Monday, February 14, 2011

The gendered church pedagogy: Doers, hearers of the Word

I'm reading blogs and education articles about the developmental differences between boys and girls.  I haven't done the research, but I'm certain that the nature/nurture debate is central to differences in findings.  Certainly we can acknowledge observable differences, regardless of the cause or source, between girls and boys, men and women, that persist into adulthood.  Such differences, acknowledged, change the way schools are run; extending such views into adult institutions, however, is culturally forbidden.  Charges of sexism would abound - and yet, strangely, many churches are somewhat immune to such charges (at least internally).  Men's and women's groups abound, PromiseKeepers and Ladies bible studies, are found, unquestioned, in Protestant churches everywhere. I care less about the ethics of this than the pedagogical implications for such segregations (or the lack of such segregations in certain churches) and all other forms teaching the church engages in, segregated or not.

How 'gendered' is the pedagogy of any given program/format/medium and how does that influence an individual and group hermeneutic?  Is a gendered response to that hermeneutic important or merely interesting? This is not about feminist theology.  This is not about the role of women in the church.  It is about the accepted forms and media for teaching within the church and whether these have implicit or explicit pedagogical biases toward a gender.  If they do, how does this affect each gender's reading of the Bible and understanding of faith matters?  And if I may be so bold, can we prescribe changes to ameliorate pedagogical weaknesses that either distort the Message or that impair the ability of a given group (gender) to assimilate the Message into their (gendered) framework/worldview?
Are these questions worth asking?
When we read about 'doers' of the Word, is there an inherent masculine expectation buried within our reading of 'do'?  When we think about 'hearing' or 'receiving' the Word, do we read something feminine into that?  Do we shrug off certain beliefs and practices because 'that's for women', but couch it in other terms like 'experiential', 'emotional', 'relational', etc?  It is convenient to divide the Bible up into the part for sick people, the part for conspiracy theorists, the part for do-gooders, the part for those with bad self-esteem, the part for women, the part for men, the part for children, the part for Pentecostals, the part for sabbatarians....Is it possible that this mental division reflects pedagogical practice and/or vice versa?  There are pragmatic rationale for dividing men and women into different groups for bible study, but is there a biblical rationale for differing modes, methods or even content? Do men need football analogies, do women need relationship analogies?  Is there anything distracting in 'gendering' our analogies or explanations?  Is there a difference between a gendered understanding of doctrine and a gendered doctrine?
I realize I am addressing 2 things: First, the fact that the way things are taught may privilege or alienate a gender and/or be received differently by each gender, and Second, the topics of teaching that are chosen in segregated and non-segregated settings may privilege or alienate a gender and may de-emphasize or over-emphasize particular doctrines or concepts for gender's sake.
So many questions, so little motivation to answer them.


  1. I'll probably slip into thinking about women in ministry, but here's my two cents:

    You are saying that the model we use for teaching (without the explicit intent to do so) might favor men or women. Yes?

    This reminds me of a book I read "Metaphors we live by" which talks about how we speak about, and engage in argumentation through the metaphor of war. The authors wonder what argumentation might look like if the metaphor were dance or something else. Not only would we speak differently, but we would expect different outcomes just as the outcomes of war and dance only make sense within that metaphor.

    This might be a helpful way forward. What metaphor is inherent in our teaching in the church? Does that metaphor come with biases against women?


  2. How's this for a war metaphor gone wrong: