And why Catholics and Protestants should revive the imagery of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
Visit almost any Christian church on any Sunday and you will quickly notice, if you’re looking for it, a preponderance of female worshipers over male. The percentage varies. It might be anywhere from sixty percent female to as much as seventy-five or even eighty. What is almost never seen is a Sunday congregation where the men outnumber the women. It happens, but it is very rare.
This so-called “gender gap” in Christian congregations is one curiosity. There’s another. While it has been the subject of several studies, this deficiency of males is never publicly mentioned in church. In my 50 or so years as an Anglican, I can’t remember a single sermon on the absence of men. Nor did I hear one in my subsequent nearly 20 years as Orthodox. However, there’s less reason for such a sermon in Orthodoxy. One study found the Orthodox churches closer to a fifty/fifty male-female balance than any other Christian denomination.
However, the question remains: why do so many men have this anti-church attitude? Various theories are advanced, but central to them all is the conviction that the church has been feminized. What captures the mind and imagination of most males — risk, pain, fear, uncertainty, adventure, heroes, villains, transient defeat and ultimate victory. Things that Christianity once promised and often delivered to its practitioners have all but vanished. Today men find more of them on a ski hill or a golf course than anything they might experience in church. “Church “is all about emotions and study, sitting in circles and sharing your feelings,” writes David Morrow in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. “In the last hundred years our understanding of what the Gospel is, has changed from a dangerous mission to being all about relationships.”
Meanwhile, women generally run the church. “While the pastor is male,” says Morrow, “almost every other area is dominated by women. Whenever large numbers of Christians gather, men are never in the majority. Not at revivals. Not at crusades. Not at conferences. Not at retreats. Not at concerts. With the exception of men’s events, can you think of any large gathering of Christians with more men than women?”
So where are the men? Morrow quotes the “men’s pastor” of a Milwaukee megachurch: “Men want to be challenged. They want to get out of the pews. They want to do something. Work with the hungry. Build homes for poor people.”
All of this is no doubt true, but there is another task, with far more risk attached to it than feeding the hungry or building houses, and that is the task of defending the faith when the faith needs defending. It’s a task that arises when people meet socially and the subject turns to the alleged wrongs of religion, particularly the Christian one. These are the battlefields in the Culture War, a war the Christians have been consistently losing since it began and became serious in the 1960s. Our ongoing defeats in that war have been costly. Most of the Sixties generation was lost to the church. Most politicians, bureaucrats, judges, and social planners regard Christian opposition to their vast plans as little more than a trivial nuisance.
Why are we losing? Because most of our people don’t even realize the war is on. You are right there on the spot, Mr. Christian. and it is time for you to speak up — confidently, calmly but with convincing clarity. You had better know what you’re doing because it carries the very dangerous risk of making you look like a public jackass if you don’t. So what are you going to do, Mr. Christian? The answer is that he’s going to do nothing. and that’s why we’re losing the Culture War.
But can you blame him? How many sermons have you heard that would have prepared him to meet that challenge? The answer is few, if any. What relevant books has he been asked to read? The answer is none. The fact is that he didn’t even know there was a war on. When he sat down at that social gathering, he was on the front line, and yet he was neither able or willing to raise his voice.
Now if the Christians are going to win the Culture War—and we had better, or we won’t be around much longer—then they should be training their young people, male and female, to fight it. And somewhere along that line, it will gradually be realized that the feminization of the faith is over and done with. And in any event, it was a mischaracterization. Some of our best fighters have been women. What about Dorothy L. Sayers in her day? What about Nancy Pearcey in ours?
And what about Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, Bunyan’s great characterization of the Christian controversialist inn his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress? It’s time both the Catholics and the Protestants revived him. Here’s Bunyan’s description of Mr. Valiant:
There stood a man with his Sword drawn, and his Face all bloody. Asked “Who art thou?| he made answer: “I am
one whose name is Valiant-for-truth. I am a Pilgrim, and am going to the Coelestial City. Three men did beset me and propounded unto me these three things: 1. Whether I would become one of them? 2. Or go back from whence I came? 3. Or die upon the place?
To the first I answered, I had been a true man a long season, and therefore it could not be expected that I now should cast in my Lot with Thieves. Then they demanded what I would say to the second. So I told them that the place from whence I came, I found altogether unsuitable to me, and very unprofitable for me, I forsook it for this way. Then they asked me what I said to the third. And I told them, My life cost more dear far than that I should lightly give it away. Wherefore at your Peril be it if you meddle. Then these three drew upon me, and I also drew upon them.
So we fell to it, one against three, for the space of above three hours. They have left upon me, as you see, some of the marks of their Valour, and have also carried away with them some of mine. So they betook them to flight.
In short. if you stand for the truth, you can expect an unfair fight, and you can expect to be badly scarred. But you can also expect to win, and in his description of Mr. Valiant’s death, Bunyan leaves us one of the most stirring passages ever written in the English language:
When he understood [he was to die] he called for his friends, and told them “I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Ted’s New Book Now On Sale
“The Time Is Now” is the third of Ted Byfield’s trilogy of booklets on the Culture War. The pivotal battleground, he says, is neither the courts nor academe. It’s the media, where an effective Christian presence is almost non-existent. He says it’s imperative that such a presence be established, and he advances a plan on how this can be done.
Order your copy today at Books.TheChristians.com
Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has aslo authored three little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters, The Revolution Nobody Covered and most recently The Time is Now. You can order copies here.