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