Spiritual sorority houses
[David] Murrow notes that, among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.
Murrow is the author of Why Men hate Going to Church. Charlotte Allen, another author quoted in the article, says that:
The problem is that men love ritual and solemnity and women, influenced by our all-pervasive therapeutic culture, bring a therapeutic style to the liturgy.
In my experience Allen’s comment rings true. It brings to mind a passage from Introduction to Christianity, a book by Pope Benedict that I’ve just about finished.
In view of the New Testament’s message of love, there is more and more of a tendency today to resolve the Christian religion into brotherly love, “fellowship”, and not to admit any direct love of God or adoration of God: only the horizontal [of the cross] is recognized; the vertical of immediate relationship to God is denied. It is not difficult to see, after what we have said, how this at first sight very attractive conception fails to grasp not only the substance of Christianity but also that of true humanity. Brotherly love that aimed at self sufficiency would become for this very reason the extreme egotism of self assertion. It refuses its last openness, tranquility, and selflessness if it does not accept this love’s need for redemption through him alone who loves sufficiently. And, for all its goodwill, in the last resort it does others and itself an injustice, for man cannot perfect himself in the reciprocity of human fellowship alone… The disinterested character of simple adoration is man’s highest possibility it alone forms his true and final liberation.
It’s not my intention to belabour sex differences in worship, but speaking very generally, I think it is not outlandish to say that women are more often inclined to the social, horizontal aspect of Christianity and men to the vertical. Neither is to be preferred. We need one another in order to see the cross as clearly as we can, and this need is not confined to marital relations alone.
It is hard to imagine women clergy, for example, writing as Ratzinger does about the crucifixion:
In the last analysis, pain is the product and expression of Jesus Christ’s being stretched out from being in God right down to the hell of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Anyone who has stretched his existence so wide that he is simultaneously immersed in God and in the depths of the God forsaken creature is bound to be torn asunder, as it were; such a one is truly “crucified”. But this process of being torn apart is identical with love; it is its realization to the extreme (Jn 13:1) and the concrete expression of the breadth it creates.
Despite the bloody imagery, there is a lesson here for all, an example of what the cross being realized in an idividual.
Similarly, Mary is often held up an example for women and this is done by both the religious, who adore her submissiveness and by modernists, who hold her in contempt for the same reason. Mary, however, is not an example for women alone, nor is her primary virtue that of submission. Her virtue is in fact recognition of the divine; it is faith. Error about Mary lies in not understanding her role. Mary is not Jesus’ biological mother and this is why the Nicene Creed says that Jesus is “begotten not made.”
Ratzinger says of the annunciation:
What is to happen to Mary is new creation: the God who called forth being out of nothing makes a new beginning amid humanity: his Word becomes flesh… [Mary] appears as the temple upon which descends the cloud in which God walks into the midst of history. Whoever puts himself at God’s disposal disappears with him in the cloud, into oblivion and insignificance, and precisely in this way aquires a share in his glory.
Her pivotal attribute is not submission but faith that enables her to recognize God and give of herself on a very large scale. She has value for men and women (yes, even modern women) because with Mary begins “the new Israel”:
Mary is the image of the Church, the image of believing man, who can come to salvation and to himself only through the gift of love – through Grace… She does not contest of endanger salvation through Christ; she points to it. She represents mankind, which as a whole is expectation… [and is] in danger of giving up waiting and putting its trust in doing, which… can never fill the void that threatens man…
If the church is to be described as a “spiritual sorority house” let it be in this sense rather than the one I started this post with. This sense of it preserves that sense of intersection that is crucial to Christianity.