Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Calling, Devotion, and Transformation: Men Embodying Spirituality at a Protestant Seminary

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Calling, Devotion, and Transformation: Men Embodying Spirituality at a Protestant Seminary

Article excerpt

In many Protestant churches, the clerical estate was "sacredly male" (Carroll & McMillan, 2006, p. 66) until the late twentieth century. At the same time as the barriers to the ordination of women fell in many churches, conceptions of ministerial leadership were also shifting away from the minister as a religious authority (preaching orthodox doctrine from the pulpit and rebuking straying sinners) to the minister as a humanistic professional (Kleinman, 1984) who sympathized with congregants but did not chide them for moral lapses. Such ministers "treat their clients like peers" (p. 4). By the turn of the millennium, several Protestant churches in the United States had been ordaining women as ministers for more than 20 years. Because of the partial acceptance of feminism's claims for equality for men and women, Christian men in mainline Protestant churches now practice a range of masculinities. While some men take part in men's movements (Gelfer, 2009) that espouse soft patriarchy (Wilcox, 2004), others do not. In 1996, a presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), upheld a transgendered pastor's status as ordained (Swenson, 2010) when the minister began to live as a woman. In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians, and in the process invented a church law category of lifelong monogamous same-sex unions ("A vote for gay clergy," 2009). Because of the now porous boundaries between churches, Protestant Christians embrace a wider variety of spiritual practices, as well. Presbyterian seminaries in the United States conduct spiritual formation programs that invite all comers to read scripture and spiritual classics, meditate, and acquire skills for spiritual direction (Columbia Theological Seminary, n.d.). Men in mainline Protestant churches have access to an abundance of resources suggesting how they can be faithful men, often in ways that explicitly affirm "dying to old masculine gender roles and rising again into new ways of being men"(Culbertson, 2002a, p. xii). Spirituality may be robustly material, "not grounded in abstract and airy ideas, but in elementary and concrete empirical perception--i.e., in things we hear and see, smell and taste" (Tj0rhom, 2009, p. 18). Indeed, Christian spirituality can be rethought in terms other than the dichotomy of soul and body. "It is time to admit it is all dust; we are dust, flesh and blood." The pertinent question is "what it might be for a self-conscious bag of dust and water to have something called a spiritual life" (Hughes, 2008, p. 55). Such proposals are consistent with phenomenology's basic contention that a person "taken as a concrete being is not a psyche joined to an organism" but rather "the body is our general medium for having a world" (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, pp. 101, 169). Whether a form of spirituality appeals primarily to existing traditions like Tj0rhom and Hughes, or to queer theory (Gelfer, 2009), spirituality is now frequently envisioned as embodied human experience of the divine.

Given this multiplicity of spiritual and gender practices, what sort of spirituality do Christian men actually have? This paper explores the embodied spiritual practices of men in one Presbyterian seminary in the United States, pseudonymous New Creation Theological Seminary (NCTS), from a phenomenological point of view. Put another way, this paper explores how spirituality operates in the life world of male seminarians as one element among several. Such a study sheds light on the actual spirituality of men who will take leadership roles in churches. The research reported here benefits board members and administrators interested in making theological schools fulfill their missions to train religious leaders (Aleshire, 2008), those concerned for discovering spiritual practices that help men to fulfill their vocations "as religious beings" (Dittes, 1996, p. xiv) and those who wish to encourage men to engage in spiritual practices that do not reproduce patriarchy. …

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