One evening I was speaking to a group in upstate New York. I posed the rhetorical question, “Why do men flock to Islam, while avoiding Christianity?” I didn’t expect an answer, but one woman blurted out, “If Christianity required women to walk behind their husbands and wear burquas, then we’d have a church full of men.”
So is that why Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion? Must a religion oppress women to attract men? Why do men flock to Islam, while avoiding Christianity? I posed this question to David DeMeo, professor of Middle Eastern and Arabic studies at Harvard. I sum up his response this way: Islam is a religion that delivers results for men. Too often, Christianity does not.
According to Professor DiMeo, “Islam is a religion that produces results. Islam promises to give you a family immune from divorce, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol addiction. The statistics bear this out. A man looking to shepherd his family today notices that Muslim girls don’t go around in halter-tops and navel rings and their women don’t watch “Desperate Housewives.”
“Because Islam delivers what fathers and husbands want for their families, strong men gravitate toward it. Therefore, it becomes male heavy,” DiMeo says.
The professor believes that Islam’s emphasis on responsibility and accountability is attractive to men. “It does impose clear behavioral demands and hold men to task,” he said. “These are primarily in areas that society today bemoans a lack of responsibility – alcohol, sex, parenting, etc. I think this explains why the religion is growing so much among populations that are seen as beset by moral crises in these areas — prisoners, lower economic classes, and minorities.”
I agree with Professor DiMeo. Islam’s unbending moral code, its five pillars and even its reputation for ferocity are attractive to men at a gut level. A man thinks, “Here is a faith that’s going to hold me to a higher standard. Men are dying for this.” Furthermore, Islam appeals to the kind of man who is repulsed by the soft, accepting and relational faith pushed in many churches today.
So the question for Christianity is this: Can our faith “deliver” for men without oppressing women in the process? I believe it can. Here are some ideas:
- A clear mission for every church. Most church mission statements are rambling and non-specific. Men are drawn to clarity and brevity. If they’re going to give up their weekend, they want to know why.
- High moral standards. Family men are looking for a church that’s different from the world they see on TV. This is why conservative churches are growing and liberal ones are dying. Few men are drawn to squishy morals. They want a church built on a firm, time-tested bedrock.
- Men need help and backup enforcing morals at home. Children today are bombarded with immoral messages. Men feel powerless against MTV, South Park and the Internet. Churches should train men how to deal with these situations – how to say no to sin in a loving way.
- Men need the support of other men. Most churches offer nothing in the way of men’s ministry or small groups. What a tragedy. Although it’s initially hard to engage men in a small group, once they do get involved, they’re usually hooked. Their faith deepens. Their lives change.
We don’t need to put women in burquas to bring men back to church. But we do need to deliver what we promise. Men need to know that Christianity works, at least as well as the alternatives.