Identifying the Catholic Men's Movement

By Gelfer, Joseph | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Identifying the Catholic Men's Movement


Gelfer, Joseph, The Journal of Men's Studies


When we think of the Christian men's movement we tend to think of Promise Keepers. Only recently has the diversity of the Christian men's movement(s) begun to emerge. Philip Culbertson (2007) points to the plurality missed by Kenneth Clatterbaugh's (1990, 1997) popular taxonomy of the men's movement outlined in Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity. Culbertson identifies various streams of the Christians men's movement he argues share no common theology, spirituality, or goal. In this paper I highlight one such stream that has gone largely unnoticed: the Catholic men's movement. To a certain extent, Clatterbaugh's failure to identify the diversity of the Christian men's movement is to do with the passing of time. In the second edition of Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity (1997), Clatterbaugh identifies the evangelical men's movement, exemplified by Promise Keepers, as a significant new strand of men's movement not present in the first edition (1990). Certainly in the proceeding decade we can have expected new strands of men's movement. But I believe Clatterbaugh missed a unique aspect of the Christian men's movement: men's ministry.

Men's ministries are a response to two forms of anxiety about the fading of men within the Church: either about men losing power in the Church as a result of increasing "feminine" influence, or a missiological anxiety that fewer men are being brought to Christ. Promise Keepers is, first and foremost, a men's ministry. When we understand that the Christian men's movement is the same as men's ministry we see that the contemporary evangelical men's movement existed well before 1990, and is based in the work of Edwin Louis Cole, who founded the Christian Men's Network in 1977 and wrote popular books with large sales such as Maximized Manhood (1982) and Real Man (2003). (1) Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers claimed, "Edwin Louis Cole modelled the key essentials" (quoted in Andrescik, 2002). For an idea of the scale of men's ministries in the United States, Patrick Morley (2000), "Chairman and CEO" of the popular ministry Man in the Mirror, identified over 34,650 men's ministries. Morley doesn't include Catholic men's ministries in his figures, which is another example of the Catholic men's movement slipping under the radar.

In this paper I hope to achieve two goals. First, I intend to show how Catholic men have played a significant role in what is commonly perceived as the "Christian men's movement" and "masculine spirituality." Two of the most popular books written in what we might call the "Christian mythopoetic years" were written by Catholics: Patrick Arnold's (1991), Wildmen, Warriors and Kings: Masculine Spirituality and the Bible, and Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos' (1992) The Wild Man's Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality. I highlight these books because they show that Catholic voices are far from marginal in the general Christian men's movement. Also, while my intention is to identify the "Catholic men's movement," these writers show there is a significant interaction with other streams of the Christian men's movement. My aim is more to identify a Catholic "flavor" of men's movement rather than engage in an exercise of reification about a singular, distinct Catholic men's movement. Indeed, my second goal of documenting the unfolding of an organized Catholic men's movement reflects this interaction. In 1996, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family identified the success of Promise Keepers and set out a Catholic alternative. As Catholic men's ministries develop from the Committee's initiative we begin to see some aspects that are unique to the Catholic men's movement. By examining both Arnold and Rohr and Martos' mythopoetic texts and the Catholic men's ministries we can see where Catholic masculine performances are repetitions of the wider men's movement and where they differ.

Catholic Mythopoeticism

The popularity of the mythopoetic movement in the 1990s found a complement in the general Christian men's movement. …

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