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Is Godliness Unmanly?

For centuries, some have had the impression that devotion to Christ is unmanly. This was especially true in the Victorian era when, according to Catholic scholar Leon Podles, “[T]he religious man was like the Victorian ideal of woman, who was supposed to suffer from mysterious complaints, to be unable to engage in vigorous activity, and to find sex distasteful.”1 Thus, Charles Spurgeon complained, “There has got abroad a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink your manliness and turn milksop.”2 Even in the present day, many still believe that godliness requires femininity. That notion led one Dominican to pray, “Annul in me my manhood, Lord, and make [m]e women-sexed and weak.”3

But such an impression is badly misguided. Indeed, soldiers, professional athletes, and other men known for their strength and courage unashamedly follow Christ. And their practice of the spiritual disciplines makes their devotion evident. For instance, over the past two decades, the National Football League has seen an increase of weekly team Bible studies and pregame chapel services. When All-Pro cornerback Troy Vincent was asked what book everyone should read, he responded, “The King James Version of the Bible, because it’s life. It’s a living book.”4

The situation is similar in the National Basketball Association, where some teams hold morning Bible studies on the road and chapel services before games. Players like Milwaukee Bucks All-Star guard Michael Redd say prayer plays an important role in their personal walks with the Lord. “I don’t necessarily get on my knees all day,” Redd said. “I just pray to God help me with [myself] . . . God, you know my issues, you know my weaknesses, continue to cleanse me, continue to purge me, help me to be the best father I can be, best husband I can be every day, be the best teammate. Also, I pray for my family all the time (and) my friends.”5

Spiritual disciplines likewise are present in the military. Every Wednesday morning, a group called Christian Embassy hosts a prayer breakfast at the Pentagon for military and civilian workers alike. In addition, Pentagon Bible studies have explored much of the New Testament.6 Then, across the globe in Iraq, Sgt. 1st Class Wally Northam led his platoon in reciting the Lord’s Prayer before each mission because his subordinates took interest in it after seeing notes he received from people praying for him back home.7 And during the days leading up to the Iraq War in 2003, attendance at worship services and Bible studies soared in the army and navy.8

Men’s professional golf is another forum ripe with Bible study and prayer. Christians on the PGA Tour gather to study the Scriptures each Wednesday night on the road, and many players say personal Bible study is part of their normal routine. One such golfer is 2002 PGA Tour rookie of the year Jonathan Byrd, who has a goal of reading God’s Word daily and carries a verse in his yardage book during tournaments. At one 2008 tournament, he carried Matthew 5:16 and meditated on being a light for Jesus throughout the week.9

Of course, the fact that masculine athletes and soldiers practice the spiritual disciplines should come as no surprise. After all, the Bible is filled with characters who combined manliness and godliness—Joshua, David, Peter, Paul, and Jesus to name a few. And Christian history is filled with stirring examples of valor, including Thomas Cranmer, who faced the flames for his faith, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed his life in opposition to Hitler. Yet for a world that wrongly views spirituality as essentially feminine, these contemporary examples offer a needed corrective.


Leon J. Podles, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Dallas: Spence, 1999), 6.




Ibid., 115.


Monica Jones, “Football, Faith, and Fulfillment: Top NFL Stars Combine God and the Gridiron,” Ebony, February 2006,;col1 (accessed July 14, 2010).


Kathy Orton, “NBA Star Says Some Players ‘Church-Hurt,’” Washington Post Website, April 4, 2008, (accessed July 14, 2010).


“The Pentago,” Christian Embassy Website, (accessed July 14, 2010).


David Roach, “At Fort Hood, Prayer Rises for Soldiers,” Baptist Press Website, January 12, 2010, (accessed July 14, 2010).


James Dotson, “Soldiers Seek Christ in Crisis,” Florida Baptist Witness Website, March 18, 2003, (accessed July 14, 2010).


Kathy Orton, “God and Golf on the PGA Tour,” Washington Post Website, July 4, 2008, (accessed July 14, 2010).