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Girlie-Men in the Pulpit Or, The Feminization of the American Clergy

By Brian M. Abshire
February 01, 1998

Now I can already hear the PC crowd screaming for my head for saying this, but, hey guys, someone, somewhere has got to take a stand on this controversial issue and let the chips fall where they may: men and women are different.

There, I said it. Furthermore, the differences go beyond plumbing fixtures. They extend to the very center of their beings. Hollywood, that bastion of political correctness, understands and capitalizes on the differences, even while they decry them. They intentionally make "men's" movies and "women's" movies. Men's movies are action flicks where every problem demands a clear-cut answer (usually involving explosions, automatic weapons and a large body count). Women's movies focus on, yuck, "relationships." I did my husbandly duty this year and watched the new version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility with my wife. She loved it, was enthralled by the historical costumes, entranced by middle-class nineteenth century morals and consumed by the plight of three sisters looking for love in all the wrong places (I may have the plot wrong here; I slept through most of it). However, Elaine certainly did not appreciate my comments that the movie could have been improved greatly with a few light saber duels or maybe a car chase or two.

I am NOT an insensitive cad! Hey, I still get misty-eyed when Sergeant Striker takes a sniper bullet in "Sands of Iwo Jima" as they raise Old Glory in the background (not to mention the tightening in the throat as he wins the loyalty of his men by breaking that guy's jaw during bayonet practice! Ah, what memories of boot camp that brings back, sniff-sniff!). The point is, if even Hollywood can capitalize on the fundamental differences between men and women, and create entirely different genres of films to suit them (not to mention spending 100 million dollars hiring Arnold to thwart the bad guys), maybe Christians need to take a hard look at what those differences mean in the church.

Though the evidence is often suppressed, sociological and psychological studies done over the past fifty years repeatedly demonstrate differences in how men and women not only react to the world, but how they even perceive it. For example, men tend to think with one hemisphere of the brain at a time. Women tend to think cross-laterally, using both hemispheres at the same time (thus resulting in what used to be called "woman's intuition," i.e., gestalt thinking). Men's emotions are most significantly influenced by the hormone testosterone, which leads to certain kinds of reactions, both emotionally and physically. Women's emotions are colored by estrogen (and women body builders must ingest testosterone in the form of steroids to get those huge muscles. "See son, one day you can grow up big and strong, just like Mummy").

Men and women think differently, act differently, perceive the world differently because God has created them for distinct roles. Man is to exercise dominion, to fill the earth and subdue it. The woman is to assist in that role as a helpmeet. Both are important, for neither can fulfill his God given duties without the other.

The First Sin

Accordingly, the first sin was a revolutionary act based on both the man and woman's failing to fulfill their distinct roles. Paradoxically, Adam's attempt to usurp dominion by eating the forbidden fruit began with an abandonment of dominion within his own home. Rather than protect his wife from the serpent, or rebuke her for her actions, he instead allowed her to eat the fruit and then followed her example. Yet Eve was not blameless. When confronted by the serpent, Eve did not go to her covenant head and seek his wisdom, counsel or advice. She acted like a modern, independent, "liberated" woman, choosing for herself whether she would obey God. And not being satisfied with sinning herself, she then became the medium by which Adam sinned.

Eve's desire for "liberation" is reflected in the curse. While the Hebrew may be problematical here, personally speaking, I think when God says, "your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you," he has made Eve's independent spirit a part of the curse on women throughout time.

Hence from the very beginning, there has been a "war" between the sexes, with men tempted to abandon their covenant responsibilities, and women seeking to usurp them. As with all other things, Christ redeemed the family and brings peace, yet there is still a critical need for reconstruction. It is a crucial part of the church's ministry to preach, teach, admonish and instruct the family. But, sadly, those entrusted to reconstruct the family are often little better off than the people they are supposed to shepherd.

Ruling One's Home 

It has been noted so many times that it is almost a cliche: the worst kids in the church are often the pastor's. In the same way, the most acrimonious woman is the pastor's wife. Yet one of the primary requirements for an elder in the church is that "he must be one who manages his own household well" (1 Tim. 3:2ff). The church can function only if it has godly men at the helm. And godliness starts within the home. However, being much wiser than the Apostle Paul, we have today substituted a seminary education for Biblical character qualities and ordained whole generations of "girlie-men" into the ministry: men who do not act like men, do not think like men, but instead have adopted an essentially feminine view of life and ministry with disastrous effects on the church. I will not say that girlie-men in the pulpit is the greatest problem facing the church, but it certainly is a large one. A wimpy man in the pulpit means a weak faith in the church and an emasculated witness in the world.

One of the first signs of God's judgment on a culture is gender-role confusion (Rom. 1:22ff). Men no longer act like men. As they become self-conscious in their rebellion, the image of God within them becomes more twisted and distorted. Therefore, the more that a church is accommodated to cultural norms, the less likely that the men in that church will be able to resist the pressure to conform to cultural pressures (e.g., Rom. 12:2). As a result, instead of men's proclaiming the law and statutes of our God and King, we have spiritual eunuchs playing silly word games while an entire civilization sinks into decay. Conservative churches rightly insist on having only men in the pulpit. But what good does it do the church if the men in the pulpit have intestinal fortitude?

Refusing to Confront Sin

A feminized clergy means that the church does not function Biblically. A crucial part of man's dominion duties is adjudication. A godly man is a problem solver, focusing his attention on the issues at hand. Women on the other hand, created for a relational role, often want to talk about problems. A common complaint from wives is that "he doesn't talk to me" when in reality she means that he does not want to talk about problems; he wants to fix them. But she does not necessarily want a problem fixed; she probably already knows the solution anyway. She wants to "relate," and that means talking, and talking and talking. When the clergy is feminized, the men tend to treat problems in the church in the way women treat problems in the home, something to talk about (dare I say, "whine" about?) but not something to be fixed. As a result, problems tend to grow and fester, because no one will confront sin.

Folding Under Pressure

Second, feminized men can't stand pressure. Instead of taking a stand for what is right and then doing what is right, a feminized pastor wants peace, peace at any price. A couple of nasty phone calls, a few complaints about his preaching and he folds like a busted flush. Over the years I have counseled more than a few young men desirous of entering the ministry. For me, the acid test of whether or not they are truly called by God is whether they can stand the heat that even the most healthy churches generate on a regular basis. The pastor rightly or wrongly is often the focus of the most inane criticisms. A godly MAN knows how to take the heat and do what is right, regardless of what others may think or say. A feminized one responds to the criticisms and drives himself crazy trying to placate everyone.

Preaching Fluff

Third, feminized pastors preach fluff. They preach fluff because modern Americans have lost their taste for classic Calvinism and have been seduced by a sensual Arminianism that appeals to the emotions. Women tend to find Arminianism more emotionally appealing than the "cold" precision of classic Reformed orthodoxy. Consequently, since "girlie-men" pastors want to appeal to women, the most vocal and influential members of the church, they preach sermons with all the spiritual nourishment of a pixie stix (remember that colored sugar candy in a straw?).

Some "men," however, manage to avoid the heat of taking a stand by preaching interesting but ultimately irrelevant sermons aimed at keeping people happy. Sadly, many examples abound in Reformed circles where sound theology is still somewhat in demand. Pastors avoid the problem by preaching purely theoretical sermons focusing on obscure doctrinal issues which, while true, are never specifically applied. You see, it's the application that's dangerous. Much, much safer to keep it theoretical. If you get practical, people might actually get challenged to do something. And if they don't want to do that something, well, then, the phone calls begin!

Solving the Problem

How do we solve the problem? There is no short-cut to dominion. It has to begin with husbands taking responsibility in the home. And they cannot and will not do that unless they have a full-orbed Biblical world view. It is a man's task to take dominion, and therefore, we need men who can think and act Biblically. But to be a leader you have to know where you are going, and what is necessary to get there. If you are not a man of the word, then you will not be the man of your household.

Second, fathers need to train their sons for dominion. This requires at least spending time with sons and not leaving all child-rearing to Mom. Children need to see a strong father solving problems, taking responsibility, leading the family. Dads need to conduct family worship, catechize their children, work with them on projects. They need to get their gluteus maximi off the couch and get involved with their kids. If you are not a tiger at home, then you are just a paper tiger in the world.

Third, what the kids see modeled in their parents will tend to be reproduced in their own lives. Therefore Dad has got to learn how to love his wife, nurture her, but most importantly, LEAD her. If Mom runs the household, you'd better believe that children of both sexes will see the model and follow it. Little girls will grow up into big girls, believing that bossing the man is the normal, natural thing to do. And little boys will grow into permanent adolescents, thinking life is about irresponsibility and playing games rather than dominion, leadership and service.

Biblical Christianity is neither masculine nor feminine. But within the church, as in the family, God has called men and women to mutually affirming, though distinct, roles. And those roles require men to be men: taking a stand, speaking the truth, solving problems and making a difference in the world for Christ. And if we want men in the church, we have to have real men in the pulpit.

Let the "girlie-men" go play with their platitudes, while the real men sit down to some real spiritual meat.


Topics: Church, The, Dominion, Family & Marriage

Brian M. Abshire

Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.

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