I thought AoM’s Christian readers would appreciate a recent article posted on the First Things blog, (which is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute), called “Jesus Is Not a Cagefighter.”
The author of the piece, Joe Carter, examines that perennial fixation of the Christian faith: the perceived feminization of the church. Carter outlines how, starting in the 60s and 70s, the portrayal of Jesus became much softer. He writes, “During those decades when the ideal of masculinity was in flux, Christ was portrayed as a sensitive, pacifistic, Phil Donahue-style guru (think “hippie Jesus”).” Carter argues that the pendulum has now swung back too far the other way, with churches using MMA as part of their ministries, emphasizing Jesus’ aggressive qualities at the expense of his meek and loving ones, and generally focusing on a “pugilistic Jesus.” This movement is an effort to attract men to the congregation, because they statistically attend church less often than women do, and if the man in the family comes to church, the rest of the family is more likely to go as well, more so than if just the mother attends.
While Carter makes it seem like this swinging pendulum between the feminized Jesus and the hyper-virile Jesus is a more recent phenomenon, this has happened before, most notably at the beginning of the 20th century. The highly popular and successful evangelist, Billy Sunday, sought to save Christianity from the feminization of the church that developed in the Victorian Age, and preached things like:
“[The church needs to] strike the death blow to the idea that being a Christian takes a man out of the busy whirl of the world’s life and activity and makes him a spineless effeminate proposition.”
“[The Christian man cannot be] some sort of dishrag proposition, a wishy-washy, sissified sort of galoot, that lets everybody make a doormat out of him. Let me tell you, the manliest man is the man who will acknowledge Jesus Christ.”
“Lord save us from the off-handed, flabby cheeked, brittle boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified, three karat Christianity.”
Here are some questions for discussion:
1. Do you think the feminization of Christianity is something that is just perceived, or do you think it is real?
2. Do you think that incorporating things like MMA into church is a good thing that will attract men, or something that detracts from what you think the mission of a church should be?
3. Do you think that Carter is right that the portrayal of Jesus as an aggressive manly man has gone too far, or do you think that he is being overly-cautious?
Read: “Jesus Was Not a Cagefighter” (@First Things)