Men Challenging Patriarchy in the Church?

Maybe I should explain where I’m coming from. For a while now I’ve been struggling personally with how to deal with patriarchy in the church — most specifically male language for God, the male images of God I can’t seem to get rid of, and views about sexuality from the church and the Bible that seem to vastly over-represent the experience of men. I’ve been reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissent Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from the Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, which has very beneficial in helping me see things like the workings of male dominance and how one woman responds. But as Monk Kidd notes in the book, it seems that for those who have grown up male, the process of challenging patriarchy in our spiritual lives is distinctly different than for those who have grown up female. There may, of course be some overlap, but Monk Kidd suggests that perhaps the journey for the latter category is toward recovering the self, and the former toward humility. So I’m looking for some role models, men who’ve thought deeply and tried to act and live in new ways — because I think men fighting patriarchy has to have a different slant to it than when women do.

For comparison, reading Tim Wise’s eye-opening and personal insights in White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, gave me an idea of what it can look like act as a conscientious white person attempting to be anti-racist. And in that vein, I’m wondering if other folks are aware of well-grounded stories of men writing about what it’s like to confront patriarchy in the church and their personal spiritual lives (preferably confronting heterosexism too, but such texts might be few and far between). I’m interested in male feminist theologians too, but the details of day-to-day life and church seem more pressing to me at the moment. So, recommendations?

Comments (14)

  1. Dan Morehead

    I don’t! But just asking the question has put me on the lookout. Questioning…that’s a start.

    I do think men should ask women how they would like patriarchy overturned. Listening…that’s also a start.

  2. Lora

    While I can’t think of any authors right off the top of my head, you might be interested in Hugo Schwyzer’s blog. He’s a gender studies professor who frequently writes from his perspective as a Christian. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I’ve particularly appreciated his entries related to feminism.

    And I agree with Dan. Listening is always good.

  3. Dwayne Hess

    Thanks for sharing on such an important topic. While I haven’t read a lot from the male perspective on this issue, I’ve found that listening to women’s stories (people I know personally) has had the most profound effect on me making changes in this area.

  4. ST

    Jason, Katie’s “In a Different Spirit” provides loads of opportunities to act, using what you already know and have experienced as a young man fighting patriarchy in the church. What about writing a letter to some Lancaster bishops or representatives (I think access to this information is available) or corresponding with some of the young people in that area who support the anti-ordination vote? Perhaps a letter to the editor editor@mennoweekly review.

    I suggest this because, for me in learning how to address my Ameriocentrism, I read a lot about it but mostly I just kept on acting and bringing the subject up, and learning by doing.

  5. carl

    hey Jason,

    Thanks for posting this. These aren’t books I can personally recommend, because I haven’t read them :-) But they have been recommended to me on this topic, and they’re on my list, so I thought I’d pass them on to you.

    • Kivel, Paul. Men’s Work, How to Stop the Violence that Tears Our Lives Apart
    • Poling, James Newton. Understanding Male Violence, Pastoral Care issues
    • Neuger, Christie Cozad and James Newton Poling, eds. Men’s Work in Preventing Violence Against Women
    • West, Traci. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter.

    If you’re speedier than me about getting around to reading these, please post again and let us know what thoughts or learnings they’re prompting!

    Also, this is a somewhat different topic, but also about sexism/patriarchy: there has been lots of conversation around the blogosphere recently about exclusion of women in the web-geek world. Even if you’re not a web-geek and don’t want to be one, I think it’s an interesting study of conversation about sexism in an arena that’s heavily male-dominated, and perhaps particularly tempted towards neat, seemingly “logical” theories about “pure meritocracy” etc. Anyway, for anyone interested in following the topic, I posted a summary with lots of links over at Meyerbros.

  6. Jason (Post author)

    Thanks to everyone who responded. It’s great to have more resources, and I’ve been reading Hugo Schwyzer from time to time to see what his approach is to various issues. The reply that caught me the most, though, was Sarah’s comment that there is no shortage of places to act on the concerns I was describing.

    Her insight got me thinking about how it’s not enough to declare my allegiance in safe spaces (while getting my queer-affirming/sensitive pro-feminist guy badge) and ignoring places where I might actually be challenged. It became clear that I need to be actually doing something if I am going to be talking about challenging patriarchy like I am — doing otherwise would mean a sort of disingenuous commitment which doesn’t stand up when the chips are down. (Awkward metaphor, but you know what I mean.)

    Then noticing my resistance to contacting Lancaster folks pushed me to realize that I wasn’t willing to engage on the terms it seems like might be necessary to have any kind of serious conversation (one where the bible is the ultimate source of authority).

    It seems likely that the biblical position is the important one to anti-ordination folks, and — in line with a topic raised by Katie in “Things We Don’t Say” (
    — I personally don’t think the “biblical position” is the most important one. Not that I don’t think there are good biblical arguments to support women’s ordination, but I don’t know them or feel interested in learning my Bible or theology well enough to make them.

    I could phrase the discussion with statements like, “Reform can be a trap that doesn’t fundamentally challenge the questionable foundations at work.” (in this case, “those foundations” being the primacy of biblical interpretation over human concerns like justice) or “Is it the strategic point (generally? for me?) to engage with the traditionalists at this point or should we be focusing on strengthening the camp more in line with my thinking?”

    And those questions may be valid, but for me they’re distracting from the fact that I’m more interested in liberating my own sexuality and experience than taking proactive steps to challenge patriarchy in the broader church. Maybe I should scale back what I say I’m pushing for. A more honest statement might be that I believe that patriarchy and heterocentrism do profound damage to the church, but the most that I can contribute at this particular moment is to work on my context, respond when issues come and hit me in the face — as they’re doing more and more now that I’m looking — and cheer for other people who are taking more active roles, and hope that sometime I may have the energy to join them.

    That said, Sarah’s comment has pushed me to see how I can better line up my action with my values, as well as seeing my own role on this topic more clearly. I ended up writing a letter to a few Menno publications — citing my experience rather than bibical arguements. That feels like something I can do. Let’s hear it for being called out in ways that makes us act and reflect more deeply.

  7. eric

    Issues of patriarchy and sexism have become my central reading over the last week since Carl posted at Meyerbros about sexism in the web design community, and someone sent me a link to I Blame The Patriarchy. It’s a great read, with interesting critiques of some more subtle and complex issues involved in patriarchy, and has become one of my favorite RSS feeds.

    Be warned, though, that it can get a bit rough to read if you’re a sensitive man that takes things personally. This isn’t a sexism 101 site, so no one is going to pull their punches just because you’re new to the game. Follow their advice and read the FAQ before commenting.

    There was a particularly good post yesterday calling out liberal male bloggers who responded to Ann Coulter’s most recent inflammatory comments (She called John Edwards a “faggot”) by throwing the exact same “insult” (and other, similar heterosexist and misogynist comments) back at her.

    I also bought “The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It” by Lis Wiehl. So far it’s a very interesting and enlightening read, laying out exactly how unequal women still are under the law, and how it’s getting worse, not better.

  8. Anna

    An excellent example of a man examining the way patriarchy has shaped his life and faith is Stephen Boyd’s The Men We Long to Be. It’s a very thoughtful and understandable book, scholarly yet accessible. My favorite part is a graphic in the book showing how patriarchical society only allows men connection to one Woman, while denying his intimacies with all other aspects of life and human community. He discusses heterosexism as well.

  9. Jason (Post author)


    Thanks for the tip, that sounds right on. Interlibrary loan here I come!

    How did you come across the book?

  10. Mary

    “The Will to Change” by Bell Hooks is a very enlightening male perspective on patriarchy in regards to being raised in the church
    I would also suggest “The Gender Knot” by Allan G. Johnson
    Or even a more challenging and controversial book is “Getting Off” by Robert Jensen
    It seems like you are digging into some great material I would encourage you to continue to seek out male and maybe even female opinions on the issues of patriarchy and the church, there are tons of books out there!

  11. Josh B

    “’The Will to Change’ by Bell Hooks is a very enlightening male perspective…”

    hooks is always good, but I would qualify it some to say its a perspective on men from the point of view of a woman.

  12. SteveK

    Hey Jason:

    I want to respond briefly to something you brought up in the middle of your comment (not your post):
    “I personally don’t think the biblical position is the most important one. Not that I don’t think there are good biblical arguments to support women’s ordination, but I don’t know them or feel interested in learning my Bible or theology well enough to make them.”

    I don’t know you nor your concerns. And you may have good reasons to make such a statement, and I have no right to challenge it.

    I am, however, deeply concerned with justice, not just between people, but in the whole of the universe. And part of this justice has to do with my and my neighbor’s relationship to God. If God exists and God has communicted to us, then we should expand our notion of love and justice to include not only other people, not only the enviornment, but God as well. For this reason, a biblical perspective is just as important as listening from the perspective of the outcast.

  13. leeann

    thanks, steve. well said.

    it’s easy to agree with anything until you hear another p.o.v. we don’t have to AVOID the Bible to see God’s will for women’s dignity. i.e. deborah and barack. prov. 31 clearly shows a woman who does business and is very industrious outside of her home. i wonder how much of the Bible’s mention of men is more because of the culture of the time ( and most of the world today, too) than God’s intention.

    -Jesus’ actions obviously flew in the face of His culture: he spoke to the woman at the well. He defended the woman caught in adultery. He lifted women. the men present were left shocked and without an answer to Jesus’ rationale.

    so much to learn and so little insight on my own. does anyone else feel this way??

  14. Autumn

    I hate to write this guys but there really isn’t anything concrete that can be done (as far as our society or religion as an institution) is concerned…
    Believe you me –if there were– there are so many of us women in the world who are and have been fed up with patriarchy, all would have been shifted/transformed by now…
    I believe that you (just by creating this blog and being an enlightened person in the area of these troubles) and I (by searching and finding this blog as well as others–and in living my life as someone who refuses to accept these “women boxes”) –we are doing the only thing we can –maybe our own changes can inspire those around us…
    Honestly I believe these ideas are the best we can ever hope for..
    Men “rule” all –they always have and they always will –honestly that’s all there is to realize…besides the changes we are willing to make within ourselves…Thank you for creating this blog :-)

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