Consider Me Triggered
January 9, 2019
I took a camping and backpacking class in college to fill in one of my extra electives. It’s one of the classes I remember the most. We had three trips where we were dropped off on different parts of the Appalachian Trail in groups on a Friday, carrying 1/3 of our weight in backpacks full of supplies and tent parts, and were left to make it to our pick-up destination on Sunday. We had to filter our own water, make our own food, deal with the whatever weather conditions we faced, find good spots to set camp for the night, and really hope you don’t run into any bears, skunks, or poisonous snakes. At least those were the three things I was most afraid of.
Anyway, that class still has lasting value in my life over twenty years later. I live near several small, rewarding hikes on the Appalachian Trail, as well as some other beautiful spots like Sugarloaf Mountain, Cunningham Falls, Maryland Heights, etc. I love to hike. One of my favorite spots to climb is a mountain of boulders in the Catoctin Mountains. I am hesitant to return there though because I’ve encountered rattlesnakes twice. One I found sunning itself on a boulder I was about to step up to. I booked it down the mountain in fear. The other I did not see but heard its threatening rattle when I stepped on a rock it was under. I booked it down the mountain in fear---even though I learned in my class that snakes are pretty docile, and usually tolerant up to a third offense (so maybe a third hiker in line who steps on it) for the snake to strike. Who wants to test that?
This long introduction is an illustration of my thinking when I read this article On Getting and Keeping Masculine Men in the Church. It was the third offense in two days. This author of this article, a pastor, wants to give advice on how to attract "manly men" in your congregation “that will likely trigger the feminists among [his] readers.” The problem he is addressing is that too many churches---not his---have a ratio of significantly more women than men in the church.
Consider me triggered. I’ve barely been on social media lately, and yet this is the stuff I have been seeing when perusing my news feed. I’ve been trying to chill safely under my rock, but this third crunch on my spine lured me out. This article is exactly why the first two bothered me (which I will get to in a minute). You see, this pastor identifies what he believes is causing this “problem” of so many women in the church---effeminate men in leadership. He warns pastors:
You can’t be effeminate, though. That’s a real turn off to masculine men. Effeminate guys give masculine guys the creeps. If you have a feminine voice, or an effeminate manner, sorry, Jack, but you are unlikely to get masculine men into church.
He goes on to his tips on being and attracting masculine men by saying it helps to have experience with a manly job like home improvement, give firm handshakes and look people in the eye (this is not advice for women, which he instructs never to show strength in a handshake because that is creepy---oh and he really doesn’t recommend shaking women’s hands anyway because they are other men’s property), reserve the use of the word love, spend your time seeking the manly men, stop using emotional stories in sermons, and do not touch women or children because they are some man’s property (“touching doesn’t communicate affection; it communicates ownership”). I would hope that most people who read this article would have the same, “Are you kidding me?” reaction. This used to be the sort of thing I would just ignore. But the mindset here is pervasive in the evangelical church. I was made aware of this article because Sam Powell has already written an excellent response to it, challenging the use of the word effeminate and the notion that many women in the church are a bad thing, and upholding the fact that pastors need to preach Christ, not manly masculinity.
I could add to that, but what I want to do is connect the dots. Let’s go back to my hiking illustration with a different angle. This time I’ll be the hiker and I am not going to book it down the mountain in fear. You can be on the right trail and step on some very dangerous rocks. I read two articles yesterday from leading voices who are upset about the APA’s issuing guidelines for men and boys. I often am sharpened by these men, which makes it all the more troubling for me when I read these. Rod Dreher says that the APA has declared manhood a disorder. While I track with his critique over the APA’s stance and teaching on gender identity, the publication is not saying that manhood is a disorder. Here is the actual charge:
The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
They don’t want to throw out manhood, they want to address unhealthy teaching on manhood, even while encouraging the positive aspects of the traditional teaching:
The clinician’s role, McDermott says, can be to encourage men to discard the harmful ideologies of traditional masculinity (violence, sexism) and find flexibility in the potentially positive aspects (courage, leadership). He and his team are working on a positive-masculinities scale to capture peoples’ adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men, something that has yet to be measured systematically.
Can’t we read this with better critical nuance? Can’t we acknowledge the truths in the article while also critiquing some of the other ideologies it promotes and contradictions within it? Do we really want to identify stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression as manliness? You see, while Dreher wants to warn against the path of LBGT propaganda, he doesn’t hear all the rattles of ungodly ancient misogynistic cultures that believed stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression are male virtues. Is that any better than the LBGT path? This is not manliness either.
Trekking to the next article, Dreher recommends David French’s response to the APA, which equates the harmful stereotypes the APA is addressing to ways to shape “grown men.” Why are these men sinking their claws further into this brand of masculinity? Reading between the lines, I can easily see what they think about how women should be: non-risktakers, passive, emotional…hysterical. French’s conclusion which paints him as an alpha-male hero strikes me as ridiculous---as if women throughout history have not had to step in and save their children’s lives with their own strength (and might I add, like him, total dependence on the Lord’s providence). From the beginning, women need an enormous amount of strength in endurance to even give birth. I’m glad French is a good steward of his masculine body and that he could use that to save his son. But he even concedes to relying upon his wife’s corresponding strength to complete the mission.
I’m all for the logical and Christian critique that points out a contradiction in the APA’s findings. But let's not keep the dirty bathwater with the baby. We should strip away harmful gender stereotypes and expectations and both men and women should pursue virtuous behavior. Then we can challenge the APA, asking why they encourage pandering to the LBGT community that capitalizes on people transforming their own images according to the other sex’s worst stereotypes.
I’m all for upholding man and woman, created as sexual counterparts, and having different strengths to offer. While I am challenging what many say are essential differences and expressions of femininity and masculinity, I am not saying that we should not affirm biological and even gendered differences between the sexes. I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality (Resourcing a Theological Anthropology, 208). However, while cultural norms may not be essential to our sexuality, men and women are both equal in dignity and distinctly differentiated by our sex. Based on the essential, hylomorphic understanding of the body and soul, a metaphysical understanding that has been developed throughout history since Aristotle that recognizes “the human being as a soul/body composite identity”, we understand that as the image of God, there are “two distinct ways of being a human being as a male and as a female” (Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman, Vol. 3, 494, 464). This is not something we have to force under an artificial ontological framework of authority and submission or under cultural stereotypes. Complementarity presupposes difference, but also communion through giving of the self in and through these differences. Whether we are talking about mutual self-giving in union in marriage, or self-giving reciprocity in communion of friendship, vocation, church service, or neighborly activity, men and women give “of the specific richness of their respective humanity” (Allen, 460). Let’s not reduce that out of fear that we may lose so-called power or gender wars.
Both men and women are to look to Jesus for Christian virtue. We are not directed to masculine manhood or feminine womanhood. We are not even directed to biblical manhood or biblical womanhood. We are men and women who are together directed to Christ, who called men and women blessed who were poor in Spirit, mourners, gentle, thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for his sake.