You won't see Allen Humphries in church. Although he's a role model in his community, he's at home, watching the Raiders on Sunday morning. Now in his 50s, he left organized religion behind with his childhood. "It's difficult to be some place at a given time each week," he explains.
Pastors have heard that one so many times they're now treating religion like a new sport.
Saturday nights, the Rev. Isaac Canales heads to high school football fields to bless the game. He has converted five coaches along the way.
"Deep inside, men like football," says Canales, pastor of Mission Ebenezer Family Church in Carson. "That means I have to go where the guys are, 'cause they aren't going to come to me."
It's not that most men have anything against church. Some actually write a weekly check for the collection basket, then drive the family to the door. It's just that going inside makes them feel a little uneasy.
"That's not what real men do," explains Andrew Kimbrell about what runs through a man's mind when people start singing hymns and holding hands. An atheist who converted to Christianity 10 years ago, Kimbrell now worries that his 11-year-old son doesn't have any spiritual heroes.
Religion is right up there with crying in public, he says. Actually, crying rates higher--it is allowed on the battlefield. Kimbrell defames such fossilized ideals in his new book, "The Masculine Mystique" (Ballantine).
The timing seems right. His study of men just might catch the same wave that has already swept up the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., this fall and the Promise Keepers men's ministry that started five years ago in a Colorado basketball arena and gained national momentum.
While men may have a new interest in religion, you're not going to see them crowding into church on Sunday morning. Not yet, anyway. Women and children still outnumber the men, but pastors and others with vested interests are putting on the pressure.
For Humphries, a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, church simply isn't a priority right now.
"My dad was not a guy who went to church until his 50s, around retirement," he says. "I'm evolving that same way."
As a teen-ager, he was a leader in the Methodist youth program. That changed in his 20s. "We let worldly things overcome the spiritual. We want the nice house, the car. To get those things, you have to commit yourself."
Plenty of people would say Humphries is doing all right without church. Four years ago he founded the Black Peace Officers Assn. of Los Angeles County; now there are 400 members. They promise to be mentors in their community, volunteering their time for civic service. "I believe I am a very spiritual person," he says.
Some ministers and other regular churchgoers want more. And as Canales proves, they are getting pushy about it.
William Crane is a sculptor and a Vietnam veteran who gave up on organized religion 30 years ago.
"In Vietnam, I told God and the church that I'm in charge now," he recalls. Then, three years ago he started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the basement of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westwood. Eventually he ventured upstairs. This fall is his first anniversary back as a registered parishioner.
St. Paul pastor Bill Edens has been there just over one year. "When I came, I could see that the men were not involved," he recalls. Women took charge of Scripture reading, administering communion and other ministries.
He encouraged a men's spirituality group that now has about a dozen regular members. He helped arrange a men's retreat last month, led by the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, who introduced Christianity to the secular men's movement started five years ago by poet Robert Bly. In his book "Iron John: A Book About Men," Bly retrieved classic male heroes--warriors, kings, outdoorsmen--and used them to create a new romantic identity for men; Rohr appeals to Christian warriors, kings and outdoorsmen.
Upcoming men's events at St. Paul include a Promise Keepers Retreat (Catholics are now adapting the evangelical Christian program, which emphasizes leadership and responsibility in the family).
"Men have spiritual needs that go unmet," Edens says. "There is a time for men to gather, worship and talk about spiritual concerns, as men. They need a place where they feel safe, a chance to express weakness and vulnerability."
That isn't what church has provided. "Traditionally in church, masculine virtues are belittled: achievement, purposefulness, the need to make our way in the world," he says. "For most men, church seems a feminine environment. Compassion, gentleness, fidelity, receptivity to the word of God are the values expressed."
For all of Edens' efforts, change has been slow in coming. One recent Sunday he made an appeal from the sanctuary. "I'd like to speak to the men of the parish," he began. "We need you to get involved."