Charles H. Lippy, Do Real Men Pray? Images of the Christian Man and Male Spirituality in White Protestant America. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2005. xvii + 275 pp. 1-57233-358-8. Reviewed by Howell Williams for the Journal of Southern Religion.
In Do Real Men Pray? Charles Lippy answers his question with a conclusive yes, “real men pray.” He attests that the bumper sticker message has a history beyond the Promise Keepers movement of the 1990s, thus counteracting any notions that these popular men's ministries “appeared out of the blue” (xiv) or “the conviction that men were less religious than women in the American context” (7). Lippy is aware that “women, not men, had long filled the pews of American churches and provided the labor to sustain church activities” (xiv). But if women's participation in church life outnumbered men, Lippy questions how men were religious and if “the characteristics of the Christian woman [were] different from those of the Christian man in white Protestant America?” (5). Do Real Men Pray? descriptively explores men's spirituality and participation in American religion.
|"Lippy routinely demonstrates that his 'real men' stressed the importance of relationships over doctrine, belief, and theological construction."|
Lippy defines “real men” according to six overlapping historical typologies of white, socially and economically privileged Protestant men: the dutiful patriarch, gentleman entrepreneur, courageous adventurer, efficient businessman, positive thinker and faithful leader. He devotes a chapter to each theme and matches a biographical profile that represents each type of manhood. Lippy routinely demonstrates that his “real men” stressed the importance of relationships over doctrine, belief, and theological construction. For example, he concludes that the dutiful patriarch who headed the 17th century Puritan family household, such as Samuel Sewall, cared most deeply about “the relationships he had with others, not so much what transpired in inner life” (43). Such men led daily family devotions, expressed love for their children, actively participated as a church member, and demonstrated the values of hard work, integrity, and honesty.
Lippy next characterizes the gentleman entrepreneur as a man in control, a product of the Enlightenment, whose participation in early republic life was lived in business and thus separated from home life. The gentleman entrepreneur, like William Dodge, might have read guidebooks for young men, participated in men's societies such as the YMCA, or contributed to benevolent or social reform societies. In short, his spirituality “was oriented to practical results in the external world” (54).
At the turn of the 20th century, the courageous adventurer's spirituality found “its locus outside the churches” (86) in athletic clubs, lodges, revivals, or on the mission field. Lippy highlights missionary executive William Speer who emphasized dynamic spirituality modeled on “courageous action over doctrinal minutiae” (108). In chapter five, Lippy defines the efficient businessman's spirituality through rags to riches success tales and manly promotion of the gospel of wealth as exemplified in the life, sermons, and writings of Russell Conwell or advertising mogul Bruce Barton. Lippy demonstrates that the efficient businessman was suspicious of doctrine and more interested in a pragmatic and result oriented spirituality that linked faith with business.
The positive thinker, such as Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, or Fulton Sheen, helped men succeed in business and family relationships through self-awareness and high self-esteem. Lippy argues practical positive thinking “resonated with American Protestant men precisely because it was devoid of heavy theological content” (160). “All one had to do was learn to smile at others” (150) and generate a secure self-esteem to climb an upwardly mobile ladder that measured success and happiness in material possessions and careers. Lippy highlights contemporary figures, such as Robert Schuller, who continued to advocate positive thinking spirituality in his popular California-based ministry.
Finally, Lippy's chapter on the faithful leader might be the most controversial as it features the contemporary Promise Keepers movement and founder Bill McCartney. He defines the spirituality of the faithful leader as a man that “must seize the competitive edge, exert authority, yet offer healing” (181). Lippy's faithful leader demonstrates gender complementarity and does not assert “supremacy of the male over the female” (181) but rather “sensitivity, emotional expression, listening, use of persuasion, and the like” (195). Readers learn little about what happens when faithful leaders besides Bill McCartney fail in their faithful promise to be sensitive and spiritual “real men.” One questions if the average Promise Keeper's spiritual and family life lives up to the “faithful leader” ideal beyond the rally.
Lippy's narrative and appealing writing style make this a useful text that gives a helpful point of departure for understanding, but like the male spirituality he describes, it lacks a theoretical component on power and gender. Lippy is convinced that the story of American religion is “far more complex than a tale of patriarchy and male-dominated institutions” (xiv). Perhaps so, but it is difficult to ignore themes of masculine spirituality defined by control of the family, marketplace, and social institutions as illustrated in his six typologies of “real men”: men who are described as exemplifying a pragmatic, straightforward and, lived religiosity that negotiates patriarchal control and power.
While specific in his introduction that many types of men would be left at the story, one cannot help but speculate about all the other “real men” that do not fit into the narrowly defined white, progressive Protestant molds. Furthermore, the model of American religious history based on the perspective of a white, liberal male Protestant is retold in Do Real Men Pray?. Consensus rather than conflict comprises the majority Lippy's narrative.
While Lippy's emphasis on men's pragmatic spirituality that values morals, action, behavior, and relationships, over the analysis of belief and doctrine is a useful exploration in American religious history, one questions why the same themes would not describe women's spirituality. The structure of Do Real Men Pray? and the absence of a more than cursory discussion of women, perhaps unintentially sets up a dialectic that infers women's spirituality as opposite of men. Nonetheless, Lippy successfully demonstrates that 20th century men's religious movements did not appear out of the blue, but are significant parts of American religious history that need more exploration.
Howell Williams, Florida State University
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