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.
‚ÄúCorrelation does not mean causation.‚Äù
I‚Äôm 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‚Äôt the leadership still overwhelming male? Isn‚Äôt the state of the church largely a product of this leadership? haven‚Äôt women expressed themselves in worship, decor, welcoming and children‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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.
‚ÄúForget the yin and the yang
I‚Äôll take the boom and the bang…
Don‚Äôt need in touch with my feminine side!
All I want is my testosterone high.‚Äù
It‚Äôs 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,
‚ÄúBut 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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,
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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‚Äô 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‚Äôt 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.‚Äù
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‚Äô dangerous personality, upturning the money-changers‚Äô 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‚Äôt go to church because there are flowers there? Really?
I‚Äôve also heard the rants for most of my adult life about men not singing or holding hands – that men don‚Äôt bond that way. Rubbish – go 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 – really 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‚Äôt think GodMen‚Äôs 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]