Busted Halo
feature: sex & relationships
June 27th, 2010

Is There a Masculinity Crisis in the Church?

A discussion with the co-founder of The King's Men



In the July/August issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin asks if “The End of Men” is upon us. She argues women — with increasingly greater levels of education and more resilient jobs in this economic recession — are going to take charge, making men the second sex. Our quest for gender equality has led to women zooming ahead, leaving men in the dust. Is that true?

I’ve blogged about my thoughts on this article — and various other pieces that encourage misandry and diminish the role of men — but back in April, I met Damian Wargo, co-founder and director of The King’s Men, a men’s ministry group based in Philadelphia, who is an expert on these issues.

He and I met in New York City for an on-camera debate on NET’s Currents, about gender differences and dating from a Catholic perspective. After we sparred a bit on-air, Damian and I had a chance to chat about his organization, his views on gender, dating and family life, and how young men can get back involved with the Church.

Check out my Q&A with Damian. He and I come from different perspectives on some issues of gender roles, but his desire to involve men in family and community activities is admirable. Plus, his advice to men on dating and marriage (read on!) is rock-solid.

Guys, if you’re interested in getting involved, The King’s Men has some exciting events ahead, including an Into the Wild men’s retreat weekend August 19-22 outside of Pittsburgh. Learn more at: intothewildweekend.com.

Christine Whelan: Tell me a bit about The King’s Men: Why was it started? How many men are involved? What’s your mission statement and goal?

Damian Wargo: The King’s Men was started in response to the crisis in masculinity. Sadly, many men are not active in the church in any way. Some men even view faith initiatives for women only. Also, many men are confused about their natural role as leaders, protectors, and providers. My colleague Mark Houck and I started The King’s Men to address this crisis and to call men to action, especially fighting noble battles. The King’s Men mission is “Under Christ the King’s universal call to serve, we as men, pledge to unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector, and provider through education, formation and action.” There are about 200 men who are very active King’s Men and our initiatives reach thousands of men a year.

“Man, by his physical nature is called to protect women and children. We cannot ignore this fact or shy away from this reality or a man’s faith life will lack a component of his God-given mission. Faith presented in a masculine modality always will call men to action for the love and good of his family and the common good.”

CW: You talk about helping to build faith in a “masculine modality.” What does that mean?

DW: All men are called to be leaders, protectors, and providers. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “grace builds on nature.” So, for a man to soar in the spiritual life, he needs a good formation on a natural level, which will eventually become greatly animated by the grace of God. Men love to build structures that provide for the needs of others. This is the basis of self-sacrificial love, leadership, and provision. Man, by his physical nature is called to protect women and children. We cannot ignore this fact or shy away from this reality or a man’s faith life will lack a component of his God-given mission. Faith presented in a masculine modality always will call men to action for the love and good of his family and the common good.

CW: The King’s Men is very vocal about the dangers of pornography. Why? What is the impact that pornography has on young men—and what do King’s Men groups suggest as solutions to the widespread consumption of online porn among young men?

DW: The pornography industry is a $13-billion-a-year industry in the U.S. Men are the primary consumers. The only solution to this problem is for men to see this scourge on our culture as a battle that needs to be won so as to protect the common good. Most men have grown up in a completely sexualized culture that teaches men from a very early age that using women for lust and sex is not wrong, in fact, mistakenly, they are taught that it’s to be admired. This has had a devastating impact on our culture as it teaches men to develop vice in this area rather than virtue. The results are disease, divorce, violence, addiction and untold pain.

The solution is for men to become convicted that pornography is gravely evil, and that a man can, with God’s grace, lead a virtuous life of chastity. Once a man begins to develop self-mastery, he can also begin to help lead others in this area and form alliances that will not tolerate pornography in their communities or via the internet and other media.

CW: Tell me about this upcoming Into the Wild Weekend. Who might want to attend — and what happens on this retreat?

DW: Building on the principle that grace builds upon nature, Into the Wild is primarily an outdoor skill-oriented weekend focused on providing men with experiences linked to a man’s natural vocation of leader, protector and provider.

“When the Lord places a strong attraction to a woman in your heart and your intellect agrees, pursue this woman with purpose and passion. Do not be afraid to ask a girl for her phone number or out on a date. Simply by showing a strong and genuine interest in a healthy way, you will separate yourself from the vast majority of men who lack in this area.”

Set on the State grounds of Pennsylvania, Into the Wild trains men in orienteering, topography, weaponry, self-defense, survival skills, outdoor construction, fishing, hunting, wild game food preparation and more. Early mornings consist of prayer, mass, and a short talk linked to the daily masculine archetype we are striving to develop. Midmornings are dedicated to skill acquisition, and the afternoon to team competition and/or challenge simulations. Evenings provide time for rest, relaxation, prayer and fellowship around campfires. Sleeping accommodations consist of small rugged-style cabins without electricity.

Into the Wild is for just about any man. First, ITW is great for an outdoorsman looking to be with other faithful men in the wilderness. Second, it is also excellent for fathers and sons and men looking to a tremendous bonding experience. Finally, it is good for men who have a longing to better understand the wilderness and be trained in outdoor skills.

CW: Would the “Into the Wild” weekend and King’s Men activities be open to spiritual seekers?

DW: Absolutely. Many men who have attended ITW have told us that the weekend was the most spiritual weekend of their lives.

CW: Your patron is St. Augustine. How did you choose him?

DW: Most men can relate to St. Augustine’s struggles with purity and see him as a passionate man who had a radical transformation that lead to a heart that pounded for God alone. He’s a role model for men of all walks of life.

CW: If you could offer three bits of advice to young, single men who are interested in dating and relationships, what would they be?

DW: One, when the Lord places a strong attraction to a woman in your heart and your intellect agrees, pursue this woman with purpose and passion. Do not be afraid to ask a girl for her phone number or out on a date. Simply by showing a strong and genuine interest in a healthy way, you will separate yourself from the vast majority of men who lack in this area.

Two, be very clear with your intentions. Let a woman know that you are not about casual dating, but have the desire in your heart to someday be a husband and father.

Three, if you are lukewarm about the girl you are dating, do not continue to pursue her. A woman deserves a man that wants to be with her and only her. Once you know that she’s not the girl God is calling you to be with, let her know that you have discerned this, even if you’ve only taken her out once or twice.

“Being respected can be as strong a need for a man as a woman’s need to be loved. I have found some women to be overly critical of men and quick to point out a man’s faults to others. This is crippling to a man.”

CW: What about three bits of advice for men who are engaged or married?

DW: One, be a man after your wife’s heart!

Two, always put your wife’s needs above your own.

Three, never talk negatively about your wife to your friends.

CW: I’ve written about misandry — the hatred of men — in this column before. How can women support men and encourage them to be all that they can be?

DW: Realize that for men, being respected can be as strong a need for a man as a woman’s need to be loved. I have found some women to be overly critical of men and quick to point out a man’s faults to others. This is crippling to a man.

Also, as hard as it may be, try to trust a man until proven otherwise. Sadly, many men have let down women in very tragic ways. This has led to a strong distrust of men, in general. However, there are good men out there who can be trusted and do have a desire to do the right thing and can thrive when he knows the women around him trust and admire him.


So, is it the “end of men” — or is there another way to foster equality between the sexes? Ladies, do you trust men to respect you? Would you like your guy to embrace the role of leader, protector and provider? What do you think about the man’s role in dating and family formation? Guys, does the calling of The King’s Men speak to you? Do you feel like there’s a crisis of masculinity in your community? How big of a problem is pornography? Post your comments below and we’ll get a conversation started.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Christave

    “Keep Silence Before me, O islands, and let the people renew their strength” Isaiah 41 : 1.

    Very good points. However, in this realm of communication, through words, and diagnosis of the “human pysche” one must realize that inherently all these views, opinions, and so called “facts” are in reality only based upon layers and layers of metaphors. None of these things are really quite “real”. In the absolute sense..

    Seek inwardly is my advice. We live in dangerous and mad times. A great war.. that you cannot see is going on! !

    Blessings to all,
    may the love of Christ
    & All Beings Who come in the name
    of the Lord Of Love be at peace..

  • Amber Thompson

    I don’t know about masculinity, but there is an intelligence shortage.

  • Lisa

    In my parish, the Knights of Columbus are a partisan political organization. As a practicing Catholic who happens to vote as a democrat, I find their stumping for (only Republican) candidates in the church hall after mass disgusting. Their only “cause” that I can figure out is defeating any political candidate who does not 100% of the time vote down any legislation that the “think” might somehow be linked to support of abortion. My husband has been approached repeatedly and asked to join and keeps turning them down. My teen son also is not interested in joining the Squires as “all they do is pray the Rosary”. While the rosary is a worthwhile activity, he chooses to serve his church in ways that are more meaningful to him: volunteering at soup suppers during Lent, as an alter server, etc.
    For those of you directly involved with the Knights, if you do not think that my perception of the group is accurate, then perhaps the Knights ought to market themselves a bit better to the rest of us.

  • Joe

    I am familiar with The King’s Men from a distance of sorts, and I have heard Damian speak at other functions promoting the organization. I have contemplated attending a Into the Wild Weekend. I am sure that I would learn some skills to which I would not otherwise be exposed. However, in the end, I have not attended as I view the message as extreme – a continuous problem in many circles of our faith. Role defining in society is dicey at times especially when we do not take into account the background and upbringing of another person, step-back and then try to understand. Whereas I believe Damian’s group offers a different perspective, the group just as well could help teach skills and bonding while not going to extreme messages. I would gladly like to learn trade skills and share outdoor activities and bond with some talented, good guys. Yet, I do not need to hear and try to rethink the labels of protector-provider or prove some loyalty by protesting a porn shop with which I have no business. Is there a balance here between over-the-top biblical reference and roles, and the challenge each day to be a spiritual decent guy?

  • Christine

    There are so many good points in various comments, as well as the article.

    I think Dr. Whelan provides an interview that she admits is kind of a difference of opinions. Damian and Dr. Whalen are both strong speakers who have the best interests of their gender in mind I think. While she explicitly disapproves of misandry, or the bashing of men, she doesn’t seem to promote the church’s teaching on the dignity of men and women as separate beings. We are each called to a different dignity, as individuals. I am not saying take back suffrage, but rather understand that true equality is not what we really need in this world.
    The Knights are some of the best fellows I‚Äôve ever met, with a teen version called the Squires. I don‚Äôt really know why anyone would choose to be mean to a group of men who are trying to help their communities. Perhaps the ones saying ‚Äúcome find out‚Äù need some education on their organization. When correctly run, KoC runs a mens group where men get to be men, and create for them selves a valuable service to their communities. They may run carnivals, communion breakfasts, 5k’s or float committees. Whatever it is, they are shining examples of servant leaders.
    As a young woman in the church, I want to find more men of all ages like TKM. I desire an authentic relationship with these young men as a way of complimenting the naturaul Theology of the Body integral to our very dignity. As a youth minister, I pray that the teens I encounter become like TKM, or seek out friendships with like minded, trustworthy people.
    I can recommend the following books with passion and purpose, they are just darn good books for both the sexes to learn about what makes each tick.
    Young women- Read “Discovering the Feminine Genius” by Katrina Zeno In multiple documents JPII has extolled the virtues, dignity and awesome power of the Feminie presence in the Christian life.
    Young men- read Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart.” It is not only an adventure in your hands, it reminds you to get up and be a man for God. By being that man, you help us women become better equal partners.

  • kanawah

    His comments sound like the old ‘bare foot and pregnant’, ‘male orientated society’ of the past and other religious states. Personally, no thanks.

    • Courtney

      I don’t know about that, seems like a bit of an overgeneralization. Does this part support your statement?:

      “CW: What about three bits of advice for men who are engaged or married?

      DW: One, be a man after your wife’s heart!

      Two, always put your wife’s needs above your own.

      Three, never talk negatively about your wife to your friends. ”

      The man who just wants his wife “barefoot and pregnant” is not interested in her wants or needs but only her serving him.

      Furthermore, while I may have some differing opinions about masculinity, I can totally agree that there shouldn’t be this idea that having religious faith and working for the community is something only for women (or that it is a less than practice). Of course, if you don’t prescribe to any religious beliefs this probably has no importance to you.

  • Christy

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article’s assertion of mens’ place in society & faith.

    I do have a beef with Elaina & Peter’s statements regarding altar servers: Why can’t an equal amount of girls & boys be altar servers? In our parish, there is a healthy mix of young men & women who serve in this manner. If you restrict young girls from this service, how are they supposed to serve in the liturgy?

    If it’s a more equal amount of boys & girls, then perhaps it won’t become a girls-only club. And perhaps you should teach your boys to suck it up & work alongside the girls in their parish.

  • Fr. Pat McPartland

    Nice article. I am in the midst of trying to promote a Men’s Group in my parish. A couple things are clear. Men and women have needs: some similar and some different. It is obvious in meeting with couples in marriage preparation, etc. Also, men have been trashed- in the media especially. Particularly, fathers are portrayed as fools. Women, thank God, have been allowed to flourish, however I think that some men have abdicated their leadership (e.g in family.)
    I think both men and women want strong, caring and faithful men in their families and communities. We as a Church should want to help build up the men in our communities. I am a chaplain of the local K of C and also I think that there are other needs as well which I hope to help with.
    Please pray that we can lift men in a healthy way while continuing to lift our woman and bring them both to the place of dignity they deserve.
    St. Joseph, protector of the Church, pray for us.

  • Kealey

    I too like “zach t” have read John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” at least five times and every time a male friend of mine reaches a significant stepping stone (usually marriage) I tend to buy them a copy. This book talks in great detail about exactly what Damian Wargo is talking about in this article. The church has progressively been pushing men towards the back ground and trying to make us be quiet and just tow the line. The only organization in the Catholic church for men is K of C which in my humble opinion is kind of a running joke with their archaic rituals and secret meetings. I have been approached many times by the K of C to join them and every time I ask “What do you do?” I am met with “Well you have to join in order to find out”.

    I am a youth minister and I would rather spend my time with the young people of our church who haven’t quite yet been tainted by all the “rules and regulations” put on us as individuals. The youth are still striving to find God’s purpose in their life rather then the church’s purpose. Men have become weak in today’s society and it is time to start kicking this mentality to the curb. If it takes a weekend in the woods to accomplish this then I say go for it. We need more in the church for men to encourage us and give us a reason to be involved other then the age old response “It’s what God wants for us”. I would love to see a faction of King’s Men started in my church as well even though I am not much for hunting, fishing or using weapons of any kind.

  • Claudia Chauvet

    I find it very sad that the RC members still thinks in terms of physical attributes of men as “protectors of women and children”, instead of underlining the fact that love and respect of their women and children will make them equal to women in God’s eye. It is also a shame that the article did not underline the fact that it is that same physicality which makes men abusers and rapists of women and children. Perhaps if less importance were given to physical attributes and more to moral and psychological attributes this world would indeed treat men and women as equals in all spheres of life.

  • Elgrit B. Russell

    Through the centuries, men have been the ones who are to care for their wives and families and protect them, etc. However, as you can well imagine, not all men act that way. I believe that women are slowly overtaking men in the competitive arena because they are extremely capable, more educated than previously, and often because the men either can’t or won’t exhibit the higher requirements of being a true provider and protector. So I say thank God women are progressing as much as they are – it is about time. I only wish other countries would stop abusing women and treating them like the dirt under their feet. All women everywhere deserve respect and opportunities and the freedom to choose for their lives.

  • Mark Pennington

    The logic that men and women are not equally strong in different ways and vastly stronger *together* when combined as a pair (than either one could be independently) may stem historicaly from protestant thinking (heresy) infiltrating the Catholic church. Anyone who understands the Catholic church, as refereshingly ‘republished’ in Humanae Vitae, Vatican II and Theology of the Body would understand that Catholics see any diminishment of either sex as a diminishment of both/all of us. Thank goodness for The King’s Men calling men back to study Catholicism and to participate and contribute in leadership roles. For either sex to assert their strength while affirming and building-up / supporting and encouraging the opposite sex is a win-win for all of us! I credit The King’s Men with giving me a weekly meeting to meet-up with other guys and, through commitment and involvement on my part, to help me build myself up in our Catholic faith– something that a woman just wasn’t ever going to do. Men only learn how to be better men from other men; a woman’s attempt only seems to make men more effeminate, which only exacerbates a guys challenge to develop skills that are complimentary. I don’t think women intentionally try to convert the men in their lives to become more effiminate; I think they just don’t respect the importance of building up another. For both men & women– I highly recommend Emerson Eggerichs great book called “Love and Respect.” Of course, if you’re really into an intellectual read, try Pope John Paul II’s book by the same title: “Love & Respect!!”

  • patrick

    things like this could not be MORE welcome.

  • JS

    I thought religion was supposed to be about spirituality… not sexuality. Personally, I think any group of people that collectively decides what the appropriate role anyone should play in their relationship with another by the form of their genitalia isn’t spiritual at all… just a muddle of insecure beings trying to find or create a community definition of “acceptable” that they can fit into(or prey on).

  • Jo

    My question to Damian Wargo: Did you not like what was offered by K of C? I am honestly puzzled…K of C is a worldwide men’s Catholic organization that strengthens the family, promotes community leadership, and is about service and truly living the faith. Why then start another group?

  • Jill

    I’m curious how Damian’s view of man as a natural provider would mesh with career oriented women, who could provide for a family themselves.

  • zach t

    I really love this article, and the content as well. I have been reading “wild at heart” by John Eldridge and I’d recommend it to any man who struggles with the notion of what masculinity is. I personally feel like there has been an emasculation in the church, men are told to “be nice” and suppress their inner desires to adventure and be wild. This is when men feel less like men and start falling victim to shameful acts in hopes of making them more male like. Damien this is an awesome cause and I hope and pray for the best of your program, the world needs more people like you.

  • Peter Kennedy

    Elaina, you’re so right. Canon Law says that altar boys are to be encouraged and girls and women are to be altar servers only if there is an unavoidable shortage of boys/men. But the excact opposite is done by many parish priests (or by the almost exclusively female “pastoral assistants” who in effect make all the decisions in the parish)

  • Elaina Lewis

    Congratulations Christine! – and indeed to all the “King’s men”.
    I have been married for 42 years to a wonderful caring man who is also a wonderful caring father of 4 and grandfather of 10. I have been so aware of this culture for a long time now and I believe we need to get back to basics. I have noticed that even in our Churches here in Australia the young boys are bein squeezed out of service for the girls. I am talking about being Altar boys. Both my husband and two boys enjoyed their roles every Sunday and on other occasions and it was “the boys domain” and they were proud that they had a role their sisters were not permitted. The girls were also proud of them. But sadly the boys are no longer coming forward because even this has been taken over by the girls.
    My husband was a great role model for our boys and they now are the same role models for their own beautiful families. It starts very early in life and I for one would have loved to have a strong and leading father. I wish you every success and I think this will be a great seller. God Bless

  • Mairie Gelling

    If women are succeeding in fighting back from a culture of subservience I hardly think that sending the male psyche into the backwoods is the answer. I;m sure that going into the woods to play is wonderful, I’d like to do it myself but maybe it is the sheer physicality of it, the connection with creation that is the learning experience. The journey, particularly if you are talking from a faith point of view is to become all that you are – not to fit a model. So a man or a woman should always love with all their heart, should not accept second best, should not criticise others simply to demean them, should respect themselves and others, should learn to trust, should use the gifts and talents they are born with and should develop healthy, co-supportive relationships with others, should walk with integrity. And society should learn that it is its responsibility to support people in this growth. I don’t know that we should be looking for equality of the sexes but for fulfillment of the individual to be all they can be, and to wish that for others.

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