The Feminization of the American Pulpit

If the COVID-19 crisis has revealed anything about many of America’s most public-facing Christian leaders, it’s that many of them are tone deaf to the concerns and crisis facing the majority of ordinary, working class people.

Yes, the virus has raged on for months, the shutdown has been around for over a month in most places, government encroachment continues, and Big Eva has been … shockingly quiet.

When they aren’t silent, all that’s served up is inane oblivion. A good example is the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC), which is the lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

While millions of Americans face unemployment and the overreach of tyrannical government action that is currently prohibiting assembled worship in many states, the ERLC’s president, Russell Moore, has taken to Twitter to talk about everything from his reading methods, preference for sandals, the life-threatening Diet Coke habit he kicked (what a hero), and the genius of Stephen King novels. 

It’s not really different than Hollywood celebs like Arnold Schwarzenegger calling on Americans to stay home from the cramped confines of his back-mansion jacuzzi, or riding down the streets of L.A. with a t-shirt that reads: “Don’t be an ass. Stay inside.” 

But it’s OK, we’re told—we’re all in this together. 

What’s really astonishing, however, is the wonton neglect from Moore and the ERLC: While churches are under attack, Moore offers the kind of pointless drivel only an upper-class urban elite NPR devotee from Manhattan would care about.

But it’s not just tone-deaf—it’s outright mockery of working class America as it wallows in unemployed misery. But who is Russ mocking, and why? 

First, another question: Why do so many evangelical elites, from Moore to Tim Keller and Matt Chandler, punch so hard right—evangelicals who voted for Trump lost their souls, remember—and pander to the left—Keller and Moore are both fans of the op-ed in the New York Times and other left-leaning outlets like The Gospel Coalition (TGC)?

Searching for Prominence Among Left-Leaning Elites

In her book, The Feminization of American CultureAnn Douglas details how many ministers in the early to mid-1800s took advantage of the advent of mass media that arose because of the advancement of the printing press. 

Rejected as effeminate by the masculine world of business, trade, and politics and facing extinction, liberal ministers recognized they could build a platform of influence among literary-minded, middle-class women and urban intellectual elites by writing for leftward newspapers, inhabiting academia, and publishing sentimental books. And write they did. 

Aimed at middle and upper class women, their content was, Douglas says, highly sentimental, emotionally driven, and politically liberal. They knew they had to retain at least an homage to Calvinism to get Americans to swallow the pill, so they softened it for the sake of widespread palatability. Call it Calvinism Zero.  

Rather than dealing with the masculine world of business, politics, or theology—a world from which they had been banished—their writings focused on social causes: women’s rights, alcohol abuse, slavery, children, etc. Rather than creating a new market with their content, Douglas notes, ministers were instead tailoring their message to already existing female interests and appetites.  

Likewise, two fundamental assumptions among liberal clergy (and the women they addressed) were that, first, women are morally pure and more naturally disposed to religion than men; second, that men were worldly for being business-oriented and culture-facing, ruined women and children through alcohol abuse, and must become more like women (receptive, passive) if religion were to benefit them. 

One of the most prominent early publishers, the New York-based Harper’s realized the key to success was writing to women even when a book or magazine was supposedly for men. Their theory—and a successful one at that—was that women would buy the books and tell the men what to read. 

Here’s the main point: Facing a crisis of rejection and a banishment from the sphere of masculinity into a cultural Siberia, ministers sought influence through mass media and among women. Rather than losing a seat at the table, effeminate ministers sought cultural relevance by appealing to the liberal, intellectual elites and their social causes, among whom they largely found acceptance.

It’s worth noting, as a consequence of the rejection they faced (and still face) at the hands of masculine men, ministers have long despised masculine working men (and vice versa). This is one of the main reasons masculinity has drastically declined in the church and why so much of the prominent media-related resources produced by influential church leaders, from books to blogs, are robustly effeminate and left-leaning. 

That trend spilled over into the 20th Century, Douglas writes, and was one of the most dominant reasons feminism swept through America like wildfire. If you want to blame anyone for the way feminism and quasi-marxist socialism has taken hold, you might just start with the pulpit. 

The Rise of the Soft Reformed Evangelical Left

The church today is comprised by a majority of women, a trend that is hardly new. Women consume the lion’s share of Christian media, from Christianity Today to The Gospel Coalition, which explains why so much of the messaging is highly emotional, focused on social causes, and antithetical to robust masculinity. 

As Leon Podles argues in The Church Impotent, it’s been a centuries-long slide into effeminacy for the Western church. The pulpit is filled, largely, with soft, effeminate pastors and, as a result, the men stay away. 

The trend that stands out in more recent history, however, is that groups once thought of as bastions of Reformed Calvinism have come out of the velvety-soft effeminate closet (PCA, SBC, SBTS). Or as Doug Wilson has called them, The Soft Reformed Evangelical Left. Closet egalitarians masquerading in the halfway house of complementarianism. Calvinists with a sword hewn in the social justice quarries. Critical Race Theory Calvinists. Same-Sex Attracted Reformers. 

The SBC’s President, J.D. Greear, soft-peddled on homosexuality, Moore and Chandler chastised evangelical Trump supporters, and on the list goes. The SBC embraced Critical Race Theory, while the PCA went Downy soft on Revoice. On and on it goes. 

The real issue is that ministers today face the same dilemma as pastors in the mid-1800s: How do you maintain prominence in the culture when you’ve been disallowed from the masculine spheres of politics and business (and frankly, didn’t want to be in a man’s world anyway)? How do you, as a non-fat soft soy sipping effete, maintain influence in America when your audience is emphatically not masculine? 

The answer, for many, is the same as it’s been since 1820: You play to the women, you keep it real emotionalistic, you arrange your music in the key of Chris Tomlin, you sentimentalize and neuter doctrine to support leftist social causes, and you take to mass media to build a platform of influence among the super-sophisticated, Obama-loving world of intellectual elitism.

You build networks like TGC and T4G and Christianity Today and you craft a message that feminist, liberal-minded elites want to hear. If you’re really smart, like Russ Moore, you take money from conservatives and use those dollars to promote liberal social causes like diversity, women’s issues, and Beth Moore in the pulpit. You rub it in their faces. 

Because at the end of the day, there’s an animosity—unspoken, seething, subversive but sometimes more out—that the soft left evangelical leaders feel toward masculinity and men. Once and forever rejected by working men, the effeminate Third Sex is all-too-happy to join the rank and file of intellectual elitism (media, academia, upper-class professions) and get revenge.

Now as ever, the pulpit needs hard men. Elder boards need hard men. The SBC needs the hard men to stand up and speak out (and stop funding the nonsense). We need more Christian publishing and media outlets that champion rather than castrate masculine virtues (Founders.org). 

Denominations need to clean house and retake their seminaries (although SBTS looks pretty dire after Mohler just fired several professors who opposed leftist teachings…which leads me to believe the change will come from the bottom up, not the other way around). 

The other thing we’ve got to do, as Doug Wilson has said it Mother Kirk, is realize just what kind of predicament we’re in and start to formulate a strategy. We may have Y chromosomes in the pulpit, but they’ve been wearing skirts for a long time now. We’ve been so long without authentic masculinity in the pulpit that we’d scarcely know what it was if we saw it. As Wilson says, the push for women preachers is a result of the air we breathe: 

The men in our pulpits for many years have been simply jury-rigged women; when the request comes to bring in the real thing, on what principle will the request be denied? We cannot say that we must have masculinity in the pulpit because we do not have that now.

There’s bloody, dirty, strategic work to be done. It’s time to play the man. 

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

econn

17 comments

  • YES!!!! And totally AGREED!!!!!! Thank you and Thank you!!!!
    My daughter recently sent me the link to your site saying she thought I might enjoy your writing. Well, I guess my daughter knows me pretty well. I have read several of your articles and have each more profound than the previous! Please continue to “tell it like it is!”
    Thank you, Sir!

    • Thanks Harry, and glad you found something to peak your interest. I’ll do my best to speak plainly…and many thanks to your daughter!

  • Thank you so much!! I don’t know if it was this lockdown or what but this is so spot on that no one can accuse you of “nuance”. I thank God for that. With your permission I would like to highlight this in my blog. Again thank you and carry on and don’t relent, the battle is raging. But the battle is the Lords.

    • Thanks, and glad you found this useful. By all means, please spread the word about it on your blog. A hyperlink back is all I ask.

  • Boom. Found you through a serendipitous re-Tweet. Glad I did. Thank you.
    (Also, nice job avoiding the hackneyed boiled frog metaphor… even though it is apt here.)

  • Wow – you put into words what I’ve been starting to see over the last few years.

  • When I consider this post I think about the apostles. Most were hard men, working men. Fishermen. Here’s another thought. True femininity responds to true masculinity. Women won’t hate real men—we love real men.

  • I suppose none of these other comments are from women. I think you’re responding too far in the other direction. Instead of valuing women’s perspectives and issues, you’re brushing them off in favor of a strong-arm ecclesiology that suits your own sensibilities. I’ll say, I really don’t know what you’re proposing by saying “we need more masculine preachers” as masculinity is as much about inate character as it is about cultural dispositions. I would be careful, because you also sound lile you’re promoting chauvanism, but that may be exactly what you’re promoting.

  • Mr. Conn, I’m late to the party, but I hope my comment somehow finds it’s way to you. I’m a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church (crossed the Bosporus 22 years ago, at the then age of 40). While I’m not an evangelical Protestant, and I don’t have a dog in this fight, I do hear stories from converts, many of them men, both young and old, coming into the Orthodox Church from evangelicalism, and mainline Protestantism. Two years ago, I took an evening class at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City (Southern Baptist Convention). While I kept myself on the down low, the professor called on me a couple times asking what the Eastern Orthodox view was on certain things, and I politely answered. While the many Calvinists kept a cold shoulder, I did have several young seminarian men talk to me privately. They asked about patristics, about liturgy, and about the Great Schism. They appeared to crave something more. They shared their concerns of them seeing the SBC drifting to the left. Awhile back, I came upon an article about a man named Dr Paige Patterson. I read about his sudden dismissal as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft Worth, TX. Again, while I have no dog in the fight, I wrote Dr Patterson a letter. He promptly answered me, and he was very gracious and respectful. I expressed to him that I believed this demonizing of him, from what I could deduct, was trumped up, and a witch hunt. Dr Patterson is in his 70s, and apparently is a big game hunter. From what I could deduct in our correspondence, he’s an old school backwoods Baptist preacher, not some guy in skinny jeans preaching Mr. Rogers egalitarian homilies. I trust my gut now later in life, and I get no inclination that this gentleman is the monster he’s been depicted as. It appears he was the sacrificial lamb for the Beth Moore’s and progressives that have infused his denomination.

  • Thank you. Refreshing article. I’m sure it will offend many… good!

  • Most religions are fake, merely hirelings and apostates preaching lies and heresies. Jesus saved his harshest words for the religious leaders of His day and as a double reference item, we have the same types today in pulpits leading people astray, defending evil and preaching lies. These are more converts to their master the devil. Most already damned, with the blood of those they deceived, on their heads according to scriptures.

  • What do you mean by most religions are fake? Christianity is fake? Or a specific Christian denomination/denominations are fake? If you mean the prosperity gospel, yes, I’d agree. If you mean the social justice gospel, yes, I’d agree. If you mean the Gospel Coalition, mostly, yes, I’d agree. If you mean the ERLC, yes, I’d mostly agree. But your statement is sweeping, to say the least. All these things have a common denominator, Protestantism, an inch deep, and a mile wide! God at the judgement determines who’s damned.

  • God has already spoken and His Word is the Holy Bible which clearly delineates and identifies the condemned from the saved. A sure guide to apostate churches is the message of the glorified Christ to the churches of Asia which is a double reference prophecy to religious organizations today and most fall into one or more of those categories that Jesus condemns clearly in Revelation Chapters one through three. Jesus in his ministry saved His harshest language for the religious leaders of His time and the same is true today. The biggest lie from religion is that there are many ways to God when the Truth is there is but one and it is through Jesus alone. It is very easy to link the saved from the damned by simply reading the Holy Bible.

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