I came across a new concept in fundamentalism recently: the feminization of worship. Being a woman, my first thought upon seeing the phrase was, What on earth could this possibly refer to? In my mind, saying there are masculine and feminine ways of worshiping God is like saying there are masculine and feminine ways of building a doghouse. All worship is the same. Isn’t it?
Well, I thought so. So I decided to look into it. Here’s what I found:
Your worship service and church community might be effeminate if . . .
– Your music and sermons almost never contain references to judgment, wrath, battles, enemies, Hell, the devil, or apostasy.
– Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r’s correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle.
– One of the ministerial staff has taken to wearing a clerical collar and a powder pink shirt, and no one on the session has the courage to tell him that he looks like a thirteen-year-old boy with rosy cheeks, as painted by Norman Rockwell.
– The worship team gravitates toward “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs, and their facial expressions while up front are those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends.
– The sermons rarely deal with sin or, if they do, they deal with sins found outside the sanctuary, preferably those of secularists in Hollywood somewhere.
– The church does not practice church discipline, and not because everybody in the church is behaving. They won’t practice it because the elders are misbehaving.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one, as I had no idea there were “masculine” and “feminine” key changes:
– The worship music rides particular chord changes hard, with special mention being given to the shift from E Minor to C Major.
But I’ve got plenty of material to work with. Here’s how I interpreted the above statements:
– Worship is mostly about spiritual warfare. War = masculine
– References to anything other than war in worship = feminine
– Desire for excellence = feminine
– Apathy toward sin = feminine
– Wearing non-gender-approved colors = feminine
– Expressing warm emotions and romantic feelings = feminine
In short, masculinity = godly, femininity = sinful.
One blogger lamented that churches used to sing the old hymn “Standing on the Promises,” but now they sing “We Fall Down.” So, apparently, standing is a masculine thing to do, while bowing and kneeling are feminine. Aside from the disturbingly hierarchical and sexual implications of such a statement, the blogger has apparently forgotten about those 24 elders in heaven (mentioned in Revelations) who are constantly falling on their faces before God. Does he think he’s going to do anything different in the presence of the Almighty?
Now, I have to be fair here: Some of what these writers are railing against is the romancing of God in song. A few contemporary worship songs have crossed the delicate line between expressing a disciple’s love for Christ to expressing a lover’s feelings for a mate. I wouldn’t feel at all comfortable singing about giving Jesus sloppy wet kisses, or him giving such kisses to me. In fact, I’d think it would verge on blasphemy–or at the very least, heresy. Unfortunately, there are songs like this circulating in some churches.
Christ may be the bridegroom of the church, but I don’t think our relationship was meant to be sexual. Emotionally intimate, yes. Romantic and sexual, no.
But the rhetoric concerning “feminization of worship” goes far beyond that. It suggests that if worship songs discard traditional militancy in favor of a heartfelt, emotional expression of one’s faith, men will be gradually transformed into weak-willed, limp-wristed, ineffectual Christians. And as both a woman and a Christian, I find such a viewpoint highly offensive, disgusting and just as heretical. I have no qualms whatsoever with spiritual warfare. But to equate sin and emotional expression with being female is insulting–to both men and women of faith.
According to the Bible, King David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet he didn’t hesitate to express warm emotions toward God and others he cared about. He wept with his friend Johnathan, kissed him, and later stated that Johnathan’s love was better to him than the love of women. When bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, David stripped off his kingly robes and danced passionately before the Lord in his underclothes–in public. True, King David was a mighty man of war, slaying thousands of Israel’s enemies. Militant language punctuates many of the psalms David wrote to praise God. Yet I believe that if King David were to walk into any conservative church today, he’d be thrown out for being “too effeminate” in his relationships and worship. Fundamentalists promote the militancy of David’s songs as the optimal standard for worship, but conveniently turn a blind eye to the parts that are unashamedly emotional.
As usual, the problem comes when people view scripture and matters of faith through their own cultural “scripts.” In America, being masculine means being unemotional. Men shouldn’t hug and kiss. Men shouldn’t get too wrapped up in romancing their wives. Men’s feelings should be kept private, bottled up inside. If you cry, you’re a pussy. If you hug another man or tell him you love him, you’re gay. Men should always take the initiative, lead, be on top. In short, the American ideal of masculinity is reinforced and policed by a heavy dose of homophobia. And there’s nothing biblical about that.
In other cultures, men are free to have emotionally intimate friendships and to express their feelings without fear of being stripped of their manhood. And some of these men are strong Christians. So the “feminization of worship” isn’t a threat to faith; it’s a threat to the conservative American concept of masculinity. In short, the “feminization of worship” isn’t actually a thing. It simply exists in the warped minds of Christian fundamentalists.
Should we continue to sing songs about spiritual warfare? Do such songs make church more appealing to men? Yes. But let’s not kid ourselves. When Christ returns for his church and Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire, spiritual warfare will cease to exist. In heaven, all believers will be wearing robes, waving palm branches and singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The heartfelt worship songs of today are simply a reflection of that reality–practice for the eternal worship service, so to speak. If that makes people uncomfortable, perhaps they should re-examine their relationship to God.
Worship does have a spiritual warfare component. But it’s ultimately about humility. It’s about giving praise and honor to someone greater than ourselves. It’s about acknowledging that we are lost and nothing without God’s grace. It’s about expressing our love and devotion to the One who fights our battles and grants us victory over evil. And last I checked, humility is required of all believers–not just the female ones.