Gender Wars and Worship Wars: a connection

Written by Father Bill 4 Comments

They’re related, right? For some time now I have sensed a living and vital linkage between the “gender wars” and the “worship wars” within Broadly Evangelical American Protestantism (BEAP).  These controversies not only intersect, they seem to reinforce one another.  The problem has been to figure out how and why.  It’s puzzlement.  I suspect many factors are at work.

A one clue may be found in two notices I ran across yesterday about a book by James B. Twitchell entitled Shopping for God.  One notice popped up in a regional newspaper web site in Florida, another  in the editorial pages of the online Wall Street Journal.

Naomi Riley, in the WSJ piece, summarizes Twitchell’s thesis as follows:

Choosing a religion, [Twitchell] argues, is much like choosing any other product–from breakfast food to beer. He sets out to determine why the “spiritual marketplace” in the U.S. seems so hot right now, and, more pointedly, why evangelical megachurches have become, well, so mega. His theme can be summed up in one of the book’s smug chapter titles: “Christian Consumers Are Consumers First.”

So far, Twitchell’s book appears to be the latest, and perhaps most thorough, analysis of a feature of BEAP’s adoption of commercial marketing as the starting point for advancing the Kingdom of God.  Riley (reluctantly?) acknowledges that “… in fact there are churches out there self-consciously engaged in marketing. They hire consultants and public-relations experts to ‘grow’ their flock, and they obey a market discipline.”  From my perspective, those churches that don’t hire consultants are avidly aping those that do.  Why pay for what you can mimic for free? 

But, then, Riley quotes Twitchell to a point that intrigues me:

Mr. Twitchell explains: “Men are the crucial adopters in religion. If they go over the tipping point, women follow, children in tow.” So now megachurches sponsor sports ministries and groups whose members ride motorcycles together. The language of prayers and sermons has moved away from a condescending lecture tone and taken up sports metaphors instead, asking congregants, for instance, to step up to the plate and help the team. In such a way are men induced to buy the megachurch product.

Twitchell, therefore, argues that there is (or, we should expect there to be) a “gender factor” in BEAP’s marketing of Christianity to the masses.  Certainly there are some overt attempts at this as far as marketing Christianity to men are concerned.  There is, for example, The Gospel in the Men’s Room, a deliberate attempt to make a church appealing to men by making a men’s toilet within it redolent of Harleys, Pennzoil, and NASCAR paraphrenalia.  We think, also, of Church for Men  and the virile fellows at God-men.   All these latter are whining, plotting, and campaigning for men in church to get their fair share of the bennies. 

But, consider … except for where individual congregations are big enough and rich enough to do niche-marketing to men (i.e. they’re mega churches already), Twitchell has given us a plausible reason for the female-friendly cache of contemporary Christianity of the BEAP variety, namely that every congregation you can find within BEAPdom is predominately female.  Churches that want to maintain their size, much less grow, cannot afford to displease the majority of their market.

What is the chicken and what is the egg here?  Who knows?  But, if Twitchell is right about BEAP, its female-heavy demographics and its programmatic appeal to feminine tastes obviously reinforce one another.


4 Comments

  1. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 25 October 2007 at 11:44 am

    I hadn’t thought of it in this way but I see the connection. So glad you are back at it.

  2. Benjamin P. Glaser   |  Thursday, 25 October 2007 at 3:14 pm

    BEAP is a wonderful term Fr. Bill.

    Anyway I agree with your connection here. Well Said…

  3. mx. punk   |  Wednesday, 15 June 2011 at 9:17 pm

    gender wars? feminine tastes? do you really believe that gender is as simple as male and female— with a no-go zone between the two?

    the gender binary is a social construct. many people find that it works for them; these people exist within the gender binary. other people exist outside the gender binary— because 2 sizes don’t fit all. some people actually identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of the two. gender is beautifully complex and there are no literal limits on it.

    i understand that you may not have encountered someone of non-binary gender, as people of binary gender are certainly the norm. this is not intended as a rebuke. i just want to point out that gender, while fascinating and complex, is not pivotal and that sex is little more than plumbing.

  4. Fr. Bill   |  Friday, 30 September 2011 at 2:10 am

    Sorry to be so tardy in replying. Tempus fugit and all that, dontcha know …

    gender wars? feminine tastes? do you really believe that gender is as simple as male and female— with a no-go zone between the two?

    Well, yes. That’s the idea. And Mother Nature seems to agree. But, the kicker for Christians is that God made it that way for humans. One or the other. Anything else is … well … abnormal, wrong, not good, and so forth.

    the gender binary is a social construct.

    Construct? No. See above.

    There are social dimensions to sex. It’s both something to do (I’m not talking about what happens between the sheets either) and also something to be. The “be” part is hard-wired, including stuff that has nothing to do with plumbing, like temperament, dispositions, inclinations, and many similar things.

    But, as you point out, there’s a social dimension. We Christians would insist there’s a moral dimension as well. And, that means our behavioral and social actions may or may not comply with God’s requirements. It’s bad for a man to wear a woman’s clothing, even if it’s obviously a possibility, and even if it’s very popular in some places. That’s why God said not to do that sort of thing.

    many people find that it works for them; these people exist within the gender binary. other people exist outside the gender binary— because 2 sizes don’t fit all.

    But “what works for them” is beside the point! If their Creator says “It doesn’t work for Me,” it doesn’t matter very much if it works for them, does it?

    some people actually identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of the two.

    So? See above.

    gender is beautifully complex and there are no literal limits on it.

    But “literal” limits are very real, built-in by the Maker and proscribed by Him. Yes, people stray over those proscriptions all the time. Which is why they need a Savior, without which Savior their eternal future is pretty bleak.

    i just want to point out that gender, while fascinating and complex, is not pivotal and that sex is little more than plumbing.

    It’s very much more than plumbing, though it too is a feature. Mankind is of two types: male and female. Their bodies are different. Their spirits are different too. Sex is not something confined to plumbing.

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