While I wrote this for a Quaker audience, I’m hearing it’s true in many other faith traditions.
It’s not just teenagers, first, and then small children. Where are the men? Looking at attendance patterns across denominations, one might ask if religion’s becoming a “women’s concern.” (We might contrast this to some Orthodox Jewish traditions, where the women stay home, figuring men need to do the heavy spiritual work or at least some soul-searching, so everyone will benefit; pardon me if I oversimplify in reaching for a point.) It’s bad enough we Friends now expect the teens to disappear, as well as the college-age youths. There are mornings in our worship when women outnumber men three-to-one, or more. I’m calling for some equality here, or we’ll all suffer. (I recall one researcher who pinned the decline of the Shakers to four decades before the actual collapse became apparent; the point came when the number of men joining the movement fell off sharply.)
Admittedly, there are some pretty powerful countercurrents running through American society. Many of the men are working six-day weeks to make ends meet, and Sunday’s the only day for rest – if not a second job itself. Sports has replaced religion and even politics as the male topic of discussion. Some church planners have gone as far as to suggest stadium seating in response, and Starbucks during the sermon is already customary in the trendiest congregations – especially those gathering in rented movie theaters. This doesn’t even begin to address single-parent or two-worker families, soccer leagues, the claustrophobia-inducing Saturday rounds of shopping, parties, or entertainment venues. Something’s deeply out of balance.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not calling for any return to patriarchy, and I’m grateful for many of the ways feminist theology has liberated our understanding of Scripture and early church practice. I’m even concerned that women pastors are largely confined to the smaller, lower-paying parishes – or excluded from others. I’m proud of the leadership women have provided in our Quaker Meetings.
I’m simply lamenting the fact that we’re not as diverse and vibrant as we might be. Any suggestions?