The Church is Feminine, not Effeminate

Pastor Doug Wilson is a great and good man, and that doesn’t prevent him from hitting the wrong tone on important issues. In this post, he properly diagnoses a problem in the church: effeminate services with weak men, wretched music, led behind the scenes by women who are strong in the wrong way. He’s getting this from a book that I’ve looked into and found to be quite solid, Leon Podles’ The Church Impotent. Thank you, Pastor, and amen.

However, the original post made me a little queasy. Reading it again, I see it’s meant to me humorous, but people didn’t take it that way. Frankly, that’s because it wasn’t particularly funny. It was pretty dark satire. Here’s an excerpt:

Your worship service and church community might be effeminate if . . .


2. Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r’s correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle;

3. One of the ministerial staff has taken to wearing a clerical collar and a powder pink shirt, and no one on the session has the courage to tell him that he looks like a thirteen-year-old boy with rosy cheeks, as painted by Norman Rockwell;

4. The worship team gravitates toward “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs, and their facial expressions while up front are those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends[.]

Pastor Wilson is talking about a real problem, to an audience that includes people who are propagating the problem in a tone that seems calculated merely to raise their ire, not bring them to repentance. I think satire was the wrong approach. These are lazy generalizations about the Church at large, not actual practices, such as female elders, etc.

There were some concerned and angry responses from respectable men in the Christian community, and now Pastor Wilson has come up with this post, which is better in every way and sheds light on the parts masculinity and femininity play in the Church.

First, effeminacy and femininity are not synonyms. When I say that worship services have become effeminate, I am not saying that that they have become feminine. They have actually ceased being feminine (but more on this later). Feminine characteristics are God-given, and in their assigned place, they are a great glory, as terrible as an army with banners. But when feminine characteristics are falsely adopted by someone who has no claim or title to them, then that is effeminate.

The same principle runs the other way. When a woman adopts certain masculine prerogatives, putting on the gear of a warrior, let us say (Dt. 22:5), then this is grotesque. But to say it is grotesque is not to say that the same thing applies when a man who puts on the gear of a warrior. It would be grotesque for him not to.

Second, there is a difference between corporate piety and individual piety. In the first paragraph of my original post, I recommended the book The Church Impotent by Leon Podles. This particular point is a central theme of his book. The Church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23), and is in the process of adorning herself, as a bride does for her husband (Rev. 21:2). Podles points out that a fatal step was taken (by Bernard of Clairvaux) when expressions of corporate piety became normative for expressions of individual piety. The Church can and must adorn herself as a bride. Our corporate identity is feminine. But if an individual man attempts to replicate that identity in his personal devotions, two bad things can happen. The first is that he finds he can step right into such role, no prob, and presto, we have ourselves a new worship leader. The second problem is that the cultivation of this demeanor is so alien to how God made him that he concludes that the Christian faith must not be for him. This is all the result of a fundamental confusion about the relationship of corporate identity to individual identity.

I had never really considered this before. Together, we are the bride. We are feminine, and we submit to our husband the Lifegiver. But individually, we are men, and we approach God as…sons? I’m assuming so, since that is our relationship to God the Father. So, Wilson’s beef with high-voiced worship leaders is one part ad hominem and two parts substantive criticism: they think effeminacy, not femininity, is called for in worship, and in private life, instead of masculinity.

I come from a church that is wildly different from the make-believe effeminate congregation Wilson satirizes, but it still falls into the ditch he describes. I think that’s why his post rubbed me the wrong way: yes, this problem exists, and heck no, that is NOT how it manifests itself in the real world. What use is it to diagnose a cancer if you think it takes the form of purple spots on the elbow?

Ultimately, Wilson’s second post filleth up and runneth over with wisdom, which balances the rather arid nature of his previous screed. Doesn’t that tell us something about Christian give-and-take, about the Blogosphere? It’s so easy to write quickly and hit ‘Publish’ before we ought, and to attract a swarm of infuriated bloggers with the same problem. It’s not easy to make peace with the hornets after taking a swing at their nest (and calling them bees, to boot), but that’s what Wilson does. Christians should learn from him.

We should also learn from him that we are feminine together, because we serve the ultimate masculine God, and that we as men are masculine, and our sisters are feminine individually because we are sons and daughters of the High King, the Holy One of Israel. He has given us sex and sexual identity to image His eternal, ever-forgiving marriage to us, and His everlasting adoption covenant with us. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel!


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