Gender, Church & Social Science

It is one of those tiresome truisms that there are more women than men in church. I recall reading somewhere that even a deliberately man-friendly church like Driscoll’s is still something like 55-60% female. You’d think too that conservative churches – be they Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Protestant – would have great appeal to men since many of them are among the few remaining places in society where men still hold a Y-chromosomal lock on all the top jobs. North American churches would seem then to have put male faces on really female-dominated organizations. Reminds me of this:

All this has led to a great deal of head-scratching and prognostication about why it is that men are not interested in church. A great deal of what I’ve read seem to be broad generalizations that a cursory understanding of the social sciences might readily problematize. From the Booklist review of Why Men Hate Going to Church:

“Churches need to provide a more challenging and confrontational approach to religion and spiritual issues instead of concentrating on more traditional– and female-oriented–calls for conformity, control, and ceremony.”

Conformity is feminine? Look at traditionally male-dominated professions like firefighting or policing or the military – men sure seem to self-select for careers that involve an insane level of conformity and control – not to mention ceremony.

Does this mean that the opposite of Murrow’s conclusions are true? No, not really, all I’ve provided is one counter-example (though there are others). The point I’m trying to make is that it strikes me as foolish to make a cartoon image of men and another of women and to try to appeal to one or the other based on a simplistic model of what that gender likes. There is a masculine tendency to appear to enjoy conformity in some circumstances, there is perhaps a feminine tendency to enjoy it in others. Most of what I’ve read about gender would seem to indicate that there are male and female tendencies but that there is a great deal of overlap between the two and no bright white dividing line. When mapping social behaviour by gender one is always dealing with probabilistic models.

A church that tries to map out a man-positive strategy for growth may very well be chasing after the wind.