Today, Rahcel Held Evans challenged male bloggers to reflect on John Piper’s recent assertion that God has given Christianity a “masculine feel.” This statement, which was made as a part of the opening remarks at a Pastor’s Conference entitled God, Manhood, and Ministry – Building Men for the Body of Christ, was followed by a number of other comments which generally affirm that churches, families, ministries, etc. need to be run, or at least primarily run, by men. Judging from its web site, the various attendees at the conference (all of them men? I don’t know) will get to hear a lot of manly men talk about manly things, such as this statement about how collapsing under pain is a characteristic of the “effeminate”:
Normally, in a post like this, I like to point out some good things that I see in men who take on leadership roles, some wonderful male role models of leadership that I’ve known in the past, and so forth. However, since I’m conversing with a manly-man type mindset that might not respect someone who appears to have too many nuances in their convictions, I’ll skip that part and instead put things this way:
If you think churches, families, and ministries are better off if they have a “masculine,” manly “feel” to them, then I’m ready to talk. And I think you’re wrong.
So bring it.
[Or… did I do that right? I’m not so good at machismo talk, it turns out. My wife just laughed at me when I told her what I was going to write. So maybe I just need to get to the point.]
The idea that God’s character is essentially male is not to be found in scripture, nor is it a theologically responsible . From the very beginning, scripture makes it clear that humanity’s imagio dei (“image of God”) is found in our maleness and femaleness. “…in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27).
Some want to think of God as primarily male. Some want to think of God as an empty neuter – a personality that can only be characterized as genderless. But to me, God “feels” gender-full, both male and female. God’s personality should be thought of as rich and vibrant, abounding in characteristics that we would classify as both masculine and feminine.
This only makes sense. If God wants to make humanity in God’s image, and masculinity constitutes all there is to God, why bother with women?
Plus, what you are saying to women when you say God is a man? You are telling them that they are not, truly imagio dei. You are telling them they are a tacked on afterthought, a dim, imperfect thing that is destined to always fall short of the full light of God’s glory. You are telling them they are not fully human, because they do not fully reflect who God is. This sort of talk isn’t just problematic. It sends an irresponsible message to our daughters, spouses, mothers, grandmothers and friends. It tells them they aren’t really – and can never truly be – literally – as godly as us men.
God’s not like you women folk, after all. He’s a guy.
There is also a sort of male-ego-driven hubris in the notion that all of God’s traits are “masculine.” Not “collapsing” under pain is a male trait? Huh? Just how many live births have you experienced, my friend? In truth, there are a lot of God-like traits, such as an uncompromising demand for justice and fairness, and a deep abiding love for humanity-as-children, that could just as easily, if not more readily, be characterized as feminine, rather than masculine. The need to colonize every Godly trait with the label “masculine” is itself an indicator of a problem.
Furthermore, if women are subordinate to men, it’s a problem that the work of Jesus is healing, not a mandate to cling to a “masculine feel” in Churches. Remember, the stories in Genesis tell us that woman became subordinate to man when she and Adam “fell.” Jesus’ role, we are later told, is to reverse that curse. So why the push to keep the curse in place? Hasn’t our Lord pointed us toward a liberation from that order of things?
And what, exactly, can be said about the legacy of strong, “masculine” leadership in the church? Before Jesus was even crucified, his “manly” followers abandoned him while the women stuck it out. The women were the first witnesses to the resurrection, and there is some reason to believe the men-folk would never have even seen the empty tomb if it weren’t for their witness. While the men of the early church apparently spent a good deal of their time debating whether gentile guys should mutilate a part of their anatomy, the women were cheerfully funding the spread of the gospel, delivering apostolic epistles, and hosting house churches.
And from there, things only got worse. Crusades. The execution of countless “heretics” throughout the Reformation era. Unjust wars “baptized” as God-approved by male church leaders. We can hardly say that the more “masculine” forms of Christianity over the years have been universally positive developments.
So that is my take on the call for a “masculine feel” in church, family, and ministry leadership. I understand the need to help men, even the kind that drive big trucks and like to grill what they kill, feel comfortable within the Christian community. I really do, and I think its great that people are trying to find ways to do that. But the assertion that our failing Churches “need more dude” is just baffling to me. An over-masculinized approach is exactly what got us where we are.