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Too Many Altos and Sopranos? Embrace it.

Too Many Altos and Sopranos? Embrace it.

You've probably noticed that more women attend church services than men. The Pew Research Forum recently released a report confirming these observations and showing that women tend to be more religious than men in most places across the globe. In particular, American Christianity amplifies this tendency: Christian women report daily prayer at much higher rates than Christian men (75% vs. 61%), and the same holds true for weekly attendance at religious services (50% vs. 44%)—a greater than average gap for Christians in comparable countries.

Take these tendencies, couple them with the fact that American women tend to participate in social singing more than men, and what do you get for a typical volunteer, “come one, come all” church choir? More upper voice than lower ones.

While you may have heard music directors complain about the lack of tenors and basses in their choirs (or made those complaints yourself), I think we should embrace this tendency as an outworking of our faith.

Why do women tend to be more religious than men?

Researchers have many nature/nurture theories about this disparity—for instance, some posit that it could be due to comparatively higher levels of testosterone and resultant lower levels of risk aversion in men, while others propose “traditional gender roles, lower rates of female workforce participation and national economic structures.”

But for Christianity, sociologist David Voas points to one of the key features of the faith: “Christianity presents itself as a religion of the powerless: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ Depending on your point of view, that’s appealingly feminine or appallingly effeminate.” 

Why would Voas bring up powerlessness as a reason for women to be drawn to Christianity? Because in America, as in most places in the world, women (and children for that matter) are more likely than men to be powerless in the first place. Women have less money, less education, less social capital in general. And Christianity doesn't just present itself as a religion of the powerless, it champions that identity. 

This isn't a bad thing

Some folks see the disparity as a negative thing—something that church leadership should try to correct by molding the faith into something that’s more appealing to men.

In my own Orthodox circles, sometimes people brag at the rate of male participation (which seems to be higher than in Christian circles more generally) and attribute it to all sorts of “red-blooded” things like beards, male-only clergy, and a profoundly virile understanding of Jesus.

But it isn’t a bad thing that women are more drawn to Christianity than men. It isn’t something that has to be corrected. Rather, it's simply a practical result of Christian teachings.

Christianity champions the powerless 

This is the faith of the disempowered and marginalized. The naked, sick, and thirsty. The poor. The friendless. 

This is the faith that teaches that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of God, but that it's "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

As it happens, I work with a congregation that is far wealthier and more educated than average. This social capital, this collective power, is not something that enables our faith—Jesus said, over and over, that being powerful hinders it.  Rather, we have to set aside our power so that we can become like children,  the most humble and disempowered of them all:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Welcoming the effects of our faith

St. Paul had this to say about those who were drawn to Christianity: "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."

Or, as this wonderfully blunt paraphrase puts it: “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?”

In our music programs, how can we welcome the outworking of our faith? How can we actively support those with less power in our culture? The nobodies that God deliberately chose? 

And what does it look like—what does it sound like—when we humble ourselves like little children?

P.S. Curious what other sociological reports have to say about American Christianity? Check out this series on the National Congregations Survey.

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