Answering Cardinal Raymond Burke on Feminism

Raymond Burke

Photo from the CT article

I just saw Vicky Beeching tweet a link to this article at Christianity Today entitled Feminism to blame for men’s crisis of confidence, says cardinal. I’m sure you can tell by the title that there are some ridiculous ideas presented here.

Marginalized Men

How about this one, alongside referring to men as “marginalized”?

Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men.

Let’s be clear: men are not marginalized. In fact, Burke represents one of several denominations in which men are exclusively allowed to be leaders (at least in any central up-front capacity, not to dismiss the valuable roles that women are allowed to play in Catholicism). The opposite of being on the margins is being central and men are central in almost all churches  – the only denominational I can think of with a female majority currently acting in pastoral roles is the United Church of Canada.

It is true that many churches other than the most patriarchal denominations have more women than men in the pews for an average worship service. There might be some practical reasons for this like men generally not liking to sing as much (probably nurture rather than nature). There might be some more serious things like the average man being more action-oriented rather than sit-and-worship-oriented (nature vs nurture debatable). But the biggest reason I am sure why women have always – through all of Christian history – been drawn more to Christianity than men is precisely because the Gospel is beautiful to the marginalized and foolishness to the powerful because it empowers the marginalized. One early critic of Christianity even famously wrote it off by saying that it was a religion for slaves and women.

Is there some truth to what he is saying? Maybe. It’s probably true that we spend a lot more time talking about women’s issues than men’s and that does result in some men’s issues being ignored. We have issues like combatting the constant message that we are supposed to be violent to be “real men,” but that doesn’t exactly help his case because feminism is trying to help us there, too. Other than perhaps some physical health issues, I’m not sure how many others I can think of that are unique to or primarily about men.

Distant Fathers

We need that very close and affirming relationship with the mother, but at the same time, it is the relationship with the father, which is of its nature more distant but not less loving, which disciplines our lives. It teaches a child to lead a selfless life, ready to embrace whatever sacrifices are necessary to be true to God and to one another.

Yes, he is actually encouraging men to be distant from their children. This is wrong. Distance does not discipline our lives. Being involved in our children’s lives disciplines our and their lives. They learn to be selfless by seeing us being selfless, not mothers being selfless while fathers are distant.

Men Afraid of Feminists

I recall in the mid-1970’s, young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women. These divisions between women and men have gotten worse since then.

To cite Jesus in Matthew 19, if you’re frightened by the radical mutually-submissive nature of marriage, don’t get married. Easy solution. Considering the high value Catholicism places on celibacy, I would have thought this wouldn’t be too radical of a thought.

Men as Judge

Confronting sin is central to being able to love one another. How does a man love? He loves by obeying the Ten Commandments. After Vatican II, that great call to love by confronting sin was lost, leading to the most horrible abuses of individuals, abusing themselves or others, the break down of family life, a precipitous drop in Mass attendance and the abandonment of the Sacrament of Penance. We must restore the sense of sin to men, for men to recognise their sins and express deep sorrow for their sins

Confronting sin is not central to being able to love one another. Discerning sin together is important, yes, regardless of your sex. If confronting sin is central and he says that men – only men – must do so, then he is suggesting that women are either incapable of love or at least should not be encouraged to love. That’s a problem. Jesus didn’t differentiate that the great commandment of loving God and loving neighbour only applies if you have a penis. Burke is bringing in a false dichotomy between “truth” and love when we see in Jesus that he is the Truth and that he is absolute love incarnate, therefore real truth is love, not legal decrees over the supposedly-lesser sex.

Also, you’ve got a bigger problem if you think men are avoiding confession and penance because you haven’t succeeded at making them feel guilty enough. Confession and penance should be accomplishing the exact opposite: reminding you that you are radically loved by God and a part of the Church even when you do screw up. Guilt and fear don’t work because love casts out fear.

The Zero Sum Game

The attitude expressed here isn’t an unusual one, unfortunately. It is based in the idea that feminism is a zero sum game, that is that one group of people (men) must lose in order for another group (women) to win. But the Gospel should be freeing us from these us-and-them, winners-and-losers ways of looking at the world. We shouldn’t be asking how to defend men from women who want equality. We should be taking the opportunity to learn that by joining in their freedom, we become free ourselves.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.