There are certain media personalities I avoid because they are too frustrating. I know, I know… That’s their deal, their bread-and-butter — their notoriety is directly proportional to their ability to raise listeners’ blood pressure which, in turn, is directly proportional to their ratings. So they insult, mock and humiliate others with their derision, sarcasm and general stomping about. They “speak for the people” and shoot from the hip — until they are confronted with someone who will not stand for their nonsense. Then, they perform a little two-step: first, issue a public non-apology (attention shock jocks, pundits and talking heads: it’s not that difficult to learn how to apologize) and, then, a quick retreat behind the first amendment.

Last week, Don Imus (to whom I will not link) went on the air and called the women’s basketball team from Rutgers University “nappy headed hos.” Initially, he tried to brush this off as a poorly conceived attempt at humor but started backpedaling once he realized his job might be on the line. Instead, he received a two-week suspension from his employers. Eventually, after losing corporate sponsorship and high-profile guests, he was fired from his job. Here a couple of interesting responses to this controversy I have seen over the last couple of days:

Certainly, issues of race have been on my heart and mind over the last several weeks. But this recent controversy brings to the forefront of my thoughts another idea with which I have been wrestling for quite some time as well — that is, the idea of church-sanctioned misogyny.

The church is often guilty of following the culture’s lead. Sometimes, the results are almost surreal (sigh. double-sigh.). But it is genuinely troubling when the church begins to imitate the values of the culture around us. I’m not talking about pushing hot-button topics like abortion or homosexuality. It is clear that the religious right has used these topics to manipulate Christians into voting in their larger agenda. What has been on my mind is more subtle than these issues, and I see it coming up again and again in discussions of the church — what it is to be a man.

Over the last couple of years there have been numerous television ads that have attempted to define what manhood is all about. Beer ad after beer ad tells us that a real man is a hard-drinkin’, woman-objectifyin’, lovable dolt (who never experiences the negative consequences of this lifestyle). This burger ad declares “I am man” — hungry and incorrigible. A soap company urges the male of species to take back the shower (Because it smelled nice? Was it too clean?). This would just be an interesting anomaly, perhaps a response from those who felt left behind by the metrosexual movement of a couple years back, were it not for the apparent eagerness of many churches to sign up for this same agenda.

Here is how the thinking seems to go these days:

  • Identify the problem: There are not enough men in the church today
  • Identify the reasons behind the problem: Church is wimpy. The church has been neutered. Church is for girls. There is not enough bare-knuckled ultimate fighting. Most men could probably beat up the pastor in the pulpit (This is an actual reason stated by a church leader. With a straight face.), so they cannot be a part of such a group. Church takes too long.
  • Address the problem: Proclaim that Jesus is basically a tattooed street fighter who wants to throw down with all the namby-pampy wimps out there (Again, an actual description of our Lord. Apparently, also with a straight face). Start a “Church for Men” (Being a marketing major in college, I would have advised them to choose a name that wouldn’t immediately register “Hairclub for Men” in most people’s minds. But that’s just me).

While I agree that it is important to bring more men into the church, I strongly disagree with this movement within the church. On a personal level, none of these chest-pounding scenarios is particularly attractive to me. So, while I think it is really funny that the Church for Men times the pastor’s sermon on a scoreboard, I do not believe that only men find long sermons boring. I’m pretty sure no one, man or woman, likes a long-winded sermon. Sure, I love SportsCenter (much to the confusion of my beleaguered wife, I will watch the same SC twice in a row — guys, you know what I’m talking about) and I can finish most of the Rock’s singalong catchphrases (although I’m not sure I should be so proud about that one), most of my reading is limited to Page Two over at ESPN.com and I cannot walk through a museum without saying “I don’t get it” at least seven or eight times — but I refuse to believe that this is what defines me as a man.

It is the worst-case example of cultural eisegesis for churches to project the white, American definition of manhood onto Scripture (or our Savior, for that matter). Many proponents of this view say we got into this whole mess in the first place by catering to the felt needs of women (as if there were something wrong with upholding and valuing the intrinsic dignity and worth God has placed upon women), which drove men out of the church — bored and in tears (well, not really crying, because there’s no crying in church). Their approach does exactly what they claim caused this massive failure, except this time it works in their favor (as if this were a zero-sum proposition). They are catering to the felt needs of men in order to bring them into the church. The essential message is, “Hey, manly men! Jesus doesn’t want to transform your heart or redeem your perspective. No, He loves your belligerent pride — and your cage fighting! Spouting off hateful rhetoric? Great! Degrading and insulting others – yeah! Intimidation and slander – now you’re getting it! Jesus wants you to be a decider!”

I am not speaking about people like John Eldredge, whose “wild at heart” movement has spoken to scores of men (including me). However, I take significant issue with those who equate biblical masculinity with our Western culture’s view of masculinity. It makes me sad to think that there are pastors and leaders who are basically telling the men of their churches that God wants them to be hard drinking tough guys, or that it is the fault of women that they don’t want to come to church.

There is no one in human history mightier than Jesus. We remembered that this Easter Sunday, that even the cords of death could not contain our risen Lord. But Scripture tells us that Jesus did not use His immeasurable power to subjugate or harass others. Jesus laid down His life. The truest measure of strength is our ability to give it away. Those who become resentful when asked to submit themselves to God or to others are not genuinely powerful. Any jerk can get upset and stomp around. It takes a truly powerful person to lay down personal rights, agendas and pride for the sake of Christ — it takes a real man, if you will.

My family attended the Saddleback Easter service after our own church services were done (which was a pretty incredible answer to prayer, as we were able to bring several family members who are not Christians) and, interestingly, Rick Warren touched on some of these ideas during his sermon (which certainly would not have cut it at the man’s church because it was really, really long!). He pointed out that the early Christians were not fighting champions, but martyrs. They gave their lives away, down to their final breath, for the Gospel. Warren identified a similar problem within the church (sometimes men are not good at/don’t want to sit around and talk about their “feelings”) but went much deeper in addressing these issues. His definition of being a man (roughly paraphrased): Finding, and answering, a challenge that forces me to become something greater than myself. This journey will take integrity, courage and a willingness to risk.

One of my favorite quotes from him that night (about which one of my non-Christian family members smiled and said, “Wow, he just says it like it is, doesn’t he?” after the service) was, “It’s easy to live for yourself. Any fool can do that. But it takes real courage to live for something greater than yourself.”

These are issues with which I wrestle not only as a pastor, but as a follower of Jesus everyday. Last week, a pretty ugly encounter in the parking lot of a local shopping plaza made that abundantly clear. I will spare you the details, but what started off as a relatively small disagreement quickly boiled over into a direct confrontation. I stood there in the parking lot facing some guy who was clearly in the wrong, had purposely provoked a response from me and then walked away — quite an unholy trinity ;) Needless to say, I was extremely upset. And, to make matters worse, this guy’s demeanor basically said to me, “What are you going to do about it, Asian guy?”

I was tempted to subscribe, momentarily, to the myth of redemptive violence so that I could work this guy over (thanks, Jack Bauer!). In the end, gladly, I did not resort to physical violence. But I did perpetuate the problem by confronting this person with hostility. Although I never threatened this person, it was readily apparent that I was extraordinarily upset. No sooner did I confront this person than did he begin backpedaling, revealing that his tough guy front to be little more than a mask to cover his inner fear and insecurity. I experienced no satisfaction from letting this person know that he could not push me around. Instead, I felt a sort of creeping rot within me. Appropriately, I spent quite a bit of time in repentance before God this past Good Friday.

I don’t want to be part of a church that encourages these ugly, sinful tendencies within me. I refuse to believe that the story is that small. I long for God to transform the deepest parts of my heart, soul and body. I refuse to let culture or my own misguided heart tell me what it means to be a man. I want to be defined by God, and to build communities defined by Him.

Advertisements