it now lacks and always will lack.  In Christ, in fact, there absolutely is "male and female," now and forever.

And yet it is the CBMW which insists that egalitarians have a "chronic conundrum" of "how to reconcile passages that are . . . plainly inconsistent" with their worldview.  Egalitarian interpretations usually show how historical-cultural understandings of particular texts give them different applications for today.  They do not simply render a scriptural passage, to all intents and purposes, moot and fundamentally meaningless.

I try to avoid in principle speculations into the motives and internal character of other Christians, so I will not offer any opinion on why CBMW has removed their article "Relationships and Roles in the New Creation" from their website.  I will simply say that the article does reflect the logical conclusion of male headship thinking, that its logical conclusion contradicts its own premise of male-female ontological equality-- and that it contemplates a supposedly divine reality that I would really rather be excused from ever having to live in.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Forgotten Women in Chuch History: The Great Triumvirate - Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth and Hannah Whitall Smith

The theme of this year's Women's History Month is "Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment."  My "Forgotten Women in Church History" series is now up to the mid-1800s, which ushered in the first prominent, public and professional ministries of Protestant women.  Daughters of the Church calls three of these "the great triumvirate" - Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth and Hannah Whitall Smith, who all encapsulate this year's theme.

But while the successes of these women were well publicized in their day, Christian history often passes them by.  The book Church History in Plain Language, for instance, has this to say about the founding of the Salvation Army (Third Edition, p. 411):
The most outstanding example of a ministry to the dispossessed was the work of a pietistic evangelical William Booth (1829-1912).  He started the ministry with the Methodist New Connection but soon withdrew to work with London's poor.  His street preaching in London's East End in 1864 met with phenomenal success. . . His workers, organized like a military unit, were soon called the Salvation Army. Evangelist Booth became General Booth.
Catherine Booth has no mention in this book.  And yet the Salvation Army was actually in every way the joint creation of William Booth and his wife, as William Booth himself would have testified! However, Church History in Plain Language not only fails to name her, it also speaks of the Holiness Movement (p. 432) while failing to mention Phoebe Palmer or Hannah Whitall Smith, who were instrumental, if not indispensable, in that movement.

These three women were contemporaries, members of husband-wife teams in which "the women [were] more prominent or equally prominent in each case (Daughters of the Church, p. 261)." All were connected to sectarian movements that "recognized special calls to ministry over and above ordination (Daughters, p. 258)":
The nineteenth century, more than any century before, was one of "women preachers." Most of these women were not ordained, and did not have their own parish, but they nevertheless "preached," attaining wide recognition.  They moved across denominational barriers and sometimes even in circles of high social standing.  This was indeed a new phenomenon in religious life-- one that prompted strong criticism from more traditional elements in the established churches. . . As had been true in previous centuries, the "call" was a very important factor in justifying a woman's role in Christian ministry.
Booth, Palmer and Smith all testified to receiving such a call, and all found well-publicized success in part through the cooperation and support of their husbands, whose own calls to public ministry were of course unquestioned.  In addition, each of these women introduced her own new contribution to the particular doctrinal emphasis of the movement with which she was associated.

Phoebe Palmer

According to ChristianHistory.Net, Phoebe Palmer was
one of those cases of someone almost unknown today, who actually left a Rushmore-sized impression on America's religious landscape.  Phoebe Palmer was the most influential woman in the largest, fastest-growing religious group in mid-19th-century America—Methodism. By her initiative, missions were begun, camp-meetings instituted, and many thousands attested to the transforming power of divine grace. She mothered a nationwide movement that birthed such denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army, bridged 18th-century Methodist revivalism to 20th-century Pentecostalism, and pioneered in social reform and female ministry. . . [T]his included ministering to Methodist bishops in her parlor, launching benevolent missions in the worst slums of New York, mobilizing an army of lay evangelists, writing impassioned biblical arguments for women in ministry, and preaching on two continents. And as she did these things, she helped launch a revival that changed a nation.
Palmer began holding informal prayer meetings called "Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness" in the 1830s.  This inspired other women to begin the same type of meetings, which "sprang up all over the country" and "had a significant influence also outside Methodist circles, particularly among Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Quakers (Daughters, p. 261-262)."   Palmer's "crowning achievement" was the Five Points Mission, which housed and provided schooling, both secular and religious, to about twenty poor families in New York.

In the fall of 1857 Palmer and her husband Walter spoke in Ontario, Canada, attracting large crowds, and a religious renewal sprang up which quickly spread back to America and then to England.  "At the time of her death, she was credited with having brought some 25,000 people to Christ for salvation (Daughters, p. 263)."

But the main emphasis of Palmer's teachings was her view of the Wesleyan doctrine of "entire sanctification."  John Wesley had believed that a disciplined life could lead eventually to an attainment of "perfect love" in Christ during life on this earth.  Palmer, however, was "proposing a radically new concept" -- that this blessing was "available the moment a Christian consecrated everything to God" and that "all an individual needed to do was to become a 'living sacrifice on the altar of Jesus Christ.'" Though this teaching was controversial, its emphasis on a grace-filled encounter with Christ as a "second blessing" for Christians drew many into a closer relationship with God.

A detailed survey of the life and ministry of Phoebe Palmer can also be found on Marg Mowczko's New Life blog.

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth's husband William Booth was a prominent Methodist preacher in England.  Criticism of Phoebe Palmer's right to preach led Catherine to write a pamphlet entitled Female Ministry: Or, a Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel in 1859.  ChristianHistory.Net summarizes the pamphlet as follows:
[It was] a short, powerful defense of American Phoebe Palmer's holiness ministry. It was not a plea based on natural rights or other feminist themes of the day. Instead, she founded her argument on the absolute equality of men and women before God. She acknowledged that the Fall had put women into subjection, as a consequence of sin, but to leave them there, she said, was to reject the good news of the gospel, which proclaimed that the grace of Christ had restored what sin had taken away. Now all men and women were one in Christ. 
In responding to her critics, she asked, "If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? … The Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other."
ChristianHistory.Net adds, "When she shared her emerging convictions with her new husband, he said, 'I would not stop a woman preaching on any account.' But he added that neither would he 'encourage one to begin.'"

Encouraged or not, it was about a year later that Catherine felt an inner prompting to rise after one of William's Sunday morning sermons and begin to speak.  Daughters of the Church says that "William was as surprised as anyone when she made her sudden announcement, but he quickly recovered, and when she had finished, he announced that she would preach that evening." (p. 264)

When, shortly afterwards, William became ill, Catherine found herself taking over his entire preaching circuit.  When he recovered, they left the Methodists to start their own revivalist ministry in London.  Catherine began preaching in the wealthy West End, while William began his very successful ministry to the poor in the East End.  But she soon joined him in city mission work, taking on a special ministry of rescuing women from prostitution.  Out of this joining of forces, the Salvation Army came into being-- and right from the start it encouraged the full involvement of women in ministry, and about half its ministers in the field were women.

The Booths then decided to spread the movement to America, sending a special team of women known as "The Splendid Seven" to preach the gospel and establish ministry to the poor.  The Army was widely scorned by "virtually every sector of society," and many Army workers, men and women alike, were often victims of assault (Daughters, p. 267). But the Booths persevered, and their children took up the banner of service after them-- most notably Evangeline Booth, who began preaching at the age of 15 and eventually became General of the worldwide movement.

Catherine Booth's special contribution to the doctrines of her movement was that whereas Phoebe Palmer had seen herself as an exception to women's usual domestic role, Booth insisted on the full equality and full contribution of women in ministry and in marriage.  Indeed, in her preaching ability she surpassed the men of her day, as Norman Murdoch wrote:
Many agree, no man of her era exceeded her in popularity or spiritual results, including her own husband. (from Church History magazine, September 1984; quoted in Daughters of the Church, p. 267.)

Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith was raised Quaker and is best known for her devotional book The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.  She was married to Quaker minister Robert Pearsall Smith, and according to ChristianHistory.Net:
The two Smiths inspired the British Keswick movement, a non-Wesleyan holiness stream that would become highly influential back in America. Hannah was the more theologically astute as well as the more personally stable of the two, and her public appearances were noted for their quiet logic and their lack of the emotional appeals that Victorians associated with "feminine" rhetoric. It was Robert who experienced a "magnetic thrill of heavenly delight" in his 1867 "second blessing" experience, while Hannah's holiness teaching emphasized the subordinate role of feelings.
Hannah emphasized surrender and total abandonment to God:  "In order for a lump of clay to be made into a beautiful vessel, it must be entirely abandoned to the potter, and must lie passive in his hands."  In the 1870's she and her husband conducted a series of meetings in England in which she was hailed as "the angel of the churches (Daughters, p. 268)." Though their ministry eventually ended in a scandal caused by Robert's misconduct with a young woman, Hannah Whitall Smith continued to make public appearances from time to time, including a promotion of women preachers in London in 1895.

ChristianHistory.Net goes on to speak of the "Keswick" group that arose out of Hannah's "Deeper Life Movement":
The legacy of the Smiths lived on. . . in the English "Keswick" conferences, which began in the 1870s and continue today. Keswick participants—a denominationally mixed but predominantly Anglican group—preferred Boardman's term "the higher Christian life" to the more radical Wesleyan language of "entire sanctification" or "perfection." They denied that sinful tendencies could be eradicated (as many American Methodists believed). Instead, they taught that sin was counteracted by the experience of "baptism with the Spirit," allowing for a joyful and victorious Christian life.
Out of this movement came the ministry of Dwight L. Moody, and it also led eventually to the rise of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.


All three of these women profoundly influenced Protestant Christianity as we know it today.  As ChristianHistory.Net puts it:
Throughout Christian history, from the martyrs and monastics to the Puritans and Pietists, movements have arisen in pursuit of a deeper devotion and more active Christlikeness.
Palmer, Booth and Smith took up just such a pursuit, and the movements that they helped engender are still bearing fruit today. In fact, the holiness movement was largely dependent on the contributions of these women and others like them, and it's impossible to fully account for this major movement and its descendant movements in Christian history, without the actions of women.

Even though we may not agree with everything they taught (nor did they always agree with each other), Palmer, Booth and Smith did agree on the beauty and holiness of Christ and our need to connect with Him as branches do to the vine (John 15:5).  As women of character, courage and commitment whose legacy lives beyond them, this "great triumvirate" of mid-19th-century women preachers should not be forgotten.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The "Feminization" of the Church

In recent years a lot of people have been talking about why in most Christian churches there is an approximately 60-40 ratio of women to men.  This 2006 Biola Magazine article puts it like this:
There are generally more women than men in every type of church, in every part of the world. . .A traditional explanation is that women are more spiritual than men. But the leaders of [a new masculinity] movement suggest that the church’s music, messages and ministries cater to women. . . The result of this feminization is that many men, even Christian men, view churches as “ladies clubs” and don’t go — or they often go to please their wives. 
The phrase almost always used to describe this phenomenon is "feminization."  In other words, the presence of a higher percentage of women in churches is not simply a higher percentage of women-- it represents that the church is, or has somehow become, feminine.

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has this to say about "feminine Christianity":
Walk into the average evangelical church in America, and you will likely sing lyrics such as “I want my life to be a love song for you, Jesus” and “I want to fall in love with you.”

Then you might hear a sermon encouraging Christians to be “intimate” with Jesus and attend a “care group” where everyone is expected to share their feelings.

Such tactics might appeal to women, but they are at least partially unbiblical and push men away from Christianity, according to Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and assistant professor of gender and family studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

“Where are the men in our churches today?” Stinson said in a lecture sponsored by the SBTS theology school council March 29. “We have a crisis going on in the local church. Number one, men aren’t coming. And number two, when they are coming, they’ve [sic] marginalized, they’re being passive, they’re being pushed to the side.”
Christianity Today summarizes it like this:
Today a growing body of literature is leveling its sights on the church, suggesting that men are uninvolved in church life because the church doesn't encourage authentic masculine participation.
The same article quotes controversial pastor Mark Driscoll:
In Driscoll's opinion, the church has produced "a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. … Sixty percent of Christians are chicks," he explains, "and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks."
The article also quotes David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004):
"[W]omen believe the purpose of Christianity is to find "a happy relationship with a wonderful man"—Jesus—whereas men recognize God's call to "save the world against impossible odds." . . . While the church was masculine, it fulfilled its purpose. But in the 19th century, women "began remaking the church in their image" (and they continue to do so), which moved the church off course.
Needless to say, this line of thinking isn't exactly complimentary to women!  It implies that whatever is "feminine" encapsulates everything that's gone wrong with the church. A popular book on the subject even goes so far as to take the title The Church Impotent - because apparently a majority of women in the church means the church is emasculated, and therefore powerless and ineffectual. Even though men still hold the vast majority of the leadership positions.

There are several things that need to be addressed here.  First, what might be some objective reasons why there are more women than men in most churches?  Second, what does it mean to say the church is "feminine," and is that a helpful or accurate assessment?  Third, what is the best way to address this situation?

Why are there more women than men in most churches? 

One reason that is often given (and one that is less denigrating to women) is that women are just naturally more religious than men. However, if that were true, then a similar female-to-male ratio ought to hold true in other major world religions.  But it doesn't.  Christianity is the only major world religion where female attendance is higher than male attendance. As this United Kingdom study states:
Christian women reported slightly higher levels of religious activity than did the men, while among the other three religious groups, levels of reported religious activity were markedly lower among women than among men. How can we explain these gender differences in reported religious observance? Among the Jews and Muslims, there were marked differences between women and men, in keeping with observations about the roles of women and men in these traditions. These differences are also consistent with the view that men’s prescribed religious activities in traditional religion are more prestigious, and thus more likely to be engaged in. Hindu men also reported greater levels of religious activity than did Hindu women.
The fact is that most of the time in the other world religions (with the exception, perhaps, of some reformed branches), women are actively barred from full participation in many of the everyday practices of religion.  They are often kept separate from the men, hidden behind screens or walls, or required to keep silent.  Perhaps, then, another question we ought to be asking, instead of why there are relatively fewer men participating in Christianity, is what is it about Christianity that encourages so many women to participate?  As this article on religion in the United Kingdom in The Telegraph says:
One possible reason why the Church has always attracted so many women is that the theological education on offer on a Sunday is the same for both sexes. Men and women (generally speaking) have always sat together in Church and are expected to participate equally in the liturgy and in prayer. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the only other religious denomination anecdotally reported as having rising numbers of women is Reform Judaism. Its congregations are mixed whereas in Orthodox synagogues the men and women sit separately and only boys receive the rigorous schooling in the Hebrew scriptures. . . .
An often-ignored fact in all of the hand-wringing about fewer men in church is that the early church in Roman times apparently also attracted more women than men.  As this Huffington Post article on The Power and Presence of Women in the Earliest Churches states:
Some readers may find it surprising to learn that a woman shortage blighted the ancient world, with about 130-140 men for every 100 women. This is so because many female infants were left to die of exposure and because of the mortal risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Yet both Christians and their critics observed a marked overrepresentation of women in the early churches, a fact the critics used to their advantage: "What respectable group caters to women?" Why, one wonders, did so many women find the churches appealing if women's contributions were not valued?
The answer is, simply, that the early churches did value women's contributions. 
This article on women in the early church from the Christian History Institute corrorobates this:
Celsus, a 2nd-century detractor of the faith, once taunted that the church attracted only “the silly and the mean and the stupid, with women and children.” His contemporary, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, acknowledged in his Testimonia that “Christian maidens were very numerous” and that it was difficult to find Christian husbands for all of them. These comments give us a picture of a church disproportionately populated by women. . . It is no surprise that women were active in the early church. From the very start—the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus—women were significantly involved. . .The involvement of women continued in the first few decades of the church, attested by both biblical and extra-biblical sources.
The fact is that a major appeal of Christianity at its inception was that it valued and uplifted those who were marginalized in their own societies.  The same Celsus quoted above also said that Christianity was “a religion of women, children and slaves.” As Paul indicated in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor. 1:26-29
 A similar phenomenon appears to be occurring in the rise of Christianity in places where it has not had a long-standing, traditional hold, such as in China.  Christianity continues to grow rapidly in China, with up to 70% of the new converts being women. In this Christian Post article, the reason given is similar to what was going on in the early church in Roman times:
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said on its website that Christianity mainly attracts people with low social status, including the poor, the women and older people.
It said that while half of Christians had completed their primary education, only 2.6 percent of them attained a college degree or higher.
Christianity's attraction of the marginalized is one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses. On the other hand, this factor probably doesn't fully explain why there is a greater percentage of women in modern Western churches today-- especially since many branches of Christianity are now seen by society as limiting women, not empowering them.  An important question to ask, though, is how long this female-male ratio has been occurring.  The idea that this is a recent phenomenon, rising with the advent of feminism, is certainly false.  The Biola Magazine article I quoted earlier states:
The gender gap began as early as the 13th century, according to some church historians. Others say it began during the Industrial Revolution. . . Industrialization forced men to seek work away from home, in factories and offices, which created a split between the public and private spheres of life. The public sphere became secularized through the new values of competition and self-interest, and the private sphere came to represent the old values of nurturing and religion. . . Thus, religion came to be seen as for women and children and not as relevant to the “real” world of business, politics and academia, she said. Soon, in churches, women began to outnumber men. . .  So, male pastors began to adapt churches to their female demographic.
The rise in the "two spheres" concept popularized in Victorian times may be a factor, but the disproportionality of women in the church, at least in some kinds of congregations, has certainly been documented earlier than that.  American colonial preacher Cotton Mather wrote about it in the 1600s, for instance, though not all colonial churches had this issue. The book Under the Cope of Heaven by Professor Patricia U. Bonomi offers an interesting theory: that male attendance decreased in American colonial churches in inverse proportion to the increase in the role of clergy at the expense of laity:
As the ministers' rising professionalism led them to reduce the laity's power in church government, laymen proved less amenable to a a more passive role than did laywomen. . . [Therefore] Feminization appears to be linked less to the secularization of the masculine sphere than to the loss of power by lay males to a professionalizing clergy.
If this is true, then the Encyclopedia Brittanica's entry on clergy and laity in Eastern Orthodoxy could help explain why there is a more equal sex ratio in these churches:
The emphasis on communion and fellowship as the basic principle of church life inhibited the development of clericalism, the tradition of enhancing the power of the church hierarchy. The early Christian practice of lay participation in episcopal elections never disappeared completely in the East. In modern times it has been restored in several churches, including those in the United States. Besides being admitted, at least in some areas, to participation in episcopal elections, Orthodox laymen often occupy positions in church administration and in theological education. In Greece almost all professional theologians are laymen. Laymen also frequently serve as preachers.
This would also explain why, in my own church (an Independent Church of Christ), where laywomen and laymen alike participate in teaching (both in children's ministry and adult bible studies), baptizing, serving communion, collecting and counting the offering, greeting, ushering, and giving short teachings prior to the main sermon, I see roughly half men and half women when I look around the pews on any given Sunday morning.  My own church (though I have not done an actual count) doesn't seem particularly "feminized."

But this doesn't explain why in some churches where lay participation is high, there is still a higher percentage of women.  This study from 1990 states that in American Pentecostal churches the female-male ratio was at that time as high as 2 to 1, while in Baptist churches it was 3 to 2.  (This study, however, concludes that women are simply more religious for various reasons, failing to take into account that this is a Christianity-only issue, so I won't be quoting it further here.)

But there is another cause that I think is, and has been, very prevalent in Western churches for a long time, and is likely more prevalent in Baptist and Pentecostal and similar churches, because of their strict limitations on women's roles. It's a self-perpetuating stigma that, once established, is very hard to defeat: the stigma known as "gender contamination."  This Forbes article defines"gender contamination" as the idea that when something is perceived as being a women's thing, men want nothing to do with it.  It's the reason why men won't drink "diet" soda and have had to have differently-named low-calorie versions marketed specially to them.  It's the reason why men resist using lotions and moisturizers even if they have neutral, non-flowery scents, and why some companies advertise their products by denigrating competitors with such words as "precious" and "princess."  In short, in our "male mystique" focused society, boys who believe girls have cooties still believe deep-down, when they grow into men, that women have cooties too.

There are still some very deep-rooted misogynistic elements in modern Western culture-- and this, I think, has a lot to do with why evangelicals like Mark Driscoll and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are so distressed at the idea that churches are "feminized."  If churches have more women in them, then churches themselves have cooties, and it's up to the biblical manhood movement to remove the stigma by masculinizing the church.  Just as soda advertisements now insist that certain brands are not for women, and certain body washes emphasize how very manly their scents are, the answer in the minds of these Christians is to re-market the church as a manly institution.

The Christianity Today article I linked to earlier puts it this way:
These authors . . . suggest that the solution is to inject the church with a heavy dose of testosterone. In other words, allowing women to create Jesus in their image has emasculated him; thus, regaining a biblical image of Christ is as simple as re-masculating him. The masculinity movement's solution assumes that Jesus came to model genuine masculinity. . .  imply[ing] that when the church adopts the supposedly male psyche, it fulfills its purpose, but when it conforms to the supposedly female psyche, it becomes aberrant.
Which leads me to my second question:

Are these categories of "masculine" and "feminine," when applied to churches and church services, helpful or accurate?

Jeffrey Miller, in the Christian Standard's Nov. 2011 article Common Sense on "The Feminization of the Church", discusses two of the main proposals for masculinizing the church: first, that churches sponsor "manly" and challenging group activities such as hiking or kayaking, and second, that church services discard or at least strictly limit "feminine" songs about love and intimacy with Christ in favor of "masculine" songs about God's power and authority.  Here's what he discovered regarding sponsoring "manly" activities through his own church:
I wanted to test the theory that men are more interested than women in rigorous and even dangerous recreation, so I devised a stealthy experiment and formed a hiking group. Anyone is welcome to join this group, but all who express interest are told we do not take leisurely jaunts. Instead, each outing has some significant challenge, the most common being distance—our longest hike, for example, exceeded 26 miles. Other obstacles have included bitter windchills, steep climbs, sheer descents, black bears, yellow jackets, and two territorial rattlesnakes. 
I sent invitations to an equal number of men and women. The list has grown and now consists of 20 men and 20 women. I tell people we hike to stay in shape, rise to the challenge, enjoy God’s creation, and get away from it all. While all these are true, I haven’t till now shared one other important goal of mine: to track the ratio of female to male participants. After 19 monthly hikes, having invited an equal number of men and women to join in rigorous outdoor adventures, 33 men and 57 women have taken up the challenge. Surprised? Me too! I thought the ratio would drift toward 50-50.
And with regards to "manly" music, here's his response:
Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) lists the 100 most frequently used songs in its database. If contemporary praise music is problematically feminine in both lyrics and tone, as the Driscoll-Murrow crowd avers, we should expect the top 100 list to be dominated—or at least infiltrated—by women. In fact, however, the list includes 145 male and 16 female composers. Thus more than 90 percent of the composers writing today’s most popular praise songs are male!
Moreover, some of the most “masculine” songs are written by women (and some of the most “feminine” songs are written by men). Consider Twila Paris’s “He is Exalted,” Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song,” and Brooke Fraser’s “Desert Song,” all of which employ metaphors of power. In contrast, Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche’s “Above All” and Martin Nystrom’s “As the Deer” both feature elegant melodies and calming images from nature. 
Going back to the 19th century, Fanny Crosby’s lyrics are not predominantly what we would call “feminine.” And William Bradbury’s melodies are not especially “masculine.” In search of a nonscientific test for these statements, I asked my mom for her five favorite Fanny Crosby songs and my dad for his five favorite William Bradbury songs. . . My mom’s favorite Fanny Crosby songs are “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!” “Redeemed!” and “Draw Me Nearer.” My dad’s favorite William Bradbury hymns are “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Solid Rock,” “He Leadeth Me,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Judge for yourselves, but I believe the list of hymns by Crosby is more vigorous and Bradbury’s list is more intimate. 
I conclude, therefore, that a central problem with the manly music argument is that men both write and perform the overwhelming number of songs that Driscoll, Murrow, and others consider too feminine. If anyone is guilty of feminizing the church’s music, it’s not women!
In short, the categories of "masculine" and "feminine" are cultural constructs that often have very little to do with the actual proclivities of real men and women.  Women don't necessarily focus on relationship and men on power in worship, nor do only men enjoy rigorous and challenging physical activity.

Thomas G. Long's article Why Do Men Stay Away? in The Christian Century finds these categories insulting to both men and women:
Why are men and the church often at odds? Sadly, many of the answers are as insulting as they are misguided. . .They argue that men, loaded as they are with testosterone, have a proclivity to impulsive, risk-taking, occasionally violent action—exactly the behavior disallowed in the soft world of worship. Given this theory, what enticements can the wimpy church possibly offer us men when we compare it to the joys of hiding away in a man cave, stuffing our maws with pizza and beer as we watch Da Bears and heading out after sundown to rip off a few wheel covers and rumble in the Wal-Mart parking lot?

Others propose a more political and historical explanation, namely that centuries of male control of the church have yielded to an ineluctable force of feminization. Pastel worship, passive and sentimental images of the Christian life, handholding around the communion table and hymns that coo about lover-boy Jesus who "walks with me and talks with me" have replaced stronger, more masculine themes. . . 
Really? The feminine erosion of the church? As David Foster Wallace said in a different context, this is an idea "so stupid it practically drools." Even sillier are the proposed masculine remedies. One website suggests "Ten Ways to Man Up Your Church," beginning with obtaining "a manly pastor" who projects "a healthy masculinity." This patently ignores strong women clergy, of course, but it also denigrates the capacity of men to recognize and respond to able leadership regardless of gender or stereotypes.
Categories of masculinity and femininity that reduce men to biceps and women to clinging vines are hardly biblical.  None of the heroes and heroines of the faith presented in the pages of Scripture acted this way.  Nor do the Scriptures uphold these stereotypical behaviors as virtuous or godly.  On the contrary, the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, " love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" include both typically "masculine" and typically "feminine" virtues that are for men and women alike.

And there's a real problem when traits associated with women are denigrated as a kind of sickness that is weakening the church.  As Jeffrey Miller put it in his Christian Standard article:
If the church manifests feminine characteristics, and if it does so more than it once did, then why would this make the church impotent? Such a claim is not only illogical, but offensive. Surely it is ungentlemanly to say to women that the problem with the church is that it’s becoming more and more like them.
How fair is it to assign categories to women that you then belittle and blame them for?  Surely it's possible to attract more men to our churches without communicating to women that they shouldn't exist?

So what is the best way to address this problem?

The church is not a product like a soda or a moisturizer, that you can market to men by claiming that it's not for women.  Nor is it helpful to bifurcate church experience so that the women get all the comfort and love while men get all the challenging calls to discipleship.  Men and women are real people, not stereotypes. Men often need comfort and love, and women have no less need for challenge.  Jesus wasn't speaking only to men when He said "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me (Luke 9:23)."  Nor was He talking only to women when He said, "Come to Me. . . and you will find rest for your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)." 

Brownyn Lea recently wrote a guest post on Preston Yancey's blog entitled  What Women Want: the Jesus of the Gospels.  She said:
Jesus is a comforter, a healer, a Savior. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild", the suffering Servant, the loving rescuer. That Jesus rightfully and perfectly holds all these titles is proof that those nurturing qualities do not belong exclusively to the female domain. Jesus IS the epitome of love, of care, of welcome.

However . . .what I want from church is this - a robust preaching of the Jesus of the Gospels. I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces fiesty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.

I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That's the Jesus I want. That's the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike.
It's a woman who is saying these things, articulating the need that Christian men and women alike feel for the whole Jesus-- neither a masculinized prize-fighting caricature nor a feminized weepy-and-wimpy caricature.  And if we don't want our Jesus to be a caricature, we ought not to be caricaturing His male and female followers.

Thomas G. Long's Christian Century article hits the nail on the head, I think:
Perhaps a clue can be found in a Christian group that attracts men and women in roughly equal numbers: Eastern Orthodoxy. . . The finding of religion journalist Frederica Mathewes-Green [is] that Orthodoxy's main appeal is that it's "challenging." One convert said, "Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it is also about overcoming myself. . ." 
Yes, some churchgoers are satisfied with feel-good Christianity, but I think many Christians—women and men—yearn for a more costly, demanding, life-changing discipleship. Perhaps women are more patient when they don't find it, or more discerning of the deeper cross-bearing opportunities that lie beneath the candied surface.
Why do more women than men go to church in modern Western Christianity?  Perhaps most women don't really care all that much for sterilized, feel-good niceness in the church either-- but women are usually the ones responsible for getting their kids to church, so they deny themselves, pick up their crosses and get out the door.  Maybe Christian leaders ought to be applauding their commitment rather than blaming them for what's wrong with the service.

Maybe rather than capitulating to worldly gender-contamination and male fear of female cooties, publicly visible male Christian leaders should stop maligning femaleness and trying to market Jesus and the church as masculine.  In fact, maybe they should stop trying to market the church at all.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Ultimately, "feminization" isn't the real problem.  Women aren't the problem.  Let's face it, in the vast majority of churches the decisions aren't getting made by women-- but Adam's tendency to blame "this woman You gave me" for his choices is still visible in male church leaders today.

I firmly believe that if churches will just preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, both its comfort and its challenge-- Christ will take care of the rest.  Men will rise to the challenge to pick up their crosses and endure the stigma of gender contamination in order to identify with Christ.  And this will in time erase the notion that church is a "women's thing."

Finally, churches do need to pay attention to who they're reaching and who they're not.  But perhaps we ought to be concentrating less on the ratio of females to males and start focusing more on attracting people of other races and economic situations.  Perhaps the real problem is not so much that there are 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but that all of them are white and middle class.

In the end, the Holy Spirit is the one who can help us most.  Let's humble ourselves and ask.