John C. Richards, the managing director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, speaking to believers, caught my eye with this statement. “Unfortunately, we’ve spent way more time discussing each gender’s role than we have each gender’s soul.” He was writing about a summit at Wheaton on sexual violence: calling men to listen well.
He pointed out how women in the West have been the backbone in the churches. I sure can testify to this observation in my years of parish ministry. The involvement of women was always greater than that of men. Every church I served had an active and well-organized women’s group. None had a similar group for the men. I worked hard at getting men’s ministries started. But over the past 30 years there has been shift. A 2016 Pew Survey highlighted the narrowing gender gap in religious service attendance between 1982 and 2002.
In 1982, over twice the number of women than men attended religious services at least once a week. Over the 30 -year period, however, the gender gap has decreased from a 13-point gap to a 6-point gap. Similar trends occur among religiously-affiliated women. The Pew Research found that the rise of Religious Nones and behavior changes among women who say they are religious contributed significantly to that decline.
Richards wonders, “If 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime, then the church needs to be equipped to confront all forms of harassment and abuse.” It very well could be the result of the frustration, disillusionment and disappointment women have experienced in churches because of harassment and/or emotional abuse. Could it be that men in the church need to be more affirming of women and the deep-healing needed around gender issues.
Richards challenges men to “think through ways in which some have unknowingly created cultures conducive to the forms of abuse that Scripture condemns….we need to hear the pain others have felt, often suffering in silence before now.” I agree with his observation of “soul care.” “Soul care is much more important than role care. When our sisters hurt, we should hurt too.”
If soul care is more important than a focus on roles, I realize I cannot remain silent. This will mean moving beyond my comfort zone. I desire to be a man who is “safe,” enabling women to share their pain regarding men. I am willing to accept blame for the way men have treated women in the past. “Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived” ( Gal 6:2-3 – Message). I will need to keep the following priorities in mind.
First, I need to continually examine my heart for any distorted view of the feminine that has been lodged in my soul from experiences with women, starting most importantly with my mother.
Second, I need to be ever vigilant in my relationship with my wife treating her as my equal on our spiritual journey.
Third, I need to commit to practicing the presence of Jesus with all the women in my life.
Fourth, I need to be keenly aware of the wounds women have regarding men. As a man I will face rebuke, anger and prejudice. In lovingly absorbing this, I may serve as an instrument of healing in the hearts of women.
Fifth, I understand that my priorities, based on a biblical worldview will clash with the culture. I accept this reality, and ask the Lord to help me to walk humbly and respectfully among all the women who are in my circle of influence.