- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2016

A new study confirms what regular U.S. churchgoers have long known: Women tend to outnumber men.

But the Pew Research Center report also says the phenomenon is not universal. While Christian congregations may have difficulty keeping men in the pews, Islam faces no such trouble.

According to the study, less than one-third of American men say they go to church on a weekly basis, compared to 40 percent of American women. But in 40 Islamic countries surveyed by Pew, 70 percent of Muslim men said they attend religious services at least once per week, compared to 47 percent of Muslim women.

David Voas, a demographer and sociologist at University College London, speculated that Christianity’s emphasis on meekness, powerlessness and humility may be turning testosterone-filled men away from the religion.

“Christianity presents itself as a religion of the powerless: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,’” Mr. Voas told Pew, quoting Matthew 5:5. “Depending on your point of view, that’s appealingly feminine or appallingly effeminate.”

Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, said the findings are not new, pointing to a gender gap in the Christian church dating back to first century Judea.

“It’s captured in the kind of age-old thing, where, ‘you know, church is really important to my wife, she takes the kids, I go with her, but it’s really my wife’s thing,’” he said.

Mr. Stanton chalked up the disparity between the sexes to biological and psychological differences between men and women. He said women are just more fluent when it comes to matters of religion.

“I think it has something to do with female nature that women just tend to be more reflective, more inward-focused, and they have the ability to do that — whereas men, they want to go do something,” Mr. Stanton said. “That lends itself to more of a religiosity, if you will.”

As for why Islam has not seen a similar male exodus, Mr. Stanton said the more “muscular” components of the faith keep men interested.

“Islam is more of a muscular kind of faith, and women don’t — this is a controversial matter — but they don’t tend to fare as well,” he said, referring to the status of women in Muslim-ruled countries.

“You don’t think of Islam as really strong in the promotion and care of women. So that’s where that gender difference could really take place,” he continued.

But Greg Jao, vice president and director of campus engagement at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said he disagrees with the notion that “Jesus isn’t macho enough” for men.

“I don’t find that in Jesus,” he said. “I think the public caricature of him is as this quiet man who walks around patting children on the head. But if you read the Gospel … he walks in and starts casting out demons, stilling storms on the sea, engaging in verbal confrontation with religious and government authorities.

“For every verse like ‘blessed are the meek,’ you have stories of Jesus overturning tables at the temple and of Paul’s shipwreck and other things, so I don’t think it’s the character of Jesus” that’s turning men away from the church, he said.

Rather than Scripture that abhors masculinity, Mr. Jao said Christianity has been infused with a culture of “processing” and “share your feelings” that repulses men.

“You rarely see groups of boys say, ‘Let’s sit down and talk. How are you feeling? How are you doing?’” he said. “I do think some of the practices don’t lend themselves to making it easy for men. I know we’ve talked with our Greek staff, our staff that works with fraternities and sororities, and what they’ve said is way too much processing, way too much discussion. We need more activity.”

He said churches can do more to integrate activity into spiritual life, pointing to examples of men in the church forming groups to repair cars and play sports.

“Once a month they go out to a pub together, grab a beer, but the goal is to have deep conversation,” he said.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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