Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.

This is probably an example of Girlie Worship.

Some sections of the evangelical church are so fueled by testosterone right now that I fear the bride of Christ might become a bearded lady. Hardly a month goes by where high profile evangelical pastors extol the virtues of manly combat in MMA or fail to miss an opportunity to make fun of girly music leaders. This week is no exception. Doug Wilson decided to put out a post titled “Your Worship Service Might Be Effeminate If..“, and then he went on to list a plethora of things that are neither feminine nor unmanly. I find this list ridiculous, and I find the attitude behind it laughable. How is it that a church culture with all-male leadership, bearded awesomeness, and a general masculine flair still has room to lament a sissified church culture? How much manliness does a church need?

To put my cards right out there on the table, I’m going to confess that I am a thorough-going complementarian. I believe that the elders/pastors of the local church should be filled only by qualified men. (I put that out there so that I will have the opportunity to offend everyone in this article.) However, I find the type of bravado put out there concerning the new “manliness” by folks like Mark Driscoll and now Doug Wilson to be a terrible hindrance to my cause, which I believe is very important.

First, let me point out that the church’s worship cannot be effeminate. Nor should it be masculine. Nor should it be feminine. The worship service should be designed to allow men and women to worship the Almighty as, well, men and women. What the gathering of the church does is allow men and women to express their adoration of God for His offering of His Son Jesus as a propitiation for our sins. So the pastor, the music leaders, the responsive reading guy, the prayers—these things are all done to remind us of the glorious truths of the Bible, and people are free to respond to that however they might best express themselves. That could include dancing half-naked in front of the ark of God, or it could include a man getting his ugly cry on because of the glory of God has broken his heart. Or, he could stand at parade rest and sing lustily and make battle noises, I guess. Either way, you ought to leave that dude alone, brother.

So technically, the worship of the church cannot be effeminate. Only individual men can be effeminate. But what that exactly means is a bit of a mystery to me. To avoid that, does it mean he has to grow a beard? Quit wearing preppy cardigans? No gold bracelets? Wilson tries to help us spot effeminate worship, but things like this only leave me more confused:

Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r’s correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle

The worship music rides particular chord changes hard, with special mention being given to the shift from E Minor to C Major

I had no idea that music was supposed to sound like the sounds of battle! I’m quite sure that Douglas Wilson has never seen a real battle, and if he has, he is mad for thinking the screams of the dead and dying and bomb blasts are what we are trying to accomplish in the ministry of music. And key shifts are girly now? This is a shock to me as well. My favorite, however, is this one: This list is printed out and handed around at your church, and at least three people are mortally offended. Yeah, so if we are offended by the list, then we may be effeminate.

This would be effeminate (no beard, short hair), but his eyes are piercing my soul, so this is an example of Manly Worship.

Here’s what is so bad about the list, beside it being nearly non-nonsensical:

First, worship cannot be effeminate, only men can.

Second, how shall we define effeminate worship? As awesome as kilts and claymores are, they reveal more about Wilson’s fantasy life than they do the proper conduct of a real man in worship.

Third, the list is probably offensive to women. I don’t want to speak for them, but the list seems to indicate that feminine worship is undesirable. It may be undesirable in a man, if we can figure out what that looks like at church, but surely it is to be commended in women! Wilson’s manly dreams for the church reach so high that he naturally assumes that women are happy worshiping in masculine worship.

In the end, I’ll throw Wilson a bone. I don’t like “Jesus is my Girlfriend” type songs either. It isn’t because they are too mushy; it’s because they are generally lousy songs and theologically thread-bare. I’m not nervous about intimacy with God, and I actually enjoy singing pretty songs to God that demonstrate my desire to know Him more intimately. And if that sort of intimacy makes a man nervous, then he might have forgotten that he is part of the bride of Christ. That’s the same sort of nasty aloofness that keeps men from kissing their sons and telling them that they love them. It’s the same lie that makes men think it is unmanly to weep or confess weakness.

If that’s the kind of culture Wilson wants to cultivate, count me out.


  1. Oh Brad — when you said this, you should have re-written the whole essay:

    “First, worship cannot be effeminate, only men can.”

    Indeed. Who exactly is superintending worship, or administrating it, or pastoring it?

    This, I am afraid, is Doug’s point and ought to be someplace in yours.

  2. If that was Doug’s point, he could have made it himself. Instead, he made a silly list that has little or nothing to do with being effeminate. What he has in mind for effeminate seems to be largely based on his personal construction of what a man should dress like, what songs a man should like, what he does with his hands in worship, and whether or not the singing sounds like people are being slain whilst bombs go off in the background. It’s ridiculous. But instead of saying it like that, I decided just to make fun of him.

    As you know, I live in a corner of the world where manliness is generally thought to be defined by one’s delight in NASCAR, college football, and a neatly trimmed mullet. The NASCAR is a little nuanced though. If you like Jeff Gordon instead of “Dale”, you are probably a sissy. Also, you would lose five man points from being born north of the Mason-Dixon.

  3. First of all, I do want to say that Pastor Wilson has meant a lot to me in the past. Once upon a time I was just an evangelical kid trying to make sense of being an evangelical kid in a culture where the 2 options seemed to be “conform to the world” or “be a goofy fundamentalist reactionary.” Pastor Wilson has had some very helpful things to say as far as helping many American Christians find a reasoned, uncompromising voice, and I for one have benefited from many of those things. So props to him for that.

    That being said, I agree that his rhetoric here seems silly. In his mind, I think he is trying to encourage Christians to embrace a “happy warrior” mentality. I’m pretty sure he’s not reveling in the glories of actual armed conflict per se, but trying, by way of biblical analogy, to encourage Christians to embrace “the joy of the Lord” as their strength in the battles against principalities and powers.

    I think you are spot on that the rhetoric falls short in making light of “effeminate” traits. In recent years I have gained a deeper respect for and understanding of the power of the Incarnation. I find it gloriously ironic (and illuminating) that the Lord God of Angelic Armies of the OT accomplished His greatest victory in the form of an infant in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere. Just ponder what that means. Furthermore, I revel in the “Song of Mary”, the Magnificat, which should bring any man to tears when contemplated.

    It seems to me that the power of Christians resides not in matching the rhetoric of the world, but in embracing the power of the still small voice, the Word become helpless flesh. That, in my mind, is the powerful biblical analogy that our culture, and all cultures, needs.

    I could write so much more on this. Thanks for starting this conversation.

  4. I honestly thought Wilson’s list was a joke. Kilts? Trilling Rs? Pink shirts? I have never seen this in any church service ever. Maybe he was trying to use humor to break down barriers. It was not helpful because I was so thrown off by the oddities of it. Perhaps Wilson could develop a description biblical worship (which would be, by nature, non-effeminate), with Scripture references and without the humor.

  5. I think it was supposed to be funny, and I usually like funny. But this approach of making fun of men in a way that ostracizes men whose besetting sin is being effeminate, I don’t think you should make light of it. And by effeminate, I don’t mean metro-sexual dresser. I mean a man who struggles with same-sex attraction, which is really what 1 Cor. 6:9-10 is really talking about when the King James translates it ‘effeminate’. Effeminate, in the Bible, has nothing to do with trilling r’s or dress or pink shirts.

  6. Liking hymns on the bagpipe (as I do, and I’m very definitely female) doesn’t make one’s worship masculine; it probably just makes one a Scot. Something also tells me that Wilson’s never been in a choir, because otherwise he wouldn’t be picking on choristers who encunciate clearly. To put an analogy from 1 Cor. 14 into a slightly different context, what good’s a bugle if you can’t tell whether it’s playing Reveille or Taps?

    Part of the problem with that list, aside from the failure of the humor (cf. John Scalzi on the failure mode of ‘clever’), is that it conflates two different problems that can be but are not always co-morbid: churches going in for the hipster brand of artsy dreck and churches lacking the courage to stand against sin. Neither is an inherently gendered failure. In fact, I might be more likely to suspect the leadership of a self-conciously “masculine” church of failing to enforce truly Scriptural church discipline than I would the leadership of a church that’s all cotton candy.
    And a huge WORD on your last point, Brad. The “No chick flick moments” attitude is pernicious enough when dealing with one’s fellow humans; I can’t imagine what it does to one’s walk with God.

  7. What guys like Driscoll and Wilson don’t quite understand is that the guy who can go into the worship service in his pink shirt and sing perfect key changes to the glory of God and feel perfectly comfortable doing it with no thought whatsoever to what the hairer fellows in the place think of him…well, this guy is the one who’s got it going on. I get that all this masculinity obsession comes from these guys growing up in churches where the men have no backbone. But just like the hokey fundamentalist that they love to ridicule, they combat it by having a knee jerk reaction to the other extreme. Some day the blogoshpere will be full of articles
    written by the children of the young reformed lamenting all the ways we’ve screwed up the church. Thank God for grace. We need to show it to others because we’ll definitely need it shown to us.

  8. Love the post! As a guy who has fathered three children and is still crazy for his wife, but has been known to wear a pink shirt with a purple tie to church, AMEN!

  9. Frankly, the fear of being accused of being “effeminate” (in society’s terms, not biblical ones) is one of the greatest fears in “manly” Christianity in the “manly” Evangelical Church. It is one more example of the Church confusing conservative culture (Republican politics, NASCAR, Football, God-bless-the-US-and-damn-the-defeatist-Jeremiahs, etc.) with Biblical values. And frankly, it smells not just a little of despising homosexuals. (By that I do not mean despising sin, which is biblical; I mean despising the sinner. That distinction is often lost in the heated “manly” rhetoric.)

    Biblical manhood had little parallel with either Metrosexual manhood or NASCAResque manhood. And it more often than not is at loggerheads with both the throne and the religious establishment, rather than acting as an enabler of either one.

    Wearing kilts? Pink shirts? Chord transitions, for heavens sake?! What a bunch of claptrap. Frankly, this is incredibly superficial.

    Talking about hell, the devil and sin is “manly”? It may be biblical, it may be vital–but somehow equating not having the correct percentages of sermons devoted to Satan as being “effeminate” sounds just plain silly.

    And “Jesus is my girlfriend songs”? Would someone please give me an example? I’ve heard this accusation before, but it never made sense to me. The only example that comes to my mind, that I have only heard on “Christian” radio and not in worship, was “Some Kind of Wonderful” adapted to be a Jesus song (by the original artist, but still quite cringeworthy.)

  10. “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs are any worship song that could easily be sung in dulcet tones to your girlfriend while you slip off her bra. Example:

    In the secret, in the quiet place
    In the stillness you are there
    In the secret, in the quiet hour
    I wait only for you
    Cause I want to know you more

    I want to know you
    I want to hear your voice
    I want to know you more

    I want to touch you
    I want to see your face
    I want to know you more


  11. @Seth–

    Hmmm…pretty tame compared to Song of Solomon…though some would argue that we’re in danger of role-reversal (being the bride vs. the bridegroom). Of course, in S of S, sometimes the roles seem a bit confused, too (paragraph headings do wonders.)

    The “sexiness” of that song wouldn’t really bother me too much…it’s a bit “lite”, but it really wouln’t bug me if I heard it in a worship service. Not every worship tune needs to be a theological treatise, any more than every meal has to be (or should be) packed with protein.

    Eros is also divine.

  12. I wasn’t critiquing, just letting you know what people mean by “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs. The general critique runs that if a song could be sung to a girl you know, then maybe it’s not theologically turgid enough to be a valuable use of congregational praise time.

    Also, even under the most allegorical readings of SoS, the book is not viewed as an example of corporate worship, so doesn’t really apply here. I mean, unless you’re introducing a new interpretation, which is fair.

  13. @Seth–understood about girlfriend sings.

    As to S of S being interpreted “most allegorically”–the church (and Jews before it) has nearly always viewed the allegorical interpretation of this book as the primary one, from what I understand.

    As to it not being “corporate worship”–well, that could be said of much of the rest of Scripture, too–and in some ways, more so, as S of S is highly poetic (and thus easily turned into worship music–not that worship is synonymous with music, as much as our usage suggests it.) And many songs HAVE been taken out of S o S for corporate worship. (Certainly more than, say, Nahum 3 which certainly would fit the bill for “manly” sounds of battle and war.)

    Please don’t misunderstand–I’m not arguing with you, but rather with the article which this blog post responds to. I find the remark “Jesus is my girlfriend” to characterize songs as smug and snarky (and I know you’re not taking a position here), and at the best either distrustful of human yearning for closeness to our Lord (which can be legitimate concern for over-emotionalism) or at worst a thinly veiled suggestion of homoeroticism. And concern over pink shirts and trilling “rs” sounds a lot like the latter.

  14. Plenty of critics here are missing the point that even “jocular” promotion of “Biblical manhood” as defined by external-only actions or appearances — even if the list contains “satire” — is just plain old silly. Especially when so many activists are indeed seriously proclaiming that “Biblical manhood” is only defined by a certain lifestyle or appearance (e.g., you must homeschool your children; you must have a “hundred-year plan” for your family; you must treat your daughters are junior “helpmeets” who stay home until they are at some future undefined time allowed to “court”).

    Frankly, a lot of these guys who do all their whimpering and hand-wringing over whether they’re Masculine enough need to shut up and quit staring at their navels — or, wherever they’re staring.

  15. David,

    I can’t imagine how the whistling claymores, and the kilt-wearing, battle-sound singing man doesn’t have the slightest bit of bravado in it.

    I will say that it was not my intention to critique everything that Wilson writes about masculinity. Everywhere else he writes may be golden. What he wrote can stand-alone, and I thought it was dumb and said so.

    He can take the heat and probably would welcome the scrutiny. In fact, he did read it. He suspects that I don’t understand metaphor well, but he did like the bearded lady line. This isn’t the first time a Presby has suspected a Baptist’s reading comprehension, so I’m okay with that. No harm done. Some people happen to agree with my interpretation though, so I can’t be that far out. Unless they are all metaphorically challenged as well.

  16. I was just reading 2 Corinthians 10 this morning where Paul is defending the his boldness in ministry. It’s full of battle language. Do you think Paul was guilty of bravado too?

  17. Mulling all of this over, I guess what it seems to me is that Wilson’s criticism seems like humor, but poking fun at a Parody of himself (and others) unintentionally. I mean seriously, if he tried to make the so-called “effeminate” worship leaders look bad, he instead became an SNL-eque parody of “manly men” (thinking both of the Church Lady and John Beluchi’s “manly men”).

    I mean, if I wanted to demean the emphasis on “manliness” in the Evangelical world, I can think of no better way then Wilson’s article.

  18. David,

    I’m not a registered commentor over there, and I couldn’t immediately figure out how to do it. But I’m going to put up a short response in our Elsewhere and link to his new post.

  19. Regarding your speculation that Wilson has never witnessed a real battle, he did serve in the Navy; based on his bio, the math points to his having served while the Vietnam conflict was still raging, so who knows?

    I do find frustrating, however, his tendency of dropping these bombs (pun intended) on his blog and elsewhere and then not sticking around to deal with the fallout. To wit, following the original “Effeminate” post, I attempted to get him to clarify his nebulous assertions that masculine worship is necessary in order to make women feel “safe” and “protected.” Naturally, I was curious about the precise nature of the implied threat to female worshippers–from which they required protection–and why men were presumably immune to this same threat. So I asked him about it in the blog thread. No response. Asked again. No response. I give credit to a couple of readers who threw some comments my way, ostensibly in an attempt to help me clarify matters, but those responses were not particularly helpful, and, more importantly, I directed my questions to Rev. Wilson, who declined to respond to me, but who nevertheless had time to crank out another five blog posts in the 48 hours following my entreaties.

    In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should mention the possibility that Wilson’s failure to respond to my comments may have been linked to his being the subject of a fake interview at our satirical blog
    (Federal Vision Was All a Big Joke [LINK]). But come on! It’s not like he wrote a book on Christian satire or anything!

  20. Doug has written extensively about the relation between masculinity and femininity (and how, for example, the first creates a safe place for the second) in numerous places. If you’re not interested in reading the background arguments, no problem. But don’t expect someone to serve up his entire intellectual platter in a single blog post.

  21. I just wanted to say thanks for this article. I agree with your third objection to this article–speaking for myself as a woman, yes, I find Wilson’s list to be offensive. I have read his response, and I’ve read the arguments that “effeminate” is not the same as “feminine”. I understand that I am therefore not supposed feel any sort of sting from the term.

    Here’s the thing though–if “effeminate” means a man who takes on female characterstics, then that means everything Wilson lists as “effeminate” is what he considers to be feminine. To use an example, in our culture, a man showing up to church in a frilly dress would be effeminate, and thus, in sin; a woman showing up in a frilly dress would be expressing femininity, and thus, not in sin. Distinctly feminine behavior in a man is inappropriate; distinctly feminine behavior in a woman is appropriate. You can’t therefore draw a hard line between femininity and effeminacy–the only difference is the gender of the one doing the action.

    But many of the actions Wilson lists (excepting the neutral ones, e.g. wearing pink or changing chords) are no less repugnant for women than they are for men. Anemic doctrine is not healthy for men OR for women. Neither male nor female believers are given the luxury of turning a blind eye to sin within the congregation.”Jesus is my girlfriend” songs, as already pointed out, suffer from a lack of biblical foundation, not from an undue amount of girliness. (It’s just as weird for a woman to sing to Jesus in a sensualized way as it is for a man.)

    Calling these kinds of behaviors “effeminate” does cast aspersions on femininity in general. There’s no way for it not to. And it is very difficult to read such a list, as a woman, without feeling at once judged (because clearly I must be okay with a watered-down, passive faith) and blamed (because who, besides women, would it be that feminized all the men in the first place?).

    I can very well believe that this is not Wilson’s intention, but it is most certainly the affect and the sting of his words. Thank you once again for your post–it is incredibly heartening to see male leaders in the Church calling for more thoughtful language regarding these issues.

  22. Just read Wilson’s reply, and … the more I read y’all talking about this, the more I understand and appreciate clerical celibacy. Really transforms a lot of the key terms of the debate. :-)

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