Is the Christian Masculinity Movement Biblical?

This picture of a muscular man is the first search result for "masculinity" on Flickr creative commons. Chandler Epp says that a notion of masculinity centered on physical strength and stamina is harmful to men. (Mike Slichenmyer via Flickr Creative Commons)
This picture of a muscular man is the first search result for “masculinity” on Flickr creative commons. Chandler Epp says that a notion of masculinity centered on physical strength and stamina is harmful to men. (Mike Slichenmyer via Flickr Creative Commons)

I remember the first time someone called me “gay.”

I remember who said it. I remember how he said it. I remember the message he intended to convey.

For two fifth-graders playing at recess, this episode made no commentary on sexuality. Rather, this barb was as an allegation of masculinity—my apparent, ungodly deficit of it.

No casual observer would have mistaken my nerdy, lanky frame for the next coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger, mind you. The 11-year-old me was weak, unathletic, and generally disinterested in matters that captivated most boys my age. According to the well-established rules of playground parlance, this shortage of manly attributes amounted to a crime against my gender. I later came to learn (and much later, unlearn) that this deficiency also was considered a crime against God.

Popular political commentator David French most recently espoused the prevailing conservative viewpoint on this topic when bemoaning the state of modern men for National Review. Riffing on a new study claiming that millennial males are physically weaker, on average, than their fathers, French concludes that today’s young men are “losing touch with a critical element of true masculinity:” their “raw physical strength.”

French says that being a man means being “a protector, builder, and fixer.” By way of example, he says learned to be a man by doing manual labor: changing the oil in his car, building a porch, hauling firewood. In a world of instant oil changes and electric fireplaces, he says, “today’s young males don’t have common touchstones for what it’s like to grow up being a man.”

“Men were meant to be strong,” French writes. “Yet we excuse and enable their weakness.” It’s this strong-versus-weak manhood paradigm that brought me back to that unforgettable day in the schoolyard.

The belief that manliness reveals itself through physical feats and shows of strength recalls long-lost worlds of Greek mythology and Middle Ages folklore, but even today, this notion remains surprisingly pervasive in Christian literature and culture.

The “masculinity crisis” is perpetuated in Christian self-help books like John Eldridge’s Wild At Heart, which ascribes glory to the man who conquers mountains, charges hills, and takes no prisoners (his loving wife excepted). Christian tomes grace bookstore shelves with not-so-subtle titles like The Dude’s Guide to Manliness and Act Like Men. The Manual to Manhood, the No. 1 book for Christian teens on Amazon, includes essays that instruct boys on how to fulfill godly, manly duties like grilling steaks, changing tires, impressing girls, and wearing the right cologne. Church men’s ministries are awash with military-inspired, chest-thumping curricula that liken life to war and equate strength with valor.

What do these depictions of manhood communicate to men who gravitate more towards the arts or classical literature instead of adventure and the great outdoors? What message do they send to those who connect more with God-as-the-great-Lover than God-as-the-ultimate-He-Man?

Not much that’s biblical, in my view.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Chandler Epp

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