Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Feminization of the American Clergy
Or, Girlie-Men in the Pulpit
by Rev. Brian M. Abshire
Now I can already hear the PC crowd screaming for my head for saying this, but hey guys, someone, somewhere has to take a stand on this controversial issue and let the chips fall where they may; men and women are different. There, I said it. Furthermore, the differences go beyond plumbing fixtures but extend to the very center of their beings. Hollywood, that bastion of political correctness, understands and capitalizes on the difference, even while they decry it. They intentionally make “men’s” movies and “women’s” movies. Men’s movies are action flicks where every problem demands a clear-cut answer (usually involving explosions, automatic weapons and a large body count). Women’s movies focus on relationships. I did my husbandly duty this year and watched the new version of Jane Austin’s “Sense and Sensibility” with my wife. She loved it, was enthralled by the historical costumes, entranced by middle class 19th century morals and consumed by the plight of three sisters looking for love in all the wrong places (I may have the plot wrong here, I slept through most of it). However, Elaine certainly did not appreciate my comments that the movie could have been improved greatly with a few light-saber duels or maybe a car chase or two.
I am NOT an insensitive cad! Hey, I still got misty-eyed when Sergeant Striker takes a sniper bullet in “Sands of Iwo Jima” as they raise old glory in the back ground (not to mention the tightening in the throat as he wins the loyalty of his men by breaking that guy’s jaw during bayonet practice! Ah, what memories of boot camp that brings back, sniff!). The point is, if even Hollywood can capitalize on the fundamental differences between men and women, and create entirely different genres of films to suit them (not to mention spending 100 million dollars hiring Arnold to thwart the bad guys), maybe Christians need to take a hard look at what those differences mean in the Church.
Though the evidence is often suppressed, sociological and psychological studies done over the past fifty years, have repeatedly demonstrated differences in how men and women not only react to the world, but how they even perceive it. For example, men tend to think with either one hemisphere of the brain or another. Women tend to think cross laterally, using both hemispheres at the same time (thus resulting in what used to be called “women’s intuition” i.e., gestalt thinking). Men’s emotions are most significantly influenced by the hormone testosterone, which leads to certain kinds of reactions, both emotionally and physically. Women’s emotions are colored by estrogen (and women body-builders must ingest testosterone in the form of steroids to get those huge muscles. “See son, one day you can grow up big and strong, just like Mummy…”). Men and women think differently, act differently, and perceive the world differently because God has created them for distinct roles. Man is to exercise dominion, to fill the earth and subdue it. The woman is to assist in that role as a help meet. Both are important, for neither can fulfill their God given duties without the other.
In line with this, the first sin was a revolutionary act based upon both the man and woman failing to fulfill their distinct roles. Ironically, Adam’s attempt to usurp dominion by eating the forbidden fruit began with an abandonment of dominion within his own home. Rather than protect his wife from the serpent, or rebuke her for her actions, Adam instead allowed her to eat the fruit and then followed her example. Yet Eve was not blameless. When confronted by the serpent, Eve did not go to her covenant head and seek his wisdom, counsel or advice. She acted like a modern, independent, liberated woman, choosing for herself whether she would obey God. And not being satisfied with sinning herself, she then becomes the medium by which Adam sinned.
Eve’s desire for “liberation” is reflected in the curse. While the Hebrew may be problematical here, personally speaking, I think when God says, “your desire shall be for your husband, but he will rule over you…” He has made Eve’s independent spirit a part of the curse on women throughout time.
Hence from the very beginning, there has been a “war” between the sexes, with men tempted to abandon their covenant responsibilities, and women seeking to usurp them. With all other things, Christ redeemed the family and brings peace, yet there is still a critical need for reformation. By God’s grace, it is a crucial part of the church’s ministry to preach, teach, admonish and instruct the family. But sadly, those entrusted to reconstruct the family are often little better off then the people they are supposed to shepherd.
It has been noted so many times, that it is almost a cliché; the worst kids in the church are often the elders’. In the same way, the most acrimonious women, are the pastor’s wives. Yet one of the primary requirements for an elder in the church is that “he must be one who manages his own household well…” (1 Tim 3:5ff). The Church can function, only if it has godly men at the helm. And godliness starts within the home. However, being much wiser than the Apostle Paul, we have today substituted a seminary education for Biblical character qualities and ordained whole generations of “girlie-men” into the ministry; men who do not act like men, do not think like men, but instead have adopted an essentially feminine view of life and ministry with disastrous effects on the church. I will not say that girlie-men in the pulpit is the worse problem facing the church, but it certainly is a large one. A wimpy man in the pulpit means a weak faith in the church, and an emasculated witness in the world.
One of the first signs of God’s judgment on a culture is gender role confusion (Rms 1:26ff). Men no longer act like men. As they become self-conscious in their rebellion, the image of God within them becomes more twisted and distorted. Therefore, the more that a Church is accommodated to cultural norms, the less likely that the men in that church will be able to resist the pressure to conform to cultural norms (e.g., Rms 12:2). As a result, instead of men proclaiming the law and statutes of our God and King, we have spiritual eunuchs, playing silly word games while an entire civilization sinks into decay. Conservative churches rightly insist on having only men in the pulpit. But what good does it do the church if the men in the pulpit think, talk and act like women?
A feminized clergy means that the church does not function Biblically. A crucial part of man’s dominion duties is adjudication. A godly man is a problem solver, focusing his attention on the issues of hand. Women on the other hand, created for a relational role, often want to talk about problems. A common complaint from wives is that “he doesn’t talk to me” when in reality she means that he does not want to talk about problems, he wants to fix them. But she does not necessarily want a problem fixed; she probably already knows the solution anyway. She wants to relate, and that means talking, and talking and talking…. When the clergy is feminized, the men tend to treat problems in the church the way women do problems in the home, something to talk about (dare I say, “whine” about?) but not something to be fixed. As a result, problems tend to grow and fester, because no one will confront sin.
Secondly, feminized men can’t stand pressure. Instead of taking a stand for what is right and then doing what is right, a feminized pastor wants peace, peace at any price. A couple of nasty phone calls, a few complaints about his preaching and he folds like a busted flush. Over the years I have counseled more than a few young men desirous of entering the ministry. For me, the acid test of whether or not they are truly called by God is whether they can stand the heat that even the healthiest churches generate on a regular basis. The pastor rightly or wrongly, is often the focus of the most inane criticisms. A godly MAN can do what is right, regardless of what others may think or say. A feminized one is crushed by criticism, and drives himself crazy trying to placate everyone.
Thirdly, feminized pastors preach fluff. They preach fluff because modern Americans have been seduced by a sensual Arminianism that appeals to the emotions. Women tend to find Arminianism more emotionally attractive than the “cold” precision of classic Reformed orthodoxy. An so, since “girlie-men” pastors want to appeal to women, the most vocal and influential members of the church, they preach sermons with all the spiritual nourishment of a pixie sticks (remember that colored sugar candy in a straw?).
Some “men” however, manage to avoid the heat by preaching interesting but irrelevant sermons aimed at keeping people happy. Sadly many examples abound in Reformed circles where sound theology is still somewhat in demand. Pastors preach purely theoretical sermons focusing on obscure doctrinal issues, which while true, are never specifically applied. You see, it’s the application that’s dangerous; much, much safer to keep it theoretical. If you get practical, people might actually get challenged to do something. And if they don’t want to do that something, well then, the phone calls begin!
How do we solve the problem? It has to begin with husbands taking responsibility in the home. And they cannot and will not do that unless they have a full-orbed Biblical worldview. It is a man’s task to take dominion, and therefore, we need men who can think and act Biblically. But to be a leader you have to know where you are going, and what is necessary to get there. If you are not a man of the Word, then you will not be the man of your household.
Secondly, fathers need to train their sons for dominion. This requires at least spending time with sons and not leaving all childrearing to Mom. Children need to see a strong father, solving problems, taking responsibility, and leading the family. Dads need to conduct family worship, catechize the children, and work with them on projects. They need to get their gluteus maximi off the couch and get involved with their kids. If you are not a tiger at home, then you are just a paper tiger in the world.
Thirdly, what the kids see modeled in their parents, will tend to be reproduced into their own lives. Therefore Dad has got to learn how to love his wife, nurture her but most importantly LEAD her. If Mom runs the household, you’d better believe that children will see and follow the model. Little girls will grow up into big girls, believing that bossing the man is the normal, natural thing to do. And little boys will grow into permanent adolescents, thinking life is about irresponsibility and playing games rather than dominion, leadership and service.
Biblical Christianity is neither masculine nor feminine; it encompasses both. But within the Church, as in the family, God has called men and women to mutually affirming, though distinct roles. And those roles require men to be men; taking a stand, speaking the truth, solving problems and making a difference in the world for Christ. And if we want men in the Church, we have to have real men in the pulpit. Let the “girlie-men” go play with their platitudes, while the men sit down to some spiritual meat.
After six years of military service, Rev. Brian M. Abshire graduated from Bethel College (Magna Cum Laude) in two years, with a double major in Psychology and Biblical Studies. He attended Bethel, Talbot, International and Covenant Seminaries, earning an MA (Summa Cum Laude - emphasis in Apologetics and Contemporary Culture) and a Masters of Theology (Magna Cum Laude thesis “The Use of Evidence in Presuppositional Apologetics”). His Ph.D. is from the International Institute for Advanced Studies, Greenwich University where he studied the Sociological Effects of New England Puritanism on the Development of American Cultural Values. He has been married to Elaine for 24 years and has six children. He is committed to developing a self-consciously Old School Presbyterian Church, Reformed in doctrine and practice and yet with the ability to minister in practical ways to people's real needs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.