Recently I read an article in Mere Orthodoxy with the captivating title of “American Evangelicalism isn’t patriarchal or feminized. It’s matrilineal.” The article has got me pondering the criticism of the church being feminized. I have often written about the feminization of the church.
Matrilineal is a verb referring to behavior or characteristics that are based on kinship with the mother or the female. Anthony Bradley maintains that the Evangelical church is neither patriarchal, nor feminized, nor do they emasculate men in order to appeal to women’s sensibilities or desires. Evangelical churches are matrilineal.
“Matrilineal societies” notes Bradley, “are centuries old systems that organize community life so that the day-to-day activities of women are placed at the center of social thriving for successive generations.” In these societies “the outward-facing office does not determine which gender is socially dominant…..Men may hold an office, but women control the operations of community life….women are outward-facing representatives of the community.”
As a pastor, I often said without the organization of the women and their contribution, church life would suffering greatly. So Yes, I can definitely see where life in the church can be matrilineal.
Not only were the women the life-givers, but they were also the life sustainers. Mothers were revered in the community. Look at the emphasis on mother’s day in our churches and society. Without the mothers, much of family and youth activities would not happen. “Without women and mothers, life does not happen, ” observes Bradley.
“In reality” Bradley maintains, “many churches are simply a complemenatrian facade living a matrilineal reality.” That is why the “felt needs” in the church often reflect the feminine life in the church. He might be making a valid point.
The following observation from Bradley certainly holds true from my experience. “Matrilineal societies can exist while men are placed in outward-facing leadership roles (pastor or elder), but the community’s internal life would implode without women’s authority as mothers. Matrilineal societies are about who does what to sustain life rather than merely looking at who hold which outward facing title or role. Without women sustaining life, the community dies no matter who has what title in a matrilineal society.”
So what does this mean for the church? Here is Bradley’s challenge. [We] may want to make adjustments by reframing who does what to make life work at home, church, and school so that women are freed from the burden of sustaining the family and men move from being passive to becoming actively involved in the spaces that nurture children.”
This article does not do away with the criticism of the church as being feminized, but it does help to visualize why there is such a feminine emphasis? I would contend one word could nicely address the questions raised by the matrilineal influence in the church.
It is the word “nurture.” In the amplified we read in Eph. 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke our children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; not by showing favoritism or indifference to them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
This passage challenges men to be nurturers. It is all about how men relate. Larry Crabb calls out our “relational poverty.” Men, it more than doing, thinking and organizing. It’s about getting down to the level of our children and relating to them from the heart. It is sharing our hearts with our wives. May God give men the courage and grace to release what is deep in them, to bring life to others.