Saturday, April 16, 2016

Diarmaid MacCulloch Again, on How Anger of Aggrieved Heterosexual Males Drives Many Christian Churches Today

As I think about the firing of Tony Spence of Catholic News Service this past week and about the underlying heterosexist and male-privileged worldview that the all-male ordained leaders of the Catholic church keep defending as recently as the document Amoris Laetitia, as I look at the wave of hot male anger feeding the campaign of Mr. Trump in the U.S., and as I think about the ugly spate of hateful legislation targeting LGBTQ people now pouring forth in one legislature after another, the following passages from Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (NY: Penguin, 2009), which I've shared with you previously, keep ringing in my ears:

Throughout the world at the present day, the most easily heard tone in religion (not just Christianity) is of a generally angry conservatism. Why? I would hazard that the anger centres on a profound shift in gender roles which have been traditionally been given a religious significance and validated by religious traditions. It embodies the hurt of heterosexual men at cultural shifts which have generally threatened to marginalize them and deprive them of dignity, hegemony or even much usefulness – not merely heterosexual men already in positions of leadership, but those who in traditional cultural systems would expect to inherit leadership. It has been observed by sociologists of religion that the most extreme forms of conservatism to be found in modern world religions, conservativisms which in a borrowing from Christianity have been termed "fundamentalisms," are especially attractive to "literate but jobless, unmarried male youths marginalized and disenfranschised by the juggernaut of modernity" – in other words, those whom modernity has crated, only to fail to offer them any worthwhile purpose (pp. 990-1, citing B.A. Brasher, Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism [NY and London, 2001], p. 18; and G.M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism [Grand Rapids, 1991], p. 1).


Behind the passing conflicts of the moment lies a debate throughout Christianity about whether the Bible and Christian tradition can be wrong and can be changed. It is also a debate about whether God's plan for the world centres on the supremacy of heterosexual men. "Male headship" is one of the overriding concerns of the Sydney variant on Anglicanism, and worldwide, those Anglicans opposed to any change on attitudes to same-sex relationships overlap fairly snugly with those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood or consecration to the episcopate, who use the same sort of arguments (pp. 1009-10).

I also think of the following two insightful observations from MacCulloch's book Silence: A Christian History (NY: Penguin, 2013):

One of the most striking and recent examples of an extremely sudden turn is the very recent disappearance from Western Christianity of one of the most consistent prohibitions in Christian history, the banning of menstruating women from participating in the sacraments, or even from approaching the altar . . . . Now Western Christendom has forgotten an issue upon which Church leaders were near-unanimously agreed, almost without discussion, for seventeen hundred years (p. 196).


[T]he great distorting factor in Christian history, which transcends denominational and many other ecclesiastical divisions, is that most of it has been written by men (p. 197).

I'll be attending a conference this weekend on the challenge of creating inclusive and welcoming communities of faith for LGBTQ folks in African-American churches, and so may not be responding to your very welcome comments here until that event is over. A good weekend to all of you!

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