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Blog // Thoughts
December 11, 2006

Thank God For Our Testosterone?

‚ÄúThis wasn‚Äôt your Daddy‚Äôs religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a daylong spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and […]

‚ÄúThis wasn‚Äôt your Daddy‚Äôs religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a daylong spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and “Jackass”-style stunts. Then the music lowered and Christian comedian Brad Stine appeared. With his rat-a-tat delivery and aggressive style, Stine quickly whipped the crowd into a chorus of ‚ÄúAmens!‚Äù ‚ÄúA lot of guys out there wouldn‚Äôt have the balls to be here,‚Äù he shouted. ‚ÄúAre you ready to be a man? Are you ready to kick ass? Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‚ÄòOK family, I‚Äôm going to lead you?‚Äô Buckle up. This is GodMen!‚Äù‚Äù

GodMen, the latest manifestation of masculine Christianity to emerge from the US (last year I commented on a Christian move to raise more violent boys) appears certain to generate a fair degree of publicity and controversy (Jesus Politics drew my attention back to this and there are more links below). Like so many current ideologies, GodMen chooses to define itself in very polarising terms, so that any criticism of the group functions as confirmation of the groups core beliefs. So at the risk of being called a wuss and less than a man, I‚Äôm going to try an peel back a few layers and see what might be lurking underneath this “movement.”.

The two key pieces to take a look at appear in the LA Times (reproduced in full here and here) and also a piece from Newsweek/MSNBC (do check out the accompanying video vignettes). You can also see Godmen founder Brad Stine on FoxNews here.

Central to the message of GodMen is that men no longer go to church because it has been ‚Äúfeminised,” with a message tailored to women and children, highly feminine decore and worship practices that alienate men. It‚Äôs one of those lines of argument that is not entirely untrue, but not entirely true either. There‚Äôs an important maxim that any savvy consumer of information should append to their computer screen.

“Correlation does not mean causation.”

I’m seeing this feminisation of the church thing appear in a number of places and it makes me wonder (yes, you probably will be reading a lot more from me on this). In the conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist/pentecostal world, isn’t the leadership still overwhelming male? Isn’t the state of the church largely a product of this leadership? haven’t women expressed themselves in worship, decor, welcoming and children’s ministry largely because these are the only sanctioned areas for their leadership in a predominately male-dominated church?

If the situation is as bad as GodMen claims, then isn’t it a kind of ecclesiological blow-back, whose roots are traced back to male decisions about the priorities of the church? Maybe those relegated areas of church life were not so unimportant after all?

This is an important point, because I don‚Äôt think Godmen’s potential appeal is just misogynistic (OK, they probably are, but I don‚Äôt want to bite that off just yet), rather, it is a-feminine. Their world-view is much like the action movies they seem to reference; devoid of meaningful female exemplars and figureheads. It‚Äôs a post-feminist world where cartoon-figure men dream of living out roles of heroism and bonding.

“Forget the yin and the yang
I‚Äôll take the boom and the bang…
Don’t need in touch with my feminine side!
All I want is my testosterone high.”

It’s Fight Club without the irony.

According to the GodMen website, women’s desires are easily encapsulated – ‚ÄùOur experience has been that most women want their men to become more assertive, proactive, protective and loving since GodMen are truly good men.‚Äù

But how does this manifest itself? According to the LA Times story,

“But some men at the conference run into trouble when they debut their new attitudes at home. Eric Miller, a construction worker, admits his wife is none too pleased when he takes off, alone, on a weekend camping trip a few weeks after the GodMen conference this fall.

“She was a little bit leery of it, as we have an infant,” he reports. “She said, ‘I need your help around here.’ ”

Miller, 26, refuses to yield: “I am supposed to be the leader of the family.”

He’s pretty sure his wife will come around once she recognizes he’s modeling his life after Jesus’, like a good Christian should. It’ll just take a little explaining, because the Jesus he has in mind is the guy on the wanted poster: “confrontational and sarcastic when he needed to be,” Miller says, and determined to use “whatever means was necessary to achieve his goal.”‚Äù

It’s hard not to see this as nothing more than insecurity and resentment masquerading as piety. Masculine assertiveness is not, in itself a bad thing and in my (limited) experience women do like men who are decisive. The important point is what the assertiveness is directed towards. There’s a big difference being prepared to take the tough decisions for the sake of your family and community and putting your recreational needs ahead of the needs of your loved ones. As Pandagon puts it,

“It’s tempting to fall into thinking that these guys are just in it because they want to connect with other men and the misogyny of things like the injunction to humiliate your wife further if she falls in the toilet is nothing but an unfortunate side effect. But I remain unconvinced. Churches have always had opportunities for men to bond to each other without making a huge deal out of how women aren’t allowed, women are subservient, and women are appalling for their desire to put some lace on a pillow inside a chapel. If it was about just bonding, then it would have been there all along. But the truth is that these hyper-masculine ministries are rising up in direct reaction to the women of their communities’ sudden unwillingness to play the traditional roles as subservient, in no small part because a lot of women are bringing home a good portion of the family income now and aren’t going to just sign the check over and take no part in the decisions. The fact that every installment of this new Christian masculinity gets more aggressive and more anti-woman than the last only tends to reinforce my suspicions.”

Yes, apparently jokes about leaving the toilet seat up are the arch-symbol of male oppression in contemporary society. My guess is these guys need to try on some real oppression for size – if they want to get angry.

And, of course, premission to get angry and blow your lid is also core to the GodMen message. References abound to Jesus’ dangerous personality, upturning the money-changers’ tables and all that. It all seems better suited to insulating men from self-reflection rather than lead them to it. Sure there is some teaching about sexuality that might be more direct than is typical in church, but much the agenda seems designed to affirm rather than critique cookie-cutter models of male-hood. BOSS, BOLD, BRASH, BULLY, BLUNT? Give me a break.

It is easy to make Christianity more muscular if we rip the compassion out of Jesus’ ministry and teaching.

Is there anything good in Godmen? Well not from my reading; at least not in it‚Äôs current form. It’s unusual for me to be so harsh of a new movement, but here the ugly seems to go all the way to the bone. Too much of GodMen’s propaganda is based on false or simplistic assumptions about masculinity and Biblical male-hood. Moreover, I’m just not convinced about the feminisation/wussification of the church as a sufficient explanation for the lower numbers of men not following Christ. It‚Äôs too neat, too facile.

Men don’t go to church because there are flowers there? Really?

I’ve also heard the rants for most of my adult life about men not singing or holding hands Рthat men don’t bond that way. Rubbish Рgo to a rock concert. Ever seen guys arm over shoulder singing some defining song like Khe Sanh, Born in the USA, or London Calling. I grew up with that and it is one of the defining images of masculinity for me. Still not convinced? Go to the terraces of a football game. Listen to the singing, watch Рreally watch, the celebrations.

The point I will yield to GodMen has to do with the idea of being nice. In many churches the culture asks you to be genteel and if you can put that facade on, it can sometimes mask a serious lack of spiritual depth and self-examination. I‚Äôve seen, in churches I‚Äôve been involved in, middle-class suburban respectability substituted for critical and robust spirituality (it’s a common complaint amongst younger pastors I know working in mainstream denominations). Without doubt, this is a cultural curse. But, the solution is not to give men ‚Äúpermission‚Äù (in Godmen-speak) to be selfish and self-absorbed.

We do need to seriously rethink male-hood and masculinity within the church and in society at large. We do have a serious problem with male attendance in church. However, I don’t think GodMen’s jejune responses point to a way forward in this. As Hugo Schwyzer puts it in his excellent critique of GodMen ,

‚ÄúThe Godmen band use the image of the saddle and “cowboy-ing up.”¬† But the New Testament image of the saddle is of Saul of Tarsus, proud and cruel, thrown from his saddle and left sprawling in the dust of the Damascus road.¬† ¬†Saul became Paul — and became a true Christian — not when he climbed on his horse but when he fell from it. And men become followers of the Savior when they too are willing to be left sprawling in the dust, blinded and overwhelmed, surrendering all they have to Him.‚Äù

It‚Äôs also kind of ironic, because when I think back to the filmic icons of hyper-masculinity that I grew up with, George C. Scott as Patton, Gary Cooper as Howard Roarke, and just about every character played by Steve McQueen, they didn‚Äôt need this kind of mass-support to be “manly.” I‚Äôm not saying these guys were icons of Christianity, because they definitely weren‚Äôt. But there was something far more individualistic, self-motivated and resourceful in their version of masculinity than what we find in the GodMen reports and propaganda. These film heroes didn‚Äôt fear powerlessness, they didn‚Äôt claim they were victims of anything, they – well they just got with life. Maybe it is in those differences that we need to start looking?

And maybe, just maybe we could also take a more expansive look at Scripture as well?

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6.8

Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Titus 2.2

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them Colossians. 3.19

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you. 1 Thessalonians 4.11

[tags] GodMen, Malehood, Masculinity [/tags]

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Responses
Luke 13 years ago

Wonderful post!

Joshua Case 13 years ago

Fernando- as I said on my blog, this is an amazing piece of blogumentary. Thanks so much for posting it. Amazingly shocked in a few ways, but again, thanks..

Chris 13 years ago

We haven’t seen too much of this GodMen style here in New Zealand [Thankfully]. maybe we are too busy doing the Haka and playing rugby.
I believe our western culture has been playing “Church Meetings” rather than going out and Advancing the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of Heaven advances with violence and the violent take hold of it”. There is a place for my Testosterone – to protect my loved ones, the weak, the poor, the sick…. to advance the Kingdom – to take land from Lucifer !!!

Ka mate, ka mate! Ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tƒìnei te tangata p?´huruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
A upa … ne! ka upa … ne!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra!

Toni 13 years ago

“Moreover, I‚Äôm just not convinced about the feminisation/wussification of the church as a sufficient explanation for the lower numbers of men not following Christ. It‚Äôs too neat, too facile.”

To be honest, when I was a kid in a baptist church (I’m 45 now) church always seemed a wussy, embarrassing and non-masculine place to be. Then I became a Christian and that changed a lot of things.

Fern – that’s a great post. There’s a question about this in the coffeeshop: I’d never heard of ‘Godmen’ until seeing that this evening. Your take fits what I’ve read on their homepage, but that’s as far as I’ve gone in analysis. This is going to sound like I’m pigeon-holing, but this kind of approach I can see working for the beer-bellied, ‘wife-beater clad male, feeling inferior and probably without a relationship with Jesus. It’ll make spending time at football matches and on fishing trips seem more legitimate.

Not sure it would work here, but you never know.

brodie 13 years ago

Fernando – I normally give up on reading long posts half way through, but it was worth while reading this to the end. I guess this GodMen thing has probably grown out of books like “wild at heart”. I agree that these kinds of things tend just to legitimise our selfishness and tend to be based on poor exegesis and pop-psychology.

There are lots of other issues connected with this and your post is a great start.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Luke – thanks for stopping by and reading.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Joshua thanks for really kind highlight on your blog!

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Chris, thanks for the thought provoking comment! I’m hearing two things there – first having a real outlet for masculinity, like sport and second having a real sense of where the struggle and adventure exists in the Christian faith, in mission and the extension of the kingdom. Both those are great points and I agree fully with them!

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Toni – Your example about the baptist church you grew up with raises a point I think needs to be interogated about the feminisation of the church argument. It seems to me that there are certain things about the transforming work of God (through the Holy Spirit) that could be written off by certain kinds of men as wussy/feminine. But doesn’t that just say something about their own (impoverished) view of what it means to be fully human?

There’s always going to be a point at which church feels uncomfortable for all of us.

I do think macho-church would have limited appeal in this GodMan form in Europe and the UK, but what about “GodLad?” Church modelled after the GQ/Esquire/FHM outlook on the world?

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Brodie – thanks for reading the post and I admit, this one is far too long.

I’m going to follow up in a day or two with some more comments, based on a podcast I’m re-listening to that raises some more constructive examples of men’s ministry.

Joshua Case 13 years ago

Yet i wonder (in regard to your response to Chris) whether christianity has really always needed to market in terms maculinity and feminimity. Certainly, Jesus and his followers have always had things to say about injustice in the world as it has related to either gender, but i wonder how in some senses, the need to have more masculine outlets for faith or more feminine outlets for faith is just part of the evangelical fascination with commercializing the faith. You know, another of those “we need to make the bible/faith relevant to people, so lets meet all the niche needs to get them in”? Masculine and feminine alike, if we can keep their attention, then we can certainly change them.

Toni, you do not see much of this in Switzerland either. In fact, i really wonder if it isn’t just parts of the American church who have bought in to these expressions of Christianity. Of course, it is in the US where you can buy the atheletes bible or the ballerina bible or the hunter’s bible (and in camoflauge none the less).

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Joshua, I think you are right, up to a point, about the commercialisation of the faith here. There seems to be a logic at work here that says “there’s not enough men in the church, so what is wrong with the church.”

That’s the potency of the feminisation argument, it puts the blame squarely on the church. But maybe, just maybe men don’t go to church because they are selfish, or heck, even scared? I am seeing a lot of families that split on a Sunday morning, mum takes the kids to church and dad stays home to watch the football or do DIY or sleep in. The feminisation of the church argument assumes that women *like* church as it is, but maybe they just have a higher tolerance for what they don’t like, for the sake of the children? Of course, the easy answer is to have an attractional men-oriented thing like Godmen, or whatever, it’s commercially viable.

But addressing gender issues need not be commercially driven, it can be mission/ministry driven. I think the church has made a lot of long term assumptions about being family-oriented, that aren’t working out. It’s not just men’s ministry, it’s also in older-age ministry and in youth (especially the youth to young adult transition).

Maybe, it’s time to admit maybe we didn’t have as many answers about how to be family-oriented as we thought we did?

Joshua Case 13 years ago

Fernando-

I am sure we don’t have as many answers as we thought we did. But i am also not sure that the church has been feminized and that is why women are there and men are at home watching the footy.

I also think we have to reinvent our approach to doing ministry that is age specific. Sure, you get to learn about jesus in ways you can understand or even seem cool to your friends; however, that has never been the point of a life of real faith…or a faith of real life. Judaism has all kinds of transitions that are built into the normal fabric of the development of people. And whats more, every member of teh family has a role to play in the celebration of sabbath.

Why not talk less about the feminization of the faith and more about the de-familization of the faith. We’ve lost what it means to be communities of families. The church has in many cases made ages specific expressions their way of reaching a next generation. Yet, once one graduates to “big church” they disengage…they head out..they stay at home and watch tv; a industry that has far more money than most churches to market your needs.

At the end of the day, i wonder how we’ll get back to community as family. How christianity will fight the desire to become really relevant, and stick to forming people in community..distinctive christian community. And yet, even i don’t know the balance between the two?! Not sure who does!

roy donkin 13 years ago

thanks Fern for a thoughtful evaluation of a frightening movement.

Toni 13 years ago

“Toni – Your example about the baptist church you grew up with raises a point I think needs to be interogated about the feminisation of the church argument. It seems to me that there are certain things about the transforming work of God (through the Holy Spirit) that could be written off by certain kinds of men as wussy/feminine.”

Thinking about this, as I have for the last few days, I would suggest it was BECAUSE the transforming work of God was NOT particularly obvious in that church that it appeared as it did. Churchianity without God either becomes wet in a ‘childrens tea party’ fashion, or it seems to become ravening, rapacious and domineeringly political.

Embarrassing as it is, at least the first one is easy to ignore.

Paul 12 years ago

Thanks Fernando, appreciate your post, top drawer!

I think I might be a little more generous than yourself about the Godmen, especially as it strikes me as a)early doors so why give it a good kicking, it might be helping and b) trying to address something that we all notice i.e. the decline of men going to church…

It is a subject I have commented on before and one where I have raised it the reaction of commentators tends to be one of fear – is this a return to the dark days of female oppression? denial – men are most of the leadership of churches so that can’t be right or heh not my problem, we got loads of men in our church…

I think I should be clear that I am not advocating any sort of male superiority culture or men surpressing women. I think to use terms like the feminizing the church is unhelpful, if you reduce the number of men in the global church of course it will have more women by % – it’s not a conspiracy it’s just a fact of numbers…

Indeed having grown up with a vow that I would always be right and never be a passive male like my father – to such an extent that it changed even my sexuality to that of a dominant man- i have found that all i lived out was a characture of maleness and that actually relearning that love is about giving and about dying to myself and my rights is pretty heroic stuff… I still come back to the point that I often feel in church environment that the theromostat of the place is set on rom-com and rarely raises itself to action. Now to put it on an action level all the time would be wrong too, we need balance, we need to not be afraid of this subject and instead face up to it…

Now Godmen are no doubt a reaction and one that pulls to the other extreme but I welcome the fact that they are doing something to try and attract men, to try and find a space for that sort of male bonding which may well go on in some churches but not in all. I can only be honest as a man and say a lot of music and church teaching is either pushing men one well – be nice or the other way – be some sort of head/ruling authority figure… men having a blow out and something at their emotional temperature is no bad thing – if we bare in mind that this is not about manufacturing a new christian male stereotype that we have to conform too but instead gives men and women the freedom to explore who they are created to be, how they are wired, how the connect to God and follow him…

Those male hero figures who you mention, self reliant etc are I think a thing of myth and most unhelpful. It’s not about me taking on the world alone, it’s about me in relationship with Christ and with my brothers and sisters – that means learning to love and share with all three and doing things that encourage our faith in a way that builds all of us up.

So go Godmen, I wish you well, i hope as you grow a bit older and wiser you will loose some of the excess, but thank you for trying to do something that with some men might help them. I hope you produce seasoned men rather than charactures…

Jason Clark 12 years ago

Thanks Fernado, superb commentary and post, very helpful.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Roy thanks for the comment.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Toni, thanks for your comment. That puts things in perspective and it does seem important, before leaping on the “feminisation” argument, to stop and consider how evident the transformative work of God really is.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Paul, thanks for your comment. Like I said, it is a little unusual for me to have a swipe at such a new movement. It’s fair to say you are taking a much more generous approach with this movement. Let’s see how it pans out.

Joshua Case 12 years ago

paul-

i too am thankful for your thoughts on patience; however, i do think we ought to learn from the past and give input to one another on certain issues. I guess, having come from a culture where i know initiatives like this thrive, you kind of hope that in some way, the resources, leadership, and theology would take a different trajectory. (this is bearing in mind that the product says something about the resources, the leadership, and the theology)

Again, as I’ve said elsewhere, i am not so sure the issue is whether or not Godmen will be successful at getting men together to think about how to follow jesus as men. the bigger problem maybe the kind of men it is calling men to be. Is it replicating a systemic sterotype, or is it calling men back to the way of Christ for all??

Again, we’ll have to see where it ends up. but really, does the global masculine christian agenda really need more testosterone? I’m not so sure…

Paul 12 years ago

I think the trouble is that there is no universal application/definiton of christian and male – nor should there be – if i hang out with a mate or 2 and talk theology I am sure I am creeping out other people who think wow that’s weird… in other words that’s different…

I’d rather people took their faith and did something with it, tried something that interacted with their lives and gave them a better shot at following Jesus, even if it weirds me out, then not…

so the Q I asked myself on my blog was is this just my western liberal mindset geting offended that causes me to react against such people as the Godmen where really i should be trying to be gracious and generous instead?

Paul Hill 12 years ago

I’d like to offer an alternative to the muscular Christianity portrayed by the Godmen that is not Christian wuss either. How about considering men and women equal, but not the same. The problem with any form of Christianity that puts forth male patriarchy is that it forces women to be subservient. This isn’t what Christ talked about. In fact, Jesus teachings on male and female relationships called men to be accountable and responsible in their relationships with women, not dominant. Check out Matthew 5:27-32. A real man doesn’t need to make women subservient, a real man is strong enough to see and treat women as equals. For more check out my book that I co-authored: COMING OF AGE: EXPLORING IDENTITY AND SPIRITUALITY IN YOUNGER MEN. It’s published by Augsburg Fortress.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Joshua thanks for your further comments. I agree both with your sense that “the global masculine christian agenda” doesn’t really need more testosterone and that aclling men back to a stereotype, no matter how successful, is not the same as calling them back to Christ.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Paul, I guess this is may be where we differ. For me it is not that Godmen is “weird” but rather that it is “wrong.” My outlook is mildly liberal (in the general sense), but not entirely western at all. There’s lots of ministry models I would endorse, but find personally wierd or uncomfortable.

Yes, it is good if people give something new a go, even if it is odd or unusual, but my sense from what I have read of Godmen, is that it is not unusual intitiave, but an ideological movement.

And that ideology is misguided and sub-Christian.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Paul H., thanks for your comment. I’ve added your book to my list!

Your comment articulates something I’ve struggled to put into words. The way Godmen are trying to define masculinity, without reference to women, is not Biblical. The Biblical picture is one of mutuality, at every level.

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