September 9, 2006

On words

I am sure the torture discussion will continue. But now, something completely different. On Les' blog he has been discussing a rather interesting issue. There appears to be some angst within evangelical ciricles that perhaps the church has "feminized" the gospel to the point that men no longer feel welcome in the church.

I objected to this immediately, since this is one of the oldest refrains in American church history. This exact discussion about masculinity could come from the time of Teddy Roosevelt or earlier, when Christians battled over how to understand Jesus.

But my bigger beef is the terminology contained in the discussion. Without being mean spirited, I wonder if this isn't part of the problem between people who accept innerency and those who don't--because the issue of definition has yet to be resolved. Les read Dictionary definitions of feminism and masculinity, including this incredibly unhelpful definition of masculinize: "masculinize - "To give a masculine appearance or character to." Yeah, that helps.

But these questions are real ones, and I am afraid, ones that the conservative evangelical church is not likely to ask. What does it mean to be masculine? Feminine? As I posed on his blog, when I am nurturing and caring and take the time to listen to my fellow human beings, does that make me more feminine? What if my wife is brusque with someone? Is she exhibiting "masculine" tendencies?

As stupid as those questions sound, it appears to me foundational to even asking the questions about the portrayal of Christ or the male role in a church setting.

In a way, this conversation may be related to the previous post. My other SBC critic seemed only willing to take Bush at his literal words. As long as he said he didn't torture, no further questions were needed. Same, I suspect, when Bush claimed that Jesus was his favorite philosopher, and we found out that he liked to read Oswald Chambers. No need to inquire further.


Tony said...

In Les' defense, I am convinced he is trying to get his arms around what he sees as a threat to the church, possibly even the one he serves.

I mean, when I really get down to brass tacks, I would love for the men to be more involved in the church I serve, too. Spiritual lethargy is too common a problem.

I would however like to offer my own definition of masculinity, if that is OK. :-)

A real man is someone who does his duty and doesn’t shun the hard work that is necessary in providing for all the needs of his family.

A real man may never pick up a knife or a gun, or drive a tractor, or operate a chain saw, or do anything that requires being tough and burly. But he is still a real man if he does his duty with grace and fortitude, not crumbling under the load, always getting up when life and circumstances knock him down. That is a real man.

A real man may not have tough hands, but he will have a tough spirit that rises to the high calling of duty. It is not about being macho; it is about taking responsibility.

In so many words (or posts) I think this is where Les is coming from.

I don't know if this helps but hey, I tried. Not trying to be a caped crusader or anything.

Streak said...

Tony, thanks for the comments. To be very honest, much of my opposition to certain definitions of masculinity is my own experience. As someone of slight stature, it dawned on me early in life that I was not a stereotypical male that way--no one was looking to me to be John Wayne. That proved a great boon, however, and I think I learned a lot from it.

As a result, I have always squirmed when certain evangelicals wanted to strictly define male and female roles within the family. My wife submitting to me made less sense than both of us submitting to what was best for both of us. Sometimes that means I take a leading role. Sometimes it is her. Equality being a good thing.

So, I never understood the Promise Keepers thing (outside a manifestation of male anxiety) since it seemed to me that both men and women needed to be responsible and honorable to each other.

When I read your definition of masculinity, I think of all the strong women I know who do exactly that. They don't shirk from duty to help their family thrive. They also take responsibility and do what is needed.

You mentioned the farm experience before. I grew up in Western Colorado and worked side by side with women working cattle, fixing fence, etc. In that setting, adult human beings stepped forward to get done what had to be done.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that these artificial distinctions are, just that, artificial.

Perhaps that helps clarify my approach. And again, thanks for reading and participating.

Tony said...

You're welcome.

I guess where I am coming from, you probably understand, I don't think that the problem is as much contradistinction of terms as much as it is just spiritual apathy. There are clear distinctions in the NT for gender roles (I didn't say equality) and men out of sheer laziness just don't do what is required of them in the NT. So, women pragmatically step in. I have heard it/seen it a thousand times. Then men get upset because a woman is doing their jobs and want to fuss and complain.

I like you am a man smaller in physique and pastor a church among "men's men." I have worked up to three jobs at a time to provide for my family but because I didn't have calloused hands I was dubbed a girly man. I wasn't really sure what that meant. Just because I don't have blisters doesn't make me less a man.

On the flip side of that coin, most of the women can outwork the men around here. They pulled tobacco with the best of them. But does that make them less feminine? I'm scratching my head now...

So as far as the angst among us evangelicals about gender distinctions, I think its just another turn at the windmill.

Streak said...

I am not attacking Les here (as I hope is clear) and am sympathetic to church leaders who see more and more people like me leaving. Churches today find themselves competing with the rest of the entertainment world to seem relevant to the youth and struggling to find a moral voice in a country that seems to not understand the questions.

My criticism of the church is that they have lost the prophetic voice and the ability to address moral questions. I think they focus way too much on sexual sins and seem almost silent on issues of wealth and consumption.

I also think that churches are, in general, some of the most conservative (that isn't a political term here) institutions we have. They are very slow to respond to issues and changes. The history of the church on race issues, then gender equality, then the environment, all show an institution that struggles to lead. Again, I say that with sympathy and not anger.

Whatever we think, family life has changed, and any social historian worth his/her salt will tell you that it has always been so. Same with gender roles and assumptions. Puritans distrusted the emotional and mental weakness of women and focused most of their parenting instruction toward men. Victorian values reversed that and decided that (especially in America) women had to play the role of the Republican Mother (pre Republican party, note) and were in charge of raising the next generation of Republican (Res Publica) males.

How things changed in a couple hundred years. And on it goes. Women, despite many of the objections of Falwell, Robertson, and others, now take every job known to mankind. Few blink at a female MD, Judge, or leader. My wife has twice (or three times) the earning power I do.

In my humble estimation, the church is simply trying to deny change. said...

As always, let me chime in here to remind us all of the difference between the churches you recoil against and the Church. If I may be permitted to use some imagery: The Church is, to Christians, Christ's body in the world. Some of those churches--acting against the good news message of Christ, I might add--only tear down. But others lift up. Christians who lift up are the Church, and there are many of them.

Streak said...

Point taken. I don't disagree, and have tried to make that clarification. Sometimes I get lazy. :)