Harry C. Brinton, a Presbyterian minister in Fairfax, Va., noticed that only about 40 percent of the people in attendance at his church were men (that’s the national average for U.S. Protestant churches), so he decided to do something about it. And guess what he did? He started promoting some church activities that were open only to the male sex!

Single-sex is a no-no these days among the Powers That Be. Try to open an all-boys’ school in the inner city, on the theory that youths growing up without fathers need and crave positive male role models and the bonding and confidence-building experience of working, playing, and studying with members of their own sex. You will get–you will get sued, that’s what you’ll get. You can’t even start a single-sex college nowadays, because that apparently violates a number of federal laws. And now there’s a move afoot to bring women into the front lines of the military, on the theory it’s sex discrimination to deny women the right to disrupt the band of brothers that all-male units instinctively form and that make all-male units effective in combat.

But Brinton realized that, hmm, when you set up all-male activities, you can actually get men interested in what you’re doing. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post he writes:

“This October, I was part of a group of 13 middle-aged men who traveled to Honduras to help build a church camp for children. We started work as early as 6:30 a.m. and often labored until 6 at night — digging postholes, pouring concrete, carrying cinder blocks and lifting steel beams. One participant, Phil Beauchene, joked that you couldn’t pay him enough to do that kind of work in the United States, but in Honduras he was doing it for free and loving it. In the evening, we would return to our hotel for cleanup, happy hour and dinner, followed by a time of Bible study and reflection.

“Energized by the work we were doing, we came out of the week feeling closer to God and to each other. I’m convinced the trip was successful because it was physically challenging, task-oriented and far from home.”

Rev. Brinton continues with reports about the experience of other churchmen:

“Fred Leamnson is a member of Vienna Presbyterian Church and a leader of an interracial and interdenominational spiritual renewal weekend called ‘The Great Banquet.’ This opportunity for bonding and spiritual growth is offered to men and women separately, in the belief that men will talk more openly about their spiritual struggles in a single-sex setting. Fred hopes these weekends will help men rediscover their responsibility to God, as well as to their wives, families and communities. ‘Men need to be accountable,’ he says. ‘They need to be held to a higher standard. They will rise up when they know what’s at stake and what their responsibility is.’

“My colleague Ralph Weitz, the stewardship pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, [Va.,] holds a once-a-month group called ‘God’s Weekend Warriors’ — a takeoff on the National Guards’ slogan. Men eat together, discuss what it means to live as a Christian, and devote two hours to a project — working with the homeless or gathering medical supplies for overseas missions. Ralph has also had good experiences with the national Promise Keepers movement, which once drew 30,000 men to RFK stadium, and sent a thousand men into the D.C. public schools to spend a day doing maintenance. Another movement of men is the ‘Wild at Heart’ conferences, which encourage men to pursue life and faith with an adventurous spirit and to see Jesus as a vigorous man of action.”

You have to understand that Rev. Brinton isn’t the kind of clergyman who could be labeled a right-wing Bible-thumper. He’s your basic middle-of-the-road mainline-Protestant man of the cloth. Yet here he is endorsing Promise Keepers, the men-only movement that former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland denounced as keeping women in the “back seat”! Yet, as Brinton points out, when insisting on dragging women into male activities can be counterproductive. He writes:

“This focus on masculine faith can ignite controversy in established churches, however. Carl Waltrip, a member of Fairfax Presbyterian, tells me that he and several others tried a couple of years ago to start a Bible study for men. The idea was to gather men together to talk about how to bring Biblical principles to their lives and relationships. But some church leaders objected, says Carl, because it could have been construed ‘as encouraging men to be “in charge” and diminishing women.’

“The class ended up being open to anyone, male or female, and thus ceased to be an opportunity for men to develop close, authentic relationships with each other. Carl believes that these relationships are critical if men are going to lead responsible lives. Without them, he says, men will not have a circle of male friends to hold them accountable, and ‘the crisis of broken families, fatherless children, and powerless men will continue.’
Waltrip–and Rev. Brinton–are obviously onto something. As Rev. Brinton writes:

“[When] men…opt out of involvement in the church, [there will be] negative effects not only on their own moral development and sense of social responsibility, but also on that of their children and grandchildren, especially boys. And this in turn may have larger repercussions. If boys do not receive character education in communities of faith — education that comes largely through observing and imitating male role models — society as a whole is bound to suffer.”

So here’s the question: If male bonding, male role models, and male-only activities are good for church, why aren’t they just as good for the rest of society? Why can we have single-sex Bible study but not a single-sex school or a single-sex combat unit?