So I was reading Doug Wilson’s post on “effeminate worship”, and it got me thinking about this concern with identifying and rooting out “effeminacy” in the church.
It strikes me that a better term for what Wilson (and others) often correctly identify as problems would be sentimentality. The fact that they see “sentimentality” as a principally feminine trait is revealing in itself.
However, I wonder if ascribing Protestantism’s perennial tendency towards sentimentalism to “effeminacy” may unconsciously reveal one of its root causes: a failure to appreciate adequately the figure of Mary.
There is nothing sentimental about Mary – cf. the Magnificat – but she is the prototype of the church (and of the individual Christian) as a hearer of, and believer in, God’s word. Mary is the one who hears God’s word and then says “Let it be to me according to your word”. So she exemplifies the balance in the church between God’s speaking and our hearing.
But once you push Mary into the background, that balance between speaking and hearing in the church is lost. One result of that can be dryness, in which the church becomes all speaking and no hearing; but another result, usually in reaction against that, is sentimentality, in what matters in worship is not that God speaks and we hear, but that we speak and God hears. This turns worship into an exercise in self-expression, which can equally quickly become an exercise in narcissism and, well, sentimentality: churches and Christians competing with one another to show how deeply they feel it, man!
So that’s my answer to “effeminacy” in the church: pay more attention to Mary.
Like, right now? Uh ...
It's like the only fun thing Giles Swayne ever composed. When I think of a Magnificat setting that sings about God bringing the cosmic beat-down on all injustice and Mary rejoicing about that this is
one I tend to think of.