#AllTheFeels: What does gendered reason and emotion do to the Church?

After raising the question of men trusting women (and why a tendency towards mistrust might persist) I thought it would be pertinent to explore the topic of gendering reason and emotion, particularly in the Church. As has been proposed in several of the responses from our previous discussion, there does seem to be, at the very least, a stereotype towards women being viewed as untrustworthy on the basis of being more ‘emotional’ than men. We’ve talked a little about passages that reference women as the ‘weaker’ sex, and, while Kristen is probably right that most casual sexism towards women in secular 21st century society isn’t rooted in a particular interpretation of 1 Timothy, I think it is fair to say that post-enlightenment protestant Christianity has certainly encouraged a reason/emotion split, and, importantly, hierarchy in modern thought, and along gender lines. As we move the conversation from a broader look at society as a whole to gendered reason/emotion in the Church, there are a few areas I’d particularly like to explore.

  1. How much should we allow a kind of pseudo-biology to dictate the way we talk about the relationship between women and men and their emotional faculties? When it comes to Christians and the ‘natural order’, I notice a trend of inconsistency in which aspects of nature we denote as ‘God ordained’ and which are not. For example: the same people who tell me that in God’s order, women are the ‘weaker’ (read more emotional) sex and men are more aggressive (and reasonable!) leader figures, and that this is reflected in some loose definition of biology, might not be so willing to acknowledge the ‘biological’ basis for the ‘natural’ presence of homosexuality, or the ‘naturally’ occurring desire for men to have multiple partners for evolutionary reasons. On what basis can we use ‘nature’ or ‘biology’ to justify a particular interpretation of scripture, when we’re dealing with a fallen world? And if we are going to, how far can that take us in seeing women as the more ‘emotional’ sex, often to their detriment? (Jem Bloomfield has written a really excellent post on some of the ‘evo-psych’ involved in this conversation – do read it!)
  1. Is it fair to blame diminishing male percentages in the Church on ‘feminization’ (usually meant almost as a dirty word, with connotations like overly touchy-feely worship songs) even though the overwhelming majority of leaders are still male? Do groups like the ‘Christian Vision for Men’ help matters by trying to make church more ‘manly’, rather than addressing a deeper problem, which is that emotional engagement is seen as a primarily female space – and that this somehow makes it inferior? I’m not necessarily arguing that the ‘Man’s Group’ is a bad thing, but as someone who grew up in a form of intellectual evangelicalism, in which emotional engagement with one’s spirituality was viewed with suspicion, it seems that attempts to make the church seem more intellectually rigorous or tough lead to a short-circuiting of a truly valuable aspect of human experience. I’m curious whether there is any traction in the idea that rather than an overly emotional church, the reason for lack of male engagement is that traditionally it was women who were asked to serve in their church communities – and those are involved stay engaged. Rather than taking men out of the main body of the church to bond and do ‘manly’ activities, community is best built when people serve the body together. This is turning into a broader point than specifically about reason and emotion, but I suppose I want to ask whether it’s fair to, in some way, blame women for something that is actually nothing to do with a ‘female’ trait.
  1. How much is gendered reason and emotion impacting the field of theology? Anecdotal evidence shows a lack of women doing the ‘hard’ or more ‘academic’ areas of theological disciplines, like Philosophical Theology, Biblical Studies, and Systematic Theology, and while it is essentially impossible to justify a position which suggests that men are more academically capable of studying these areas, why is it that women are not drawn to them, or are less likely to go on to professorships in these areas?

I’m aware that each of these questions could be a whole topic on its own, so if one is particularly picked up on and someone wants to write a full post exploring another area, I would welcome your thoughts!

Advertisements