Complementarianism’s Bromance with Modernism, Part 2
Note: If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here.
Okay, so in the early 20th century, men were seen as creatures of action and decision — churches were not. How could churches accommodate or, more ideally, harness such red-blooded vigor and mental fortitude?
Well, American business had some ideas about that.
While men were thinking about men, they were also thinking about science and profit. The American public devoured popular theories of improvement — both in the workplace and in the self — on a large scale. Beginning in the late 19th century, the study of scientific precision in all areas of resource expenditure, also known as efficiency research, came into view of labor theorists. By the start of the twentieth century, efficiency had swelled to a full-fledged life philosophy, with authors offering methods for governing one’s business, personal health, household, and marriage by the tenants of optimal efficiency.
America owed its fixation on efficiency in large part to the work of Frederick Taylor, an engineer and production manager in the late nineteenth century. Taylor developed a series of best practices that he dubbed “scientific management,” which operated on the axiom that the most effective business model focused on providing the maximum profit for the employer and employee alike. Taylor’s 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management was soon co-opted as the manifesto for what historian Samuel Haber referred to as “an efficiency craze,” a never-ending quest to find the “one best way” to do any given task. Efficiency was prescribed by cultural influencers as the medicine which would help cure the ills of society.¹ Principles of efficiency were adaptable to countless aspects of life, they were simple to apply and understand, and — most importantly — they were marketable on a massive scale.²
Haber, along with James Moorehead, have pointed out an essential element to scientific management’s widespread appeal: efficiency’s ethical appeal. Principles of efficiency allowed Americans to believe in the possibility of class harmony in the midst of friction between demanding employers and disillusioned employees. It promised the right allocation of resources, producing results to promote the welfare of society and usher in a golden age of American progress.³
Protestants saw the benefit of scientific management for religion almost immediately. For churches, efficiency offered the moral promise of stewardship, of activism, and of interdenominational cooperation. The philosophy of efficiency found a warm embrace in the burgeoning social gospel movement, the influential pastor Walter Rauschenbusch identifying religion’s “social efficiency” as an essential criterion for the influence of modern Christian action.⁴ By the mid 1910’s a new branch of religious expertise had established itself, replete with authors whose books were aimed specifically at parsonage bookshelves. In 1911, the Efficiency Society of New York established an active religious arm, the Church Efficiency Committee, headed by engineer-turned-minister Charles Stelzle. Shailer Mathews of the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote prodigiously on the uses of efficiency analysis in pastoral ministry and missions.⁵ Mathews offered numerous “professional reading courses” on church efficiency, sponsored by the American Institute of Sacred Literature and advertised frequently in periodicals such as Biblical World. Others, like Albert McGarrah, carved out a niche as professional church efficiency specialists, writing and lecturing throughout the country in order to assist churches in reforming their programs around McGarrah’s axioms of efficient ministry. Still others, laymen like Roger Babson, applied their business acumen and enterpreneurial success to the question of religion. In Religion and Business, Babson argued that religion was the most effective means to the end of personal achievement. Religion was “the greatest factor in developing real efficiency” for the values that made men great in business — faith, industry, initiative, and courage — were at their roots “spiritual qualities.”⁶
For many pastors with shrinking congregations and waning public influence, efficiency became one of the highest measures of moral good. It promised tools to increase the size and effectiveness of the congregation simply through obtaining scientific data and acting on the findings. It was a way to ensure that given resources — including time — were utilized in a noble way. Frederick Agar connected efficiency explicitly with sanctification. “It is an axiom of religion that the proper type of spiritual life will tolerate only efficient, up-to-date business methods in connection with all that is done. The truly spiritual life does all things decently and in order, owes no man anything, much less robs God or condones such robbery.”⁷ Scientifically precise leadership became seen as a tangible mark of stewardship by which pastors could imagine Christ affirming, “well done, good and faithful servant.”⁸
The various efficiency initiatives represented in Protestant literature of the early twentieth century provide an intersection between two coincident cultural fads, both of which impacted conceptions and practical iterations of the local church. The fad of reinvigorated American masculinity, fashioned in the image of the modern businessman and all-around go-getter, manifested itself in church life through coalitions like the Men and Religion Forward, as well as in various publications aimed at igniting a manly fire under pastors and religiously disaffected men. Simultaneously, the efficiency movement gave churches practical and sweeping applications in the areas of worship, governance, and outreach, giving local churches a sense of urgency and practicality. It was this sense of urgency that, it was surmised, could pique the interest of men, thereby reinforcing efficiency through appealing to gendered tropes of the era.
One of the chief aims of the Men and Religion Forward Movement was to promote efficiency in the nation’s churches through emphasizing the “practical” elements of religion.⁹ It was assumed that businessmen would recoil at the idea of joining a religious organization whose priorities were spread so thin, whose infrastructure was so disjointed, and whose methods did not appear up to date with modern business theory.¹⁰ As early as 1912 the movement, utilizing principles taken from Taylorism, organized commissions and did extensive research similar to Carroll’s, but with men specifically in mind. This project culminated in a series of findings which confirmed the relative paucity of men’s involvement in established congregations.¹¹ One of the primary areas where the Men and Religion Forward Movement saw room for growth and promise for lasting change was in the cultivation of proper religious boyhood. Here was an ideal location to challenge the efficiency of the church and promote masculine ideals simultaneously, for in matters of children’s ministry the church was more of a blank slate. Sunday school, of course, had a major impact on the Sunday life of the church, but Sunday school was a more malleable institution than Sunday worship, and leaders were more keen to entertain novel methods to ensure effectiveness. Furthermore, highly efficient organizations were already in place which the church could draw upon; the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Knights of King Arthur, and numerous other organizations worked specifically with and for adolescents, and were already implementing best practices according to scientific management principles.¹²
Efficiency did not totally preclude women, of course. Women too could be — and ought to be — effective in their various spheres of religious service. In fact, experts often saw the inclusion of women as an essential element to getting things done, for the men’s ideal white woman had her afternoons free to make house calls, distribute literature, or help with other activities that working men were too busy to attend to.¹³ Moreover, more progressive efficiency experts saw the practicality of having a responsible woman fill in the gaps for the sake of fluidity of motion in local churches: “‘But suppose the church is small and has only the one capable man in the membership?,’” one author anticipates, “Then use capable women. Or if the office is really a man’s task, use the woman temporarily while a young man is being trained for the place. ‘But if there are no young men to be trained?’ Then pray the Lord of the harvest to send you one while you go on using the capable woman.”¹⁴
As the quote from Agar above suggests, women could be useful but men were normative when it came to church leadership and overall capability. Even as certain efficiency experts conceded the necessity of women as actors in the system, the marked rise of concern for the church to be efficient in all of its doings was in part fueled by a perceived crisis of masculinity in American Christianity such that tending to efficiency was one of the primary means of reinvigorating an absentee male population. An efficient church, one that actually got things done, was a church in which men would desire to be included. Conversely, the church with few to no high-capacity, successful, visionary men would ipso facto be inefficient due to lack of leadership, management and financial expertise, and pointed resolve. “Since God is the Creator of all of man,” Albert McGarrah surmised, “business instinct and administrative ability are among His creations. Since God is the source of the brains and laws and forces which make inventions and management possible and give them their value, these talents are just as sacred as the talents of oratory or prayer.”¹⁵
In fact, the most effective movements of religion were backed and empowered by men of reasoning and calculation, said McGarrah: “The larger results which have always accompanied business-like management in the world of religion by such organizers and systematizers as Calvin and Wesley and Paul and Billy Sunday prove that God still expects faith and system to go hand in hand in the Church on earth as they do in heaven, and that spirituality and practicality are mutually helpful and dependent rather than antagonistic.”¹⁶
A lack of productivity — which is to say lack of spiritual growth and faithfulness — went hand-in-hand with lack of intellectual rigor and critical assessment. American churches had been plagued by appeals exclusively to sentimentality and emotional introspection, which characterized the feminine in society, and a dearth of grit and mental stimulus. Henry Cope summarized the situation as he saw it, remarking that
The speculative side of the religious life of men differs from that of women in that the man finds pleasure often in the philosophical and abstract problems of religion, while to the women all such problems are personal. He exercises himself in theology, biblical, historical, or theoretical; she in experience, in the consideration and discussion of the life of feeling and relationships, as she knows it. Ordinarily, and broadly, the emphasis with the man is intellectual; with the woman, emotional.¹⁷
The problem was not that women were active in the church, but that the church, whether inherently or accidentally, utilized methods and emphasized aspects of religion that appealed only to women.¹⁸
Such a diagnosis implies that churchmen in the early twentieth century wished to reignite the fierce masculinity of their fathers while simultaneously repudiating their fathers’ religion. The Civil War, the expeditions of Louis and Clark, the rough and tumble expansion into the West — Progressive Era men glorified everything about their American ancestral fathers except their Great Awakenings and camp meetings. In short, the idealized American man of the Progressive Era longed for adventure, action, and success. He might sing songs about the romance of youth but balked at hymns about the embrace of a Savior. So Henry Cope:
In how many hymns can a man join without mental and conscientious reservations? Does a healthy, vigorous man really desire to “rise in the arms of faith”? If he is conscious of a real work to do in this world, does he really desire to “rise to realms unknown”? Is he not ordinarily conscious of the effeminacy of “Let me to thy bosom fly” and all that the hymns say about whispering, sleeping, resting, and sighing?¹⁹
By dissecting the experiences of their pre-industrial forebears, magnifying the escapade but casting aside religious affection, men refashioned for themselves a golden age, and they sought to make their religion conform to that picture. It was a picture that glorified a church of action, one that stimulated men’s minds and hands in specific ways reflective of the idealized discourse surrounding the American workforce. The church, such as it was, was markedly not the church for men,
But had the church given even a superficial genetic study to man; had her workers looked back and seen this being as he really has been, noted even a little of the large heritage of tradition, custom, and habit that is his, seen him active in the chase, a man of deed, bending the bow, or chipping the arrow, pushing into wildernesses, dreaming dreams and making them into deeds, long ago we would have seen the cause of his disaffection and the last of the attempt to make this creature of deeds sit still for long and do nothing, and expect him to enjoy the process.²⁰
Men could not agree on what typified the essential male religious experience: does he relish theology, or does he find it impractical? Does he approach women in church service pragmatically, or does he hold a firm line of male-only leadership? Is it the precision of business or the thrill of adventure that captures his imagination? What all churchmen could agree on, however, was the need for increased productivity in the church, the likes of which had never been seen. Such productivity would inherently attract men who could in turn, if convinced of the profitability of church, increase the church’s efficiency by their participation. A man’s free time was a scarce resource so the efficient church ministry would “see to it [that] when [men] place one of their valuable evenings at the disposal of the church, that every minute is profitably employed. Remember that strong competitors are bidding most skillfully for their idle time and second-rate [ministry] advertisements will little avail nor long abide.”²¹
Adhering to efficiency practices meant further compartmentalization of the church’s ministries and resources. A deliberate goal in this was to group men with other men, relying on the “iron sharpens iron” principle, one church strategist proposing that since men “in the friction and co-operation of business” succeeded, then generally speaking,“in the tonic atmosphere of homogeneous groups, men expand, their powers push out and are developed.”²² Thus, even as religious thinkers and efficiency experts encouraged the sociality and spirituality of men, these were but a means to an end; the goal was an increase in productivity.
Efficiency strategists saw male participation as vital to the renewed life of the church, and that male participation was molded by similar appeals to the prototypical, golden-age male experience. The religious ideals that such strategists prescribed sidestepped the variegated religious expressions of past men in order to project a set of presupposed universal, “genetic” elements of manhood they wished to achieve for themselves. This contributed to a church model in which men with high capacity and success — the very men perceived to be bored with institutional religion — were regarded as invaluable to the church, and therefore to be pursued at all cost. The assumption arose with both tenacious passion and “scientific” backing, that if the church wanted to progress and produce, she needed keen, capable, and enthusiastic men; on the other side of the coin, in order for the men to be interested in church, the church had to emphasize action over emotion, precision over preaching, and the temporal over the ethereal. In sum, for the church to be effective, so the experts said, she had to think, act, and talk like a modern man.
Now, of course, there are monumental differences between the male-flavored efficiency craze of pre-WWII Protestantism and post-second wave feminism complementarianism.
John Piper and Kevin DeYoung would scoff at the idea that male leadership is primarily about efficiency. They may even decry the church being run like a corporation.
Most complementarian pastors elevate doctrine and preaching to the tippy-top of the list of concerns, while many modernists teased throwing out sermons for their lack of efficiency.
BUT there are some interesting similarities. Most notable, of course, is a shared sense of anxiety about the lack of invested men in the church. Why is that a problem? Certainly modernists and complementarians share an impulse that religion is good for the soul, even though they’d parse that out in very different ways. But perhaps more fundamentally, they share an impulse that the dearth of men is bad for business. A church without mature laymen stepping up to lead is a church fighting with one hand tied behind its back, because men are thought to have certain innate qualities — they were created to lead. Moreover, modernists and complementarians have argued that the church veered into a feminized form — thus, it is only natural that men are not comfortable or useful.
Second, these innate qualities could be categorized as organizational qualities. Take a few characteristics from John Piper’s list in his 2014 The Marks of a Spiritual Leader as an example, and see if they don’t ring in the same timbre as Fosdick’s The Manhood of the Master.
- Restless: Spiritual leaders have a holy discontentment with the status quo. Leaders have a hankering to change, to move, to reach out, to grow, and to take a group or an institution to new dimensions of ministry.
- Thick-Skinned: If you begin to lead others, you will be criticized. No one will be a significant spiritual leader if his aim is to please others and seek their approval. Spiritual leaders do not seek the praises of men. They seek to please God. If criticism disables us, we will never make it as spiritual leaders.
- A Hard Thinker: A leader must be one who, when he sees a set of circumstances, thinks about it. He tests all things with his mind and holds fast to what is good.
- Organized and efficient: A leader does not like clutter. He likes to know where and when things are for quick access and use. His favorite shape is the straight line, not the circle. He groans in meetings that do not move from premises to conclusions but rather go in irrelevant circles. When something must be done he sees a three-step plan for getting it done and lays it out…He sees ways to use time to the full and shapes his schedule to maximize his usefulness.
Or take Owen Strachan’s 2006 blog post detailing the reasons why men are more suited, not only for church leadership, but for civic leadership as well.
Men…were made to be strong, and so we are best suited for military service and law enforcement work. We were made to lead our fellow citizens, equipped as we are with qualities that befit the ardors of public leadership — toughness, a more analytical nature, a less emotional nature…
As you peruse the literature dedicated to male headship in the church, the theological treatments may rest on the mystery of God-given roles, but the practical, for-men’s-eyes-only type literature makes clear that there is a pragmatic purpose that is very comfortable grounding organizational leadership in traits supposedly embedded in every man.
It is these traits, and the inability to use them or the necessity of stuffing them down, that is thought to make men queasy in traditional church (in the modernists’ case) or modern worship services (in complementarians’ case). There is little agreement on what types of things have kept men away; is it too much doctrine or a lack of doctrine? Traditional hymns or the loss of hymnody? But there is a historical presupposition that men are staying away, and for manly reasons.²³ It is here, in this masculine anxiety, biblicists like Strachan, Johnson, and Piper find themselves strange bedfellows with their earlier modernist counterparts.
¹ James H. Moorhead, World Without End: Mainstream American Protestant Visions of the Last Things, 1880–1925 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 125.
² Massive amounts of money were poured into efficiency research in the 1910s. The family unit was a prime subject for efficiency research. For examples, see Carl Ramus, Marriage and Efficiency (New York: Knickerbocker, 1922); Charles G. Kerley, Short Talks with Young Mothers: On the Management of Infants and Young Children (New York: Putnam, 1909); Henry F. Cope, Religious Education in the Family (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1915). Examples of efficiency’s impact on health and hygiene include Francis G. Benedict, et al, Human Vitality and Efficiency Under Prolonged Restricted Diet (Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1919). For an example of a vast undertaking, see Andrew Carnegie’s funding of the Symposium on “Simplified Spelling,” in Jonathan Zimmerman, “Simplified Spelling and the Cult of Efficiency in the ‘Progressive’ Era,” Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 9 (2010): 365–394.
³ Moorhead, 125.
⁴ See Walter Rauschenbusch, The Social Principles of Jesus (New York: Woman’s Press, 1917), 131–150. Rauschenbusch turned to the question of efficiency constantly. It was a primary interpretive instrument in his reading of scripture. He remarked in The Social Principles of Jesus, 140, that “the Old Testament prophets also were in opposition to the priestly system of their time because it used up the religious interest of the people in ceremonial performances without ethical outcome. It diverted spiritual energy, by substituting lower religious requirements for the one fundamental thing which God required — righteousness in social and polit ical life. They insisted over and over that Jehovah wants righteousness and wants nothing else. Their aim was to make religion and ethics one and inseparable. They struck for the social efficiency of religion.” See also, Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York: Macmillan, 1913), 201 ff.
⁵ For a summary of Mathew’s career as it regards scientific management, see Moorhead, 132–135.
⁶ Roger W. Babson, Religion and Business (New York: Macmillan, 1920), 96.
⁷ Frederick A. Agar, Church Officers: A Study in Efficiency (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1918), 16.
⁸ See William H. Bates, “The Divine Administration of Rewards,” The Bible Champion 24 (1918): 297–99.
⁹ Putney, 455–57.
¹⁰ Samuel W. Dike, “Shall Churches Increase Their Efficiency by Scientific Methods?,” The American Journal of Theology 16 (1912): 30.
¹¹ For the full set of charts and findings, see Clarence Augustus Barbour, Making Religion Efficient (New York: Association Press, 1912), 203–228.
¹² Clarence Augustus Barbour, Making Religion Efficient (New York: Association Press, 1912), 41.
¹³ Albert F. McGarrah, Modern Church Management (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1917), 126.
¹⁴ Frederick A. Agar, Church Officers: A Study in Efficiency (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1918), 77.
¹⁵ McGarrah, 21.
¹⁷ Henry Frederick Cope, The Efficient Layman (Philadelphia: Griffith and Roland, 1911), 7.
¹⁸ So says Fred Burton Smith, called “the prophet” of the Men and Religion Forward Movement by Clarence Barbour. In his A Man’s Religion (New York: Association Press, 1913), he recalls being on numerous religious panels. “I sat in the sessions of a convention where men and women delegates should have been present in equal numbers, had the issues been presented in a manner to make them of equal interest to both. Out of a total attendance of about four hundred, fifty-seven men were present. This is characteristic of conventions and conferences where both sexes are represented. This statement must not be understood as disparaging the keen interest of women and girls in Christian work. Better the hope and prayer that their number be multiplied rather than lessened. But it does indicate where the breakdown is occurring, and calls for wisdom in the extension of definite organizations for strengthening the masculinity of organized Christianity.”
¹⁹ Cope, 24. See also Babson, 104.
²⁰ Cope, 21–22. See also Putney, 457.
²¹ Tremaine, 92; emphasis original.
²² Cope, 10.
²³ This presupposition — or the feminization thesis — is flawed, and has been effectively debunked, beginning with Anne Braude’s foundational essay, “Women’s History Is American Religious History.”