How NOT to respond to the Church’s “masculinity crisis”


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Transient

Let's talk about this so-called "masculinity crisis" in the Church.

In recent years, it has become popular for evangelicals to lament the noticeable absence of men in the pews. Citing a mountain of statistical data that shows women are more inclined than men to remain faithful to their religious affiliation and participate regularly in communities of faith, some folks—like controversial West Coast pastor Mark Driscoll—have declared the situation a "crisis," concluding that the Church has failed men by projecting a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" instead of the true, “Ultimate Fighting Jesus.”

[For Driscoll’s full quote and an excellent evaluation of the “masculinity movement,” check out Brandon O’Brien’s 2008 article in Christianity Today.]

According to Driscoll, “Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks."  Driscoll blames the” masculinity crisis,” in part, on women, who he believes have been given too much power in the Church.

I believe that Driscoll’s response to these statistics is not only impractical but also unbiblical and irresponsible.  

Here’s why: 

First of all, the discrepancy between male and female religious fervor is not a new thing, but has shown up for as long as Pew and Gallup and other research institutions have been collecting data.  If this is a “crisis,” then it’s certainly not a new one. In fact, some would argue that it’s existed for as long as we’ve recorded history! So to blame the “masculinity crisis” on the few women who have managed to ascend to significant leadership positions in the Church in recent years, especially when men continue to dominate the field, grossly overstates the amount of power women have over the institution and turns them into unnecessary scapegoats. 

Second, most analysts agree that the numbers have as much to do with societal roles than anything else. For example, mothers tend to spend more time raising and nurturing children, which includes overseeing their participation in church activities. Women tend to have more flexible schedules than men, allowing them more opportunities to get involved in church life and to build close relationships with others in their congregations. Driscoll and other complementarians can’t have it both ways. If women remain at home raising children, they will simply have more time, more opportunities, and more incentives to become a part of a church community, and the stats will continue to be a little lopsided. (For more info on the stats, check out this article from Gallup, this piece by Lauren Sandler, and this from Thaindian.com.)

Third—and perhaps most importantly—Driscoll and other leaders in the “masculinity movement” have made a terrible mistake in combating the perceived “crisis” with an image of Jesus that conforms to the world’s view of masculinity, rather than the image of Jesus we actually find in Scripture. 

According to Driscoll, "Jesus was not a long-haired … effeminate-looking dude,” but rather an “ultimate fighter” with “callused hands and big biceps.” According to Driscoll "real men"—like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist— are "dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes." According to Driscoll,“I cannot worship the hippie, diaper halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

The problem, of course, is that there is no record of Jesus, John the Baptist, or a post-conversion Paul, punching people in the nose. The problem is that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul were all martyred, all “beat up,” if you will. The problem is that Jesus did not teach his followers to conform to the image of masculinity and power presented by the world, but instead explicitly taught the opposite— “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” The problem is that Jesus did not teach us to take revenge, but instead declared:

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Perhaps Dirscoll is ashamed of the Gospel and embarrassed by the message of the cross, but that is no excuse to ignore it, or worse, to belittle those who try to follow it. (It's wrong for me to judge Driscoll's motives here.) I think it's important that we consider both the theological and practical implications of the cross before belittling those who try to imitate Christ through non-violence.

Dan and I were talking about this yesterday, and he said to me, “The truth is, as a guy, it is more natural for me to want to take vengeance on people, to respond with violence and anger when I’ve been wronged. It’s easy to buy into the culture’s view of masculinity, which glorifies power and payback. It’s so much harder to take Jesus at his word and forgive as I have been forgiven and serve the way that He served. It’s harder, and it takes a different kind of strength.”

We do ourselves a disservice when, in response an excess of women in the church, we fill the pews with men who have been drawn to the message that following Jesus is easy.

What do you think? Is there a “masculinity crisis” in the Church? What does it look like for a man to faithfully follow Jesus?

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