Manhood vs. Jesus

There has been a long history of “masculine” Christianity in the life of the modern church. The fact that the Christian faith has been the refuge for women and other minorities and vulnerable, weak elements of society has created an aura of anxiety around the men that are active in Church life. They fret about masculinity, manhood and the faith, fearing the “feminization” of the Church, nursing the lurking suspicion that perhaps in the end it is feminine itself.

Men have done a number of things to remedy this situation, but they all ultimately boil down to a “re-masculization” of the faith, emphasizing themes of capitalism, warfare, and patriarchy. From Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to the contemporary Quiverfull movement, Doug Wilson, and beyond, this movement has tried to rediscover, define, and enforce masculinity in counter-distinction to femininity, as a vital need within the Church.

Typically, this is expressed in the traditional masculine roles of Protector, Provider, and Progenitor. As I was thinking about these categories today, I suddenly realized how far these are from Jesus’s vision as presented to us in the New Testament. Christianity, then, innately destabilizes traditional male and female roles by summoning women to ministry, service, and education, and by summoning men to surrender their instinct to self-defense, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Man as Protector. Here the man is seen as guardian, the paternalistic defender of the patriarchal household of wife, property, and possessions. Jesus undercuts this instinct when he summons Christians to the life of nonviolence and non-retaliation.But I say to you, do not resist with violence the harmful person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you,” (Matt. 5:39-42). While the male instinct is the assertion and defense of rights and property, Jesus asserts that the opposite is characteristic in the Kingdom of God.

Man as Provider. In this perspective, the man is seen as the source of provision for himself and his household. Implicit in this idea is the concept of capitalist acquisition, accumulation, and consumption, the making of money and the provision of a household for the subservient wife and children. The degree to which our society insists this is a matter of honor for men (while simultaneously abandoning much of it in practice) shows how ingrained it is in our thinking. Jesus challenges this directly. Jesus himself was not a provider, but received the hospitality and financial support of others, including women (Luke 8:3). He advocated this life for his followers: “You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:24-26). The pattern here is mutual support and a radical trust in God, not accumulation and provision.

Man as Progenitor. Here the man’s power is felt in his sexual veracity and his ability to procreate – hence the struggle of men with impotence and other sexual issues. Rather than seeing sex and marriage in egalitarian, equalitarian terms, it becomes a means of planting one’s seed, of “taking” a wife and fertilizing her garden, an instinctual regression to patriarchy, however guided by evolutionary necessity. Even here, however, Jesus reconstructs our view. “But seek first His kingdom and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matt. 6:33-34).

Jesus, as is apparent from this brief glance, radically un-centers the capitalist, middle-class lifestyle into which modern Christians are desperately seeking to accommodate him, and the patriarchical assumptions that sit behind it. He calls us into a vastly different type of community, organized around a revolutionary set of assumptions that challenge the cultural locations of both men and women. He is not pro-masculine or pro-feminine, but beyond both, a new way of living in which there is “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:25).

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