So how does the church view men and women today? As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the contemporary church can tell you, it’s easy to see what Brown documented about the 19th century is still in play, updated to modern times.
To pick but one example, consider a recent Christian book by Carolyn Curtis James called Malestrom [sic]. James is a consultant for the major Christian publisher Zondervan and was named a top 50 evangelical woman to watch by Christianity Today magazine. This book basically claims most of the tragedies of world history are the fault of men. As she says:
The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species — causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons. The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally…This is the history of the planet in microcosm — men killing others.
James appears to be a fairly liberal Christian, but conservatives feel exactly the same if not more so. A First Things article by Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family is illustrative. Titled “Men and Women Are Not Equal,” the headline teases us with an expectation of a defense of patriarchy or some such notion. But Stanton is just playing games. Here’s what he really thinks:
Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them…. Anthropologists have long recognized that the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male. If his sexual, physical, and emotional energies are not governed and directed in a pro-social, domesticated manner, he will become the village’s most malignant cancer. Wives and children, in that order, are the only successful remedy ever found…. This is why Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a tale not so much about the dark nature of humanity as about the isolation of the masculine from the feminine. Had there been just a few confident girls amongst those boys, its conclusion might have been more Swiss Family Robinson… Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her. That is hardly her only power, but it is among her most formidable. Christianity has always known this. The Savior of the world chose to come to us through a wife and mother.
This is identical to what Brown identified as the Christian attitude of the 19th century. Women are the natural civilizers, men the great despoilers of society.
Popular conservative pastors sometimes brutalize men from their pulpits. As just one example, consider Matt Chandler, the A-list pastor of the Dallas area megachurch the Village Church and head of the Acts 29 network. In one sermon – ostensibly devoted to women’s sins, believe it or not – Chandler prays this almost imprecatory prayer:
Father, for men in this room who prey on insecure women with wounded hearts, Father, I just pray over these men a type of weight on their souls that would be crushing. Father, I thank you that you do not take lightly wolves hunting down your daughters and that there would be a day that these men, hollow-chested boys in grown-up bodies will cry out as you come for mountains to fall and that the mountains will flee before your coming. I thank you that you are a just judge who will not handle lightly boys who can shave who take advantage of your daughters. I pray that there might be repentance for these men for the salvation of their own soul.
It’s worth contrasting Chandler’s treatment of male and female sexual sin. Just watch his famous “Jesus wants the rose” clip in which Chandler is personally babysitting for a single mother who is actively having an affair with a married man and becomes indignant when another pastor calls out sexual sin in this woman’s presence – not her specific sin, mind you, but sexual sin generally.
Chandler’s style may be tough on men, but even the most moderate in tone and intellectually sophisticated conservative pastors have a similarly skewed negative few of men. To be clear, many of these men have great ministries in many ways – including Chandler. But I’ve reviewed many books and sermons from many big-name Christian pastors and writers, and they to a man fall into a similar pattern to one degree or another. The female writers and speakers are if anything even more extreme (cf James).
The church today is frustrated that it can’t seem to get men to “Man up!” and do what they “should” do, but fail to see the role that its own mix of vicious negativity towards men and excessive pedestalization of women – unsupported theologically – plays in creating the very conditions they are upset about.
Listening to these guys, it is no wonder Christianity repels men who have even a modicum of self-respect?
I’d point out that it’s popular today to suggest that churches are actually misogynistic bastions of patriarchy. But this is hard to square with the messages being delivered. No pastor would ever dare speak to or about a woman the way they speak to men. If a particular gender were being mistreated or discriminated against, wouldn’t we expect that gender to disproportionately abandon the church? Indeed, that’s exactly what we observe in reality.
This post is an excerpt from Masculinist Newsletter #3