"Be a Man" and Other Things Jesus Never Said
by Marcus Hedström
Before we get into it, I need to set a few things straight. Stick with me; it’ll be quick.
When I write about gender and masculinity, it is primarily in a Western context. Masculinity on a global scale is a much more complicated and nuanced conversation—one that I have neither the resources nor the voice to write about. Second, I am aware that I am a straight, white, upper-middle-class man, and my life comes with inherent benefit because of that. My experiences with masculinity are different than those of others, and I will do my best to take that into account in my writing. Let’s begin.
Christianity has a man problem.
In 2019, it was revealed that more than 700 children, women, and men were victims of sex crimes at the hands of Southern Baptist Convention pastors, employees, and volunteers. Each year, a growing number of high-profile Christian male pastors, artists, theologians, and influencers are accused of abuses of power, whether sexual, emotional, or monetary. Earlier this year, Jerry Falwell, Jr., former president of Liberty University, one of the largest Christian universities in the world, stepped down after a number of scathing claims were brought against him, including that he and his wife had a sexual relationship with their pool-boy.
Christianity has a woman problem.
It is no question that throughout history, into our current cultural moment, women have been handed the butt end of sexist expectations and systems. For centuries, women have been oppressed, repressed, put down, and told “no" by a harmfully patriarchal society, and, amidst inordinate opposition, a rightful wave of feminist backlash is beginning to change that. And where has the Church been? Hiding in the background, waiting for someone else to cross the frontlines, keeping our mouths shut so we don’t have to say what we really think. A few women have spoken—and more often than not, their words have been deemed radical, “worldly,” and too much. A few men have spoken—and more often than not, their words have been hurtful, fearful, and prideful. The Church must wake up to and repent of our complicity in injustice against women.
It is vital that the church re-examine the roles for and expectations of women. I have come to the conclusion, however, that one of the very greatest threats to women, society, and our calling as followers of Jesus is our current definitions of masculinity. This statement may seem irrational, overblown, or even insane, but don’t stop reading yet.
I am not alone in my concern. The American Psychological Association has created, for the first time ever, a list of guidelines for combatting the dangers of “traditional masculine ideology” on men’s physical and mental health. There are terms around the world for this problem: In Mandarin, 直男癌, or “straight man cancer; in Hindi, Mardaangi, or “poisonous masculinity; in Iceland, eitruð karlmennska, or “fatal masculinity.” The epidemic of harmful and incorrect ideals of masculinity is obvious. It is imperative that the Church be a part of the cure.
In response to the repression of masculinity and femininity, there has been a wave in culture to throw the baby out with the bathwater—to get rid of gender altogether. Scripture is clear that God created gender, that it matters, and that it is a good thing. At the pinnacle of creation, God said “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us . . . In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We are created with gender in mind because our gender is a part of what it means to be created in the image of God, and—news flash—God is not a guy. Throughout Scripture, both masculine and feminine language is used to describe God. God is written about as a father and a husband, but also a mother in labor, nursing her children, and a hen comforting her chicks. God is not merely male or female. Our gender is a part of our created identity in the same way that our other qualities are—it is an expression of God’s character in our being.
Men and women are called together to rule over the earth and subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply in number. However, culture has twisted our unique callings as men and women into a set of expectations that have no Scriptural authority.
The Bible doesn’t tell men to grow a pair. It doesn’t tell men to toughen up, to suck it up, what to like and what not to like, how to dress, or what hobbies to have. The Bible does tell men to love God and to love others—nearly everything else about our masculinity and our expression of it is up to us. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is ambiguous, we should be open-minded and full of grace.
The symptoms of harmful masculinity begin to appear when we are young boys. The ways we are raised and socialized from our early lives on create patterns, habits, and systems that we are both complicit in and victims of. The symptoms find their way into every facet of existence—men, women, relationships, culture, work, health, and the Church. Neither solely men nor women today are to blame; rather, the stronghold of harmful masculine ideals is powerful and has been infecting our world for centuries. What is our responsibility, however, is doing something about it. Despite the overwhelming bleakness and size of the problem, there is hope. The Church can no longer sit idly by while the roots of sin continue to define what being a man means. If our calling as followers of Jesus is to make the earth look more like heaven, then we must begin tearing down the walls of harmful masculinity so that we can truly begin to build.
The world—and the Kingdom of heaven—urgently needs a redefinition of masculinity.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of the Defendant or its staff members.