Ronald Rolheiser, a Catholic spiritual director has warned that there is a “gender alienation” in the church. According to Rolheiser this alienation is expressed in anger and grief. The anger is expressive more among the women, while the grief is more expressive of the men. The reason for this anger and grief is due to woman being alientated from the structures of the church, while menare alienated from the soul of the church. “Among the many things it (the anger and grief) suggest,” observes Rolheiser, “is that in Western Christianity today the structure is masculine, while the soul is feminine. This creates problems and also suggests that the solution to the issue of gender alienation is extremely complex.”
My spiritual journey has been mostly in the Lutheran church. In these latter years I have had more contact with Catholics, especially Catholic women. I definitely sense this anger among them. I don’t sense as much anger among protestant women. But I do believe that there is a patriarchal tendency in protestantism that women have a right to react against. I have to confess that in my early years as a pastor I was definitely guilty of being part of the problem. It was evidenced in my marriage. I have learned to see things differently. But it took some time. I wonder if the faithful, sincere spiritual women in our churches have been hindered from speaking what is in their hearts, because they do not think that they have “a voice.” Women need to have their voices heard without feeling guilty about being “rebellious.” I for one have to confess my immature fear in the past of “strong” women.
On the other hand, I know first hand of the “grief” in the hearts of men. I do believe that the church often has a more feminine tone because the women do the teaching and nurturing of the children. They seem to be the ones who pray and teach bible studies. Every church has an organized women group. Men are just not as involved in the spiritual life of the church. It is hard to organize a men group, especially for prayer and study. So the Church takes on a feminine spirit. Men have come to believe that church is not a place where they can be themselves. They are not able to express their faith as articulately as women. They would rather be doing then praying. There are few male voices, who can be mentor to call young men out of their “spiritual slumber.”
Listen again to Rolheiser, “The problem is not that men are more religious or irreligious than woman, it is rather that, within Christianity in the Western world, men have a spiritual inferiority complex….and this wound is further exacerbated by the fact that Christianity, for the main part, has taken on a female soul.” If Roheiser is even partly accurate in his assessment of the church, then we have some issues of alienation between male and female to be addressed in the church. I would suggest that we men need to take the lead. Our demeanor should be that of our Lord. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but make himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant..” (Phil 2:5-6a)
What would this look like in the church? Let me be brief, as I speak from personal experience. First, men need to become secure in knowing they are God’s beloved. Men have to be comfortable with their masculine soul. Second, men need to learn how to listening to “the voice” of the women in the church. Thirdly, men need to lead by example, in being a servant to women, especially to the hurts they carry from the patriarchal past. Finally, men need to humbly see and appreciate the tremendous gift that women are in the church and the great sacrifices they have made as wives, moms, grandmothers and workers in the church. They have nurtured the spiritual life of the church far more then we men are willing to admit. So let’s be men who honor the women in our midst, by treating them with dignity and respect.