Men and Church
Not long ago I had a conversation with a young (say 35-year-old) woman who is active in her church. Though her husband had been active in a former church in a different town, he is not part of his wife’s current church. I asked her why she thought that was. She said, “It’s too feminine for him.”
As we talked it became clear this was not a case of him being opposed to the idea of women as clergy or some general misogynistic bent. It was, she said, that he finds this church “pastel.” The colors, figuratively speaking, are soft, bland. The whole thing is too sunny, cheery, upbeat. And thus, for him, not quite real or completely honest.
It’s no secret that men are under-represented in mainline congregations. I wondered, as this women spoke, how many men may share her husband’s un-ease?
The Canadian literary scholar, Northrup Frye, in his book, The Great Code, commented, “The style of the Bible is of the battlefield rather than the cloister.” The battlefield is a place of conflict, of engagement with an adversary, of a life and death struggle. The cloister is a safe remove from the world, behind a wall, a covered walkway opening to a garden or yard.
Of course, rhetoric and images of warfare have been excised from liberal Christianity in the last generation or two. I get the rationale. But I wonder if this has been a mistake. If it has led to a church that is ill-equipped to speak of or engage evil, to acknowledge that the life of faith can, and in some sense should be, life on a battlefield.
Consider a verse from Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,/ We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us./ The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him;/ His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him.”
I’m sure that many today would regard such language as hopelessly retro if not something far worse. But there’s a truth here. Maybe a truth that husband was missing in a church that was all pastels. The life of faith is a struggle. The world is filled with devils. There is a dark prince with many in his power.
It is the season of Advent now. For many Advent is nothing more than a time of preparation for Christmas. But it was not always so. Once it was a somber season. A season of darkness and for speaking of this world’s darkness. Its four Sundays were devoted to the four “last things.” Death, judgment, heaven and hell.
These days the four Sundays of Advent are designated for, in turn, Peace, Joy, Love and Hope. But simply excising struggle, adversaries, devils, evil from our vocabulary and substituting friendly and upbeat words doesn’t mean the hard realities go away. It may mean that they go underground.
As tender as the Bethlehem manger scene may be, the truth is the world had no room for this holy child and that soon after his birth the ruling powers would send soldiers to find and kill him. His family would flee to Egypt, refugees in search of asylum.