The Failure of Macho Christianity
The church is not “too feminine,” nor does it cater to women. If it did, you would not see so many Christian women leaving the church. I am only partially Christian now, I am a woman, and no, I don’t get my needs met at churches. Most churches cater to men.
- In content and delivery, Driscoll’s ministry mirrored facets of the “pick-up artist” movement, a self-improvement industry generated, according to Katie J.M. Baker, out of “neuro-linguistic programming ‘speed seduction’ theories in the early 1990s,” which promises to get frustrated men into bed with the women of their dreams.
- With books like Neil Strauss’ 2005 The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists and Erik Von Markovik’s 2007 The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed forming its core narratives, the PUA world now convenes largely online, in designated forums and discussion boards.
- Its books, talks, seminars and videos all presuppose those seeking its wisdom are losers of one sort or another, though the source of male short-coming is often chalked up to institutionalized anti-masculinity in homes, schools, and society at large. There is as much disdain for women as desire for them, and the techniques developed by PUAs tend to focus on fulfilling both urges at once.
- For both PUAs and the hyper-masculine ministry of Mars Hill and its like-minded flankers, the story goes something like this: feminism and its attendant ideological shifts have undermined traditionally male sources of power and dignity; nevertheless, certain anthropological realities (divinely ordained gender differences for the Christians, evolutionary psychology for the PUAs) resist this newly imposed order, and men have much to gain from taking advantage of these deeply inscribed truths.
- Mars Hill maintained much of the essentializing and misogynist ideology of the PUA world without adopting its technical guidance. Nonetheless, twin how-to and sexual self-improvement themes run through both streams of products and promotional materials.
- Manuals and live presentations on seduction techniques are the hot selling items in the PUA world, with famed pick-up artist Julien Blanc’s recent abruptly cancelled Australian tour being a fine exemplar of the craft. (Blanc’s jaunt down under ended when he was de-facto banished after the Australian government revoked his visa in response to activists who pointed out Blanc is an ersatz advocate of rape; prior to his exile, Blanc’s tour had been sold out.)
- For Christians who traffic in this vein, sales come from how-to books (Driscoll’s splashy sex manual Real Marriage turned out to be a factor in his downfall), seminars, speaking events, and good ol’ fashioned passes of the collection plate.
- … For some time, Christians have complained of a feminized Christianity that is driving young men away from church, with David Murrow’s 2011 Why Men Hate Going to Churchbeing something of an exemplar of the form, listing chapters from “Check Your Testosterone at the Door” to “How Churches Feminize Over Time.”
- Murrow’s spiritual predecessor was Leon Podle’s 1999The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, which in turn borrowed from Victorian men who found “The whole atmosphere of Anglo-Catholicism, its preciosity, its fussiness, its concern for laces and cassocks and candles…unmanly.”
- Driscoll was only the latest, most extreme iteration of this old anxiety.
- A related point of angst for Christians has been the decline of male interest in marriage and fatherhood, with many socially conservative Christian columnists devoting ink to the problem. In January of 2014, The New York Times’ Ross Douthat worried in a column titled “More Imperfect Unions” that legalized abortion and no-fault divorce have created “fewer ensuing marriages, fewer involved fathers, more unstable homes.”
- In a 2011 piece for The American Conservative, Orthodox Christian columnist Rod Dreher mourned the decline of marital restraint among men: “so much for marriage and traditional morality civilizing men by compelling them to channel their natural urge toward sexual promiscuity into socially beneficial ends.”
- But who are these cohorts of men who have drifted away from church, marriage, and family en masse?
- It is worth singling out particular populations. After all, churches have not lost attendance at equal rates among all social classes. A 2011 study from University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins researchers found that monthly church participation among the least educated whites, those who dropped out of high school, has fallen from thirty-eight percent to twenty-three percent over the last four decades.
- Meanwhile, attendance among higher-class whites had barely budged at all, slipping only from fifty percent to forty-six. The same study found that people who have been unemployed in the last 10 years are also less likely to attend church services than their employed counterparts.
- As for the male retreat from traditional breadwinning roles and marriage, that too has been concentrated among the working class. While fifty-six percent of professional, technical, and managerial employed men between ages twenty and forty-nine were married in 2013, only thirty-one percent of their service worker counterparts were.
- Despite declines in divorce rates among people with college degrees, those without still divorce at numbers near the peak rates of the 1970s and 80s that gave us the haunting “fifty percent” adage. With few resources, high stress, and limited means with which to maintain the provider roles of the recent past, it seems working class men are the unspoken targets of so much conservative concern about empty pews and broken homes.
- With so many countervailing circumstances factoring into the decline of marriage and male headship in the home, Driscoll’s proposed corrective of a more macho Christianity seems ill-fated.
- And it seems now that it did not portend well even for Driscoll, whose demise had much to do with his bullyish and coercive style of administration and with the leak of a disgustingly vitriolic rant against women, feminism, gay men, and others.
- Accusations of Driscoll’s abuses of power and bullying levied by twenty-one former Mars Hill pastors pursuant to an internal investigation include several distinctly gendered infractions. In 2013, Driscoll responded to an elder who asked him to consider sharing the pulpit more that sharing the pulpit was tantamount to sharing his wife, Grace Driscoll, retorting “no one else sleeps with Grace.” Driscoll forced an elder to use swear words during a meeting in 2012, then made unspecified disparaging comments about another elder’s sex life.
- He repeatedly referred to Mars Hill churches as his “daughters,” and their pastors as his “sons-in-law,” comparing pastors’ departure to divorce, and forbidding it on those grounds.
- …Driscoll-esque churches are still cropping up despite Mars Hill’s ugly public dissolution. In Joplin, Missouri, Pastor Heath Mooneyham preaches that he wants to “kick you in the nuts” with the message of Jesus, among other testicular conceits.
- A lengthy September Vocativessay on Mooneyham’s church, Ignite, declared the pastor the “second coming of Mark Driscoll,” and not without good reason: Mooneyham seems just as sexually obsessed as his recent predecessor, encouraging punctuality on Sunday with slurs like, “You’re a big boy. You got big balls between your legs. You’re a dad, right? Get up, set your alarm, don’t be a wuss.”
- If anything, Mooneyham is a distilled Driscoll, getting right to the anatomy and worrying about the theology later, if at all. Mooneyham appears to have improved on Driscoll’s winning formula with the inclusion of cultural products from the working class, raffling off assault rifles and singing the praises of big trucks.
- In the few months since Vocativ ran its profile on Mooneyham, he too has stepped down, pursuant to an arrest for drunk driving.
- … The ego-inflation and aggressive tendencies that these hyper-masculine ministries encourage seem to be the very pathologies that undermine their churches, leaving their congregations vulnerable to upheaval and public spectacle. With an interpretation of Christian gospel that so thoroughly entrenches themes of masculine dominance and control, pastors like Driscoll and Mooneyham occupy a position that is at once enviable and immensely precarious.
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