Men!?

Football sits close to the centre of contemporary masculinity. To be a man in Britain today involves taking an attitude of some sort to football, whether one wants to or not. Not to be interested in it is as strong a statement as it is to be a season ticket holder and regular attender at a ground, with most men occupying some middle ground in which “supporting” a football team means anything from never missing a game on the television to just saying that’s who you support when asked.

I took a conscious decision in my mid 20s to move from the “not interested at all” extreme into the middle ground of having some knowledge and watching an occasional game. For most of my teens and early twenties I had taken no interest at all in any kind of sport. The sports pages of my favoured newspaper  (Guardian, since you ask) were buried obscurely in the middle making it easy for me never to look at them at all. I couldn’t have told you during these years who was prospering in the various, to me, indistinguishable competitions that took place.

I remember the evening of the appalling events at Heysel in 1985 because all my flat mates were watching the game. I had no idea what it was but happened to go into the room for some reason and was stunned by what was going on. It seems amazing to me now that any man could have missed that Liverpool were in the final of the European but I had.

A few years later I began to notice how large a place football occupied in the social interactions even of my peer group of post-Marxist research students in philosophy and literary criticism. Being able to critically evaluate and discuss football matches was almost as important as being able to compare the aesthetics of Adorno and Benjamin,  Seeing this I began to research and study football, activating a support for Tottenham Hotspur FC that had lain dormant since childhood, when a much admired older cousin who lived in North London had been a regular attender at White Hart Lane.

As I did so I discovered that actually there were lots of good reasons to like watching sport. It combined a kind of beauty with narrative intensity and the ability to enjoy the accumulation and exchange of facts and opinions. Once one has come to believe that it matters which team wins a match the period of its contest is charged with significance, but a significance that ultimately remains safely outside the rest of your life.

The reason all this has relevance to a blog “about” formation for ministry is the difficulty posed by gender in the church. Church communities are dominated (numerically) by women ( http://www.whychurch.org.uk/gendergap.php ). There is clearly some mismatch between masculinity and Christianity. This mismatch is not so complete as to prevent about a third of church members being men but sufficiently strong that only a third or so are. Christianity is about twice as female as male. Why is this and is it a problem?

It looks to me (and I might be wrong) as if the prominence of “complementarianism” in contemporary evangelical/charismatic Christianity must be related to all this. This is the idea, now a shibboleth in parts of the church scene, that women and men have different and “complementary” roles, with that of women being defined by their exclusion from public leadership and their subordinate position in marriage. Among the most outspoken and explicit spokesmen for this in Britain are New Frontiers International, who also have a very successful and energetic church planting and expansion strategy.

Those of us who don’t want to go down this path need to think about sexual difference and gender, not only because not to do so leaves us with nothing to say other than an assertion of a liberal human rights analysis that comes to us from outside and is difficult adequately to integrate into a specifically Christian world view, but also because if we don’t its hard to see how we’ll generate the new theologies of marriage and sexuality we so urgently need.

What do we have to say about the way men and women relate to one another in a world where a good deal of the traditional structure has been put in question by developments in reproductive and contraceptive technology, by shifts in patterns of employment, by cultural changes in attitudes to sex? What do we feel and think about the evolution of the church towards being a predominantly feminine institution at a time when understandings of the relationship of masculinity and femininity are changing fast? Do we want to take conscious control of these processes or do we prefer to trust to providence? What new differences are likely to emerge between those who strongly assert “complementarity”, those who assert it less strongly (Anglicans who accept women priests but reject women bishops) and those, like the majority of my own URC, who reject it completely?

As someone who self-consciously strove to adopt masculinity as an adult before, later, converting to Christianity and whose academic interests have always gravitated to questions of sex and gender I’m fascinated by all this. I don’t know what the impact of that fascination on my ministry is likely to be but I’m sure there must be some.

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1 comment
  1. Steve Nicklas said:

    Are there less men in church because they are at home watching football I wonder?

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