Christian Kitsch #8: Man Church
When the formative years of your youth were spent in the Indian rain forests, where survival actually depends on physical prowess and skills, you tend to reflexively laugh at the comical posturing human males take on to protect their fragile egos. One of the most pathetic examples of this is the “Man Church” phenomenon. Man Church. Fearing the creeping “feminization” of church, men have now developed services designed only for the people of the penis. And given what we have discovered about evangelicals’ aesthetic ineptitude through this series, the laughable kitschiness of the imagery and ad copy for these manly seminars comes as no surprise.
Our paradigmatic Male Man, everyone. Clenched teeth, adorably wrinkled nose, steel-grey eyes set for the kill, sweaty matted athlete hair, the works. Adding insult to injury, the graphic designer put this desaturated wannabe-hulk in front of a dusty chalkboard. Let’s not forget the football either. That leathery ovoid is clutched tight between the Male Man’s hands, standing in for any number of things men could clutch in like manner. Its resemblance to a penis is not going to raise any eyebrows, methinks.
Another church went with a more subtle approach:
I’ll let the Cornerstone Church of Chandler, Arizona enlighten us as to what we can expect in what is surely a high-impact seminar:
A church for men; no singing, short sermons and time to process. Laugh, learn and be challenged in the company of friends. Straight forward relevant topics around the challenges facing men today – not like any other church you have seen. This ain’t your mamma’s [sic] church!
No, indeed, though for once I might prefer that it were. On the site linked above, you can sase that the tab for “men” is just one in a whole line of painfully specific, tailored services the church offers. It’s marketing at its most transparent, and because of that it’s tempting to write off the “Man Church” fad as just a way to check off another demographic niche. Let’s not be too hasty, however. The “Man Church” phenomenon has a more sinister air to it than many of the curios we’ve investigated in this series––which is saying a lot. While none of the rhetoric here is as fascistic as Men’s Rights advocates can be, the patriarchy runs strong and naked here. While all masculinity is bleak and oppressive, the iron-skinned, men-as-tanks ideology we see regurgitated here is especially pernicious. This is not to say that these churches are not responding to a really felt need; straight white men, being in every way empowered, are also constantly reckoning with insecurities. Men are not actually oppressed, but any place or situation they encounter that seems too feminine (God forbid it be church!) instantly becomes annoying to them. So accustomed to dominance are they that, even in the macho world of evangelical Christianity, where women are more often than not barred from leadership positions, the mere appearance of a female majority is enough to send them off-kilter.
These are aggressively reactionary programs aimed at capitalizing on male insecurity. While the American church is almost entirely a bastion of reaction and prejudice, the last squirrel hole for blatant chauvinism and militarism, this is an especially troubling phenomenon. I have no insights into whether these ministries are successful (especially given that the one from Cornerstone starts at 6:30 am!) but their existence points to a troubling pathology in the American straight cishet male mind: a maniacal need to hold onto power and demonstrate that power, usually at the expense of someone deemed inferior. To end on a deflating note, I would be remiss not to point out that such chauvinism is almost present within the Left, especially where its revolutionary hands are idle and petty posturing displaces praxis. It’s not too surprising to find reactionary sexism in the Church; what’s far more disturbing is that it infests even the bloc that pretends to the role of undoing it. It’s yet another point where the bourgeois’s ruling ideology seeps into every nook of a society.