Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Masculine Nurture

I have been attending a parish of the Anglican Province of America for almost a year now, and began Confirmation classes this evening. And so, since the APA is now in full communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, I have been reading Allen C. Guelzo’s book For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians on and off for a few months. I’m over half way through at this point. So far it has been a rather sad account of the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church and the REC’s formation. Some of the reviewers of the book over at Amazon accuse Guelzo of strong bias in his writing and clearly inaccurate information in the book. I can’t verify that there is inaccurate information, since I know little of the history of the church outside of what I’ve read in Guelzo’s book. I can verify that he often inserts much personal conjecture in the book, which I think adds to the rather depressing nature of the work and makes it hard to read without constantly questioning the information presented. Considering also that Mr. Guelzo defected from the REC some years back and went to the ECUSA, one wonders all the more how much of what is written in the book can be trusted. Nonetheless, I labor on, assuming there is enough truth for it to merit the effort.

On a some what different note, I have on occasion run across things in the book that I’ve found curious enough that they have stuck with me. The following quote, which speaks of George Cummins, the first bishop of the REC, is an example of this:

And more than describing it, Cummins worked to internalize that ideal of Evangelical self-sacrifice. In the summer of 1849, when cholera ravaged Norfolk, Cummins stayed “at his post of duty through all those terrible months, visiting night and day, and ministering not only to his own people but to many poor colored persons, who suffered most from the dread pestilence.” It was this in Cummins that made Charles Edward Cheney remember Cummins’s “sweet and beautiful spirit of sunshine” and that made Benjamin Leacock describe him as “one of the loveliest Christian men I ever knew,” with “the nature of a gentle, refined woman.” (p. 93)

I’ve gone back and read that quote several times, and every time I do, the only words that come to mind are, “Ummm…huh?” I recognize that this is part of what Ann Douglas called the feminization of American culture that began in the 19th century, so I suppose it makes sense. But it baffles me that anyone could ever think to speak of a man that way and think it’s a compliment. One of the key issues here, I think, is the notion that to be religious is to be feminine, and vice-versa. We’re still reaping the harvest of this false idea in a number of different ways, women’s ordination not being the least of these. I immediately think of how common it was for me growing up to see women bringing their children to church without their husbands, even though the husband was living with the family and faithfully working to provide for them. Now in my church most families came as a whole, husband included. But whenever you had a case of only one parent coming, it was inevitably the case that the mother and not the father brought the children. I know of only one case where the mother was not a Christian, and so the father, who was a faithful believer, brought the children. This reality is a symptom to begin with, though it eventually becomes a cause of other problems, such as women’s ordination.

Ann Douglas, who actually wrote a book about this entitled The Feminization of American Culture, talked about these things a few years back in an interview with Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn. In the interview they drew the connection of the rise of Sentimentalism and Feminism with the rise of the rejection of the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the substitutionary atonement, and eternal punishment. These things continue today in certain Evangelical circles. The connection here can also be made to the Revival hymnody and the sappy Contemporary worship music that most of us are forced to endure at some point in our lives today.

I think there is something more subtle in the above quote that should be commented on. It is implied in the analysis of Bp. Cummins’s behaviour that to be a faithful pastor is to be a nurturer, and to be a nurturer is to be feminine, and therefore to be a faithful pastor is to be feminine. I haven’t given any thought of this until just now, so I can’t really comment on it conclusively. I will speculate out loud though, and I might have to change this later, but here we go. I think the error here is coming from two different directions (at least). One is the idea that nurturing is exclusively a feminine domain, and there is no such thing as a masculine-type of nurture. So when a man tries to fill in the role of nurturer that he is required to (for whatever reason and in whatever situation he is required to), the only model he has to operate with is a feminine one, since he has been taught no other model, either in formal teaching or by example. (I can’t say myself that I fully know what a masculine type of nurture looks like, but I’m sure some of my married friends could answer that question.) Also, there is the notion that to be a nurturer is to be constantly physically present. One of the aspects pointed out in the quote is Bp. Cummins’s daily participation in the lives of his parishioners. But we have a tendency to think of men as physically absent. Men are, by the nature of the task they are assigned by God, often absent from the lives of those they are to nurture. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t fulfilling their role as a nurturer. It just means that their role has certain parameters, and that doesn’t include being physically present 24 hours a day. Now I think a father needs to spend time with his children as much as he can, but there are times when he just can’t. And there are also occasions when it might be wise or necessary for him to be physically absent – for instance, the father who is an elder can’t take his children along with him when he goes to a session meeting. And one of the aspects of maturity, whether it be physical or spiritual, is learning to depend on the work of God in one’s own life, putting into practice the things we know and have been taught without someone there to hold our hand (other than the Holy Spirit, of course). One should also consider the extraordinary circumstances under which Bp. Cummins was working, that being the outbreak of cholera. Such situations are unusual, and often require that extra attention be given than is normal. This can be true in the case of fathers as well as pastors.

I will say, though, that I think at this point there is a bit of cleavage in the analogy. While I think the above statements are true, pastors are nurturers that God has given to be there for us until the day we die. This is generally different from the role of fathers in our lives. As soon as a pastor leaves, whether through his own death or for some other reason, God raises up another one for us. There is certainly a sense of separation in which the older a person gets the more the faith becomes their faith, and he must work to sustain it without the constant presence of a guide. But we are never to be without a shepherd. And while a mature man shouldn’t feel the need to have his pastor around at all times, I do think there needs to be some improvement done in this area in the church by which the pastors are more present in their parishioners’ lives. I think the example of the high church traditions should be taken into account here. For one thing, I would like to see a return to daily corporate prayer in the local parish. This is something I plan to blog about in the future, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, the pastors themselves, and not just the other elders and the deacons, need to be visiting the sick and the shut-ins. One of the main reasons for this is so that the people who can’t attend worship on Sundays can partake of communion. I know that for Presbyterians this idea creates a problem in conforming to WCF 29.4, but I think there are ways of approaching this without violation of the Confession at this point and still allowing for a person to commune when they can’t show up on Sundays. I also think pastors should return to an understanding of their duty as a counselor to those in need of one. Generally speaking (notice that I said generally), believers shouldn’t need to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Pastors, here aided by their elders and deacons, should be able to provide for these needs. There are more aspects related to this than I can get into right now. But these things at least would begin to put the pastor back into the role of being not only the resident scholar, but also the shepherd of his flock. This would also serve as a model of masculine nurture, which is especially needed in our day of absent fathers.

Considering these things, I think Bp. Cummins’s practice shown above seemed to be the right one. Not having been around to know the man, I can’t really comment on the comparison of him to “a gentle, refined woman”, other than to say I hope it wasn’t really true. I hope the one making the comment simply didn’t understand the nature of true pastoral work.


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