I am grateful to Alex Chediak for offering me an interview about Where Are All the Brothers? (part 1, part 2). In the interview I talk of how African American men seem to represent a largely unreached and forgotten mission field.
In reply to the post, I received the email below from a friend. I have edited only what is necessary to conceal the identity of the writer. I appreciate his thoughts.
I am astonished at the similarities between the African American church and the church here in [Appalachia]. It is interesting that you posted this now. I have been thinking about the issue of the absence of men in the church a lot in the last couple of days.
I work for a natural gas and oil pipeline company. It is a very blue-collar job. I talk to guys at work and it isn’t that they are violently opposed to the gospel or even that they at some level don’t understand their need of the gospel. It is however an odd fit to imagine them in the church. They would be an odd fit even if they were converted and weren’t foul mouthed and hard drinking.
What I am seeing is that we have a church culture issue here. Guys who grow up in the church look like sissies and guys outside the church rightly identify that there is a cultural defect in those guys. As always I feel like I am between two worlds. I am from [this Appalachian state] and yet my last name isn’t (that is a very big deal). I am working a hard physical job and I am educated. I have been an Appalachian in various parts of the country—which is to be an oddball. So I know an oddball when I see one. The oddball in my culture is the church, and church guys.
In saying this I am not trying to deny or wish away the work of the Spirit in sanctification. Church guys should be different, but it shouldn’t be an artificial transition from blue-collar to white-collar. It is a transition that seems bizarre in this context. I have nothing against white-collar guys being white-collar [the] guys they should be, and it is not unmanly. But it is an offensive against a person’s dignity to imply that they must change their culture to be a Christian, or a proper Christian. This is the same old missions question of contextualization and we are missing it at home.
Here men just find church to be a very strange thing that women and the bookworm boys do. I wonder if there are converted men at home who feel like they just don’t fit because they are not polished enough.
It struck me this morning that the answer may not be that the church should reflect the culture, but rather that the church should not reflect it – it should just be. This is difficult to express. What I mean is that if there are ten men from ten different backgrounds including culture, race, economics, etc., they should not be conformed to each other or to the pastor or to the rest of the congregation. They should be being conformed to Christ. Things will change as the men mingle together, but it should not be to become like a goody-goody bookworm if that isn’t what they are. If it is what they are then praise the Lord. But so long as the church is bringing a culture to the table the church is bringing offense, and short-circuiting a lot of usefulness and variety within the body.
Most men aren’t going to argue with the church about what the church is like; they are simply going to feel that it is weird and stay away. We should be weird but we shouldn’t be weirder than the gospel itself makes us.