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The Truth About Men & Church: "You cannot keep the children if you do not keep the men"

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  • Christopher Orr
    The Truth About Men & Church: On the Importance of Fathering to Churchgoing By Robbie Low* * The Truth About Men & Church first appeared in the June,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 15, 2008
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      The Truth About Men & Church: On the Importance of Fathering to Churchgoing

      By Robbie Low* *

      "The Truth About Men & Church" first appeared in the June,
      2003<http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/issue.php?id=70>issue of

      **Most of us, I suspect, are not great students of "the small print." We
      employ lawyers and accountants because we recognize that carefully
      constructed small print may contain disclaimers, definitions, and
      information that effectively drive a coach and horses through our
      assumptions about the general argument and make utterly null and void the
      common understanding that we thought we had. Allow me to introduce you to a
      piece of very small print.
      Not many will have whiled away the long winter evenings by reading "The
      demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in
      Switzerland" by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical
      Office, Neuchatel. It appears in Volume 2 of *Population Studies No. 31*, a
      book titled *The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in
      Certain European States*, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the
      Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg,
      January 2000. Phew!

      All this information is readily obtainable because Switzerland always asks a
      person's religion, language, and nationality on its decennial census. Now
      for the really interesting bit.

      * The Critical Factor*

      In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our
      masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question
      was asked to determine whether a person's religion carried through to the
      next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite.
      There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the
      religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines
      the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

      If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children
      will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending
      irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at
      all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the
      children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59
      percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

      If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of
      children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend
      irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to
      the church.

      Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father
      is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the
      percentage of children becoming regular goes *up* from 33 percent to 38
      percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing,
      as if loyalty to father's commitment grows in proportion to mother's laxity,
      indifference, or hostility.

      Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms. Where
      the mother is less regular than the father but attends occasionally, her
      presence ensures that only a quarter of her children will never attend at

      Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary
      effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25
      percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a
      further 23 percent as irregulars. This is *twelve times* the yield where the
      roles are reversed.

      Where neither parent practices, to nobody's very great surprise, only 4
      percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars.
      Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

      While mother's regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term effect on
      children's regularity (except the marginally negative one it has in some
      circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting away entirely.
      Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders. Non-practicing mothers change
      the irregulars into non-attenders. But mothers have even their beneficial
      influence only in complementarity with the practice of the father.

      * Father's Influence*

      In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his
      wife's devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a
      father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between
      two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers
      (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church,
      regardless of his wife's devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their
      offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

      A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of
      two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a
      non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his
      children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent
      that figure rises to 80 percent!

      The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about
      as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm
      what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional
      Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father's
      influence, from the determination of a child's sex by the implantation of
      his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all
      proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal

      A mother's role will always remain primary in terms of intimacy, care, and
      nurture. (The toughest man may well sport a tattoo dedicated to the love of
      his mother, without the slightest embarrassment or sentimentality). No
      father can replace that relationship. But it is equally true that when a
      child begins to move into that period of differentiation from home and
      engagement with the world "out there," he (and she) looks increasingly to
      the father for his role model. Where the father is indifferent, inadequate,
      or just plain absent, that task of differentiation and engagement is much
      harder. When children see that church is a "women and children" thing, they
      will respond accordingly�by not going to church, or going much less.

      Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that
      Dad's absence indicates that going to church is not really a "grown-up"
      activity. In terms of commitment, a mother's role may be to encourage and
      confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring's decision. Mothers'
      choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers', and
      without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her
      offspring make in their religious observances.

      Her major influence is not on regular attendance at all but on keeping her
      irregular children from lapsing altogether. This is, needless to say, a
      vital work, but even then, without the input of the father (regular or
      irregular), the proportion of regulars to lapsed goes from 60/40 to 40/60.

      * Of Huge Import*

      The findings may be for Switzerland, but from conversations with English
      clergy and American friends, I doubt we would get very different findings
      from similar surveys here or in the United States. Indeed, I believe some
      English studies have found much the same thing. The figures are of huge
      import to our evangelization and its underlying theology.

      First, we (English and Americans both) are ministering in a society that is
      increasingly unfaithful in spiritual and physical relationships. There is a
      huge number of single-parent families and a complexity of step-relationships
      or, worse, itinerant male figures in the household, whose primary interest
      can almost never be someone else's child.

      The absentee father, whoever's "fault" the divorce was and however faithful
      he might be to his church, is unlikely to spend the brief permitted weekend
      "quality" time with his child in church. A young lad in my congregation had
      to choose between his loyalty to the faith and spending Sunday with Dad, now
      40 miles away, fishing or playing soccer. Some choice for a lad of eleven:
      earthly father versus heavenly Father, with all the crossed ties of love and
      loyalties that choice involves. With that agonizing maturity forced on
      children by our "failures," he reasoned that his heavenly Father would
      understand his absence better than his dad.

      Sociologically and demographically the current trends are severely against
      the church's mission if fatherhood is in decline. Those children who do
      maintain attendance, in spite of their father's absence, albeit
      predominantly sporadically, may instinctively understand the community of
      nurture that is the motherhood of the Church. But they will inevitably look
      to fill that yawning gap in their spiritual lives, the experience of
      fatherhood that is derived from the true fatherhood of God. Here they will
      find little comfort in the liberalizing churches that dominate the English
      scene and the mainline scene in the United States.

      Second, we are ministering in churches that accepted fatherlessness as a
      norm, and even an ideal. Emasculated Liturgy, gender-free Bibles, and a
      fatherless flock are increasingly on offer. In response, these churches'
      decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a fatherless
      society, these churches, in their unwisdom, have produced their own
      single-parent family parish model in the woman priest.

      The idea of this politically contrived iconic destruction and biblically
      disobedient initiative was that it would make the Church relevant to the
      society in which it ministered. Women priests would make women feel
      empowered and thereby drawn in. (As more women signed up as publicly opposed
      to the innovation than ever were in favor, this argument was always a
      triumph of propaganda over reality.) Men would be attracted by the feminine
      and motherly aspect of the new ministry. (As the driving force of the
      movement, feminism, has little time for either femininity or motherhood,
      this was what Sheridan called "the lie direct.")

      And children�our children�would come flocking into the new feminized Church,
      attracted by the safe, nurturing, non-judgmental environment a church freed
      of its "masculine hegemony" would offer. (As the core doctrines of feminism
      regarding infants are among the most hostile of any philosophy�and even
      women who weren't totally sold on its heresies often had to put their
      primary motherhood responsibilities on the back burner to answer the
      call�children were never likely to be major beneficiaries.)

      * The Churches Are Losing*

      Nor are these conclusions a matter of simple disagreement between warring
      parties in a divided church. The figures are in and will continue to come
      in. The churches are losing men and, if the Swiss figures are correct, are
      therefore losing children. You cannot feminize the church and keep the men,
      and you cannot keep the children if you do not keep the men.

      In the Church of England, the ratio of men to women in the pre-1990s was 45
      percent to 55 percent. In line with the Free Churches (which in England
      include the Methodists and Presbyterians) and others that have preceded us
      down the feminist route, we are now approaching the 37 percent/63 percent
      split. As these latter figures are percentages of a now much smaller total,
      an even more alarming picture emerges. Of the 300,000 who left the Church of
      England during the "Decade of Evangelism" some 200,000 must have been men.

      It will come as no surprise to learn, in the light of the Swiss evidence,
      that even on official figures, children's attendance in the Church of
      England dropped by 50 percent over the Decade of Evangelism. According to
      reliable independent projections, it might actually have dropped down by
      two-thirds by the year 2000. (Relevant statistics abruptly ceased being
      announced in 1996, when the 50 percent drop was achieved.)

      And what have we seen in the societies to which the churches are supposed to
      be witnessing? In the secular world, a fatherless society, or significant
      rejection of traditional fatherhood, has produced rapid and dreadful
      results. The disintegration of the family follows hard upon the amorality
      and emotional anarchy that flow from the neutering, devaluing, or exclusion
      of the loving and protective authority of the father.

      Young men, whose basic biology does not lead them in the direction of
      civilization, emerge into a society that, in less than 40 years, has gone
      from certainty and encouragement about their maleness to a scarcely
      disguised contempt for and confusion about their role and vocation. This is
      exhibited in everything from the educational system, which from the 1960s
      onward has been used as a tool of social engineering, to the entertainment
      world, where the portrayal of decent honorable men turns up about as often
      as snow in summer.

      In the absence of fatherhood, it is scarcely surprising that there is an
      alarming rise in the feral male. This is most noticeable in street
      communities, where co-operatives of criminality seek to establish brutally
      and directly that respect, ritual, and pack order so essential to male
      identity. But it is not absent from the manicured lawns of suburban England,
      where dysfunctional "families" produce equally alarming casualty rates and
      children with an inability to make and sustain deep or enduring
      relationships between male and female.

      * The Churches' Collapse*

      One might have hoped, with such an abundance of evidence at hand, that the
      churches would have been more confident in biblical teaching, which has
      always stood against the destructive forces of materialistic paganism which
      feminism represents. Alas, not. Their collapse in the face of this
      well-organized and plausible heresy may be officially dated from the moment
      they approved the ordination of women�1992 for the Church of England�but the
      preparation for it began much earlier.

      One does not need to go very far through the procedures by which the Church
      of England selects its clergy or through its theological training to realize
      that it offers little place for genuine masculinity. The constant pressure
      for "flexibility," "sensitivity," "inclusivity," and "collaborative
      ministry" is telling. There is nothing wrong with these concepts in
      themselves, but as they are taught and insisted upon, they bear no relation
      to what a man (the un-neutered man) understands them to mean.

      Men are perfectly capable of being all these things without being wet,
      spineless, feeble-minded, or compromised, which is how these terms translate
      in the teaching. They will not produce men of faith or fathers of the faith
      communities. They will certainly not produce icons of Christ and charismatic
      apostles. They are very successful at producing malleable creatures of the
      institution, unburdened by authenticity or conviction and incapable of
      leading and challenging. Men, in short, who would not stand up in a draft.

      Curiously enough, this new feminized man does not seem to be quite as
      attractive to the feminists as they had led us to believe. He does not seem
      to hold the attention of children (much less boys who might want to follow
      him into the priesthood). He is frankly repellent to ordinary blokes. But a
      priest who is comfortable with his masculinity and maturing in his
      fatherhood (domestic and/or pastoral) will be a natural magnet in a confused
      and disordered society and Church.

      Other faith communities, like Muslims and Orthodox Jews, have no doubt about
      this and would not dream of emasculating their faith. Churches in countries
      under persecution have no truck with the corrosive errors of feminism. Why
      would they? These are expensive luxuries for comfortable and decadent
      churches. The persecuted need to know urgently what works and what will
      endure. They need their men.

      A church that is conspiring against the blessings of patriarchy not only
      disfigures the icon of the First Person of the Trinity, effects disobedience
      to the example and teaching of the Second Person of the Trinity, and rejects
      the Pentecostal action of the Third Person of the Trinity but, more
      significantly for our society, flies in the face of the sociological

      No father�no family�no faith. Winning and keeping men is essential to the
      community of faith and vital to the work of all mothers and the future
      salvation of our children.

      * Robbie Low is vicar of St. Peter's, Bushey Heath, a parish in the Church
      of England, and a member of the editorial board of the magazine *New
      Directions <http://trushare.com/003index/INDEX.htm>*, published by Forward
      in Faith, in which a version of this article first appeared. For more on the
      subject of men, women, and church attendance, see Leon Podles's "Missing
      Fathers of the Church"<http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-01-026-f>in
      the January/February 2001 issue.



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