After Brian Colmery said such nice things about me, I’m going to take him to task a little for his post “The Need for Protection in the Church” because I think it presents an overly romanticized view of women, men, and our cultural assumptions. Playing into the theme we see so often on TV of men who are utter dolts but are married to women who possess the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job, Brian gets a little lopsided on who’s to blame for the sorry state of relationships.
This all started because ofin which advice is given to guys looking to score with “church babes.” However, if you really want to go back to the source, John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, features a minister who advises that the best time to take advantage of a young woman is right after she’s walked out of the Sunday morning service. You’d be frightened at how accurate that statement is. Mixing the emotional nearness that people feel worshiping the Lord with romantic feelings of love and nearness to another person is all too easy to do.
But Brian weighs in:
I have plenty of thoughts on the issues that men have in the church – including, but not limited to, the fact that they’ve lost any coherent concept of masculinity, they need books telling them to go hunt things in the woods to awaken the “man within,” the single ones tend to be deathly afraid of speaking to women of any type, not to mention that they haven’t the foggiest idea of how to properly treat a woman (which involves cherishing, caring for, appreciating, encouraging, and protecting, not stammering in front of and equivocating on everything under the sun). These issues, while the root of the problem, have given birth to one of the saddest and most ignored issues in church life: the lack of protection of our women.
Now I don’t disagree with Brian on the issue of protection. Nor do I disagree with his trashing of the inane culture we’ve made out of Wild at Heart. Whenever I hear that men are bored in church, I have to ask myself how bored we can be when we’ve all got responsibility to not only ensure the protection of our own kids, but also the sons and daughters of all the other people in the church. Honestly, few things in this life are more precious than young women and young men growing into their adulthood. Our lame-brained rugged individualism in the American Church, though, has told us that someone else’s kids are not our problem, so it’s no wonder that our teens and tweens are getting picked off by the Enemy.
Brian goes on:
We’ve failed on two fronts, and the article makes it obvious. The first is that women in the church have been exposed to such weaklings in the pews next to them that they are tempted to connect with men who haven’t been born again. The fact that Christian men today do not stand out as above and beyond non-believing men in terms of their moral core, security (in Christ), capacity to make decisions and create, to work and make difficult decisions and simply to stand, is a blight not only on Christian men but on the God they serve. With the very Spirit of God living inside their chest, they squelch it enough to come off as spineless.
Whoa. That’s a pretty heavy accusation and one that I must say has not been my experience in toto. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.
Brian’s second point:
The same insecurity and androgyny that has led Christian men away from their rightful place as the culmination of masculinity has prevented them from being able – and even willing – to protect the women God has placed around them in their church. Again, women are more than capable to make good decisions, and yet I can’t help but feel (and read in the bible) that men have a responsibility to care for and cherish the women God has put in their lives. This shouldn’t have to involve a “program” effort, where this is outlined in three points and given out in memo form to the congregation. This desire to protect and cherish should arise from the inside of every man. And yet, if it must be programmed, let it be. The women in our churches are being preyed on by men who have nothing but their worst interest in mind. And the first line of defense has laid down their arms and sat down.
While I’ll certainly be scourged for offering that most young women I see in churches today are making terrible decisions, I’m going to stick with that for now. More in a little bit.
He finishes with this:
Anyone who isn’t a member of the church community and attempts (or even desires) to get close to a female member should have to go through the men of that community. Not in an “ask the father first” sort of way, but, well, yeah. Shouldn’t the men in the community be of such a caliber that the women would seek out their advice (in the same way that the women of the community should be of such a caliber that the men should seek out their advice)? And shouldn’t it be understood that there are men of such a caliber surrounding the women of a church community that wolves know not to enter there?
Now I’m going to weigh in based on my own experiences over the last nearly thirty years of being a Christian.
When I was a single Christian guy I know that just about everyone in the church around me held me in high esteem. I was teaching Bible studies by the time I was sixteen and discipling others. No one ever said a bad word about me. I was a clean-cut kid, 6′ 4″ tall, strong as an ox, well-built, smart, and fine to look at. I treated every woman I dated like an absolute queen and was universally acclaimed for my creative dates that made women feel special. Despite this, I lasted a very long time “on the market.”
If we applied Brian’s standard of masculinity here, I should have had the young women in the churches I was a part of fighting to be seen with me in public. So what was the problem?
Having a lot of time to think about this over the years, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
1. Many women today want financial security above all else
I never saw the guys who were ultimately on the fast-track career path suffering for the ladies, no matter how cloddish, caddish, or half-hearted about the things of the Lord they were. To a lot of young women, money alone talked. I’d chosen to go into camping ministry—not a direct path to being Bill Gates. I even had one girl I was particularly enamored with tell me that she didn’t see how I could fulfill her monetary aspirations making less than a thousand dollars a month out in the woods somewhere. Well, at least she was honest!All those guys I knew who were poor, but loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength…well the ladies weren’t banging down their doors. Sure, if one of those poor guys was going into the ministry, he might get a few takers. But the poor laborer rarely got a second look from the girls who ran in the church circles I did. Makes you wonder what the real priorities are and where those young women were getting those priorities.
2. All that most young women today know is the fallout of feminism
The Church in America bought the lies of feminism, and like Pandora’s Box, going back to what pre-feminist womanhood in the Church was like borders on being delusional. The same goes for manhood. The very foundations of our culture have changed because of feminism and the Church seems to be okay with what that has wrought, sadly. We may talk about spineless men, but that pandemic erupted because of feminism.I’ve talked much about the radical shifts in the work world and how they affected Christians, but few seismic shifts were greater than women entering the workplace. Now I’m not trying to excuse the Neanderthal mentality of men at work, but the repeated assaults they encountered for doing all the things men for years were told they needed to do with regards to women and to work made them gunshy. Rather than face a lawsuit for saying, “That’s a pretty dress,” or getting screamed at for holding a door open, men got used to ignoring women at work altogether for fear of losing their jobs. Better not to say or do anything that was formerly consider gallant than to say or do something that an “emancipated” woman would deem inappropriate. This has even gone so far that the military explicitly teaches young men (now that women make up a large part of our armed forces) to ignore the sounds of women soldiers being raped and tortured.
All this has carried over into the American Church. This does not excuse it at all, but to get at the root of the problem, the Church has to question some assumptions that it holds about the workplace, sex roles, and culture in general that it absolutely is not willing to discuss for fear of being branded “out of touch” or “patriarchal.” We’d rather get riled up about gay marriage than to question if women should be assuming work roles that were prototypically male. I don’t see James Dobson railing about lowering standards for firefighters and police to ensure that enough women can fill those roles. We conceded that issue a long, long time ago.
3. Our expectations about adulthood have changed
In the not-so-distant past, unmarried children stayed home with their parents until they eventually did get married. That was the Christian norm. However, many Christians today are of the opinion that kicking Johnny or Janey out of the house at eighteen is the godly thing to do. As a result, Johnny and Janey better have some marketable skills or else they’re dead in the workplace water. With college becoming the de facto requirement for getting a real adult job, if a young man or woman doesn’t leave the shelter of home for college, their chances for “making it” go down considerably. Yet as we all know, college has become a hive of sin, even, sadly, at a Christian college.Yet what option is given to Christian young people anymore? Unmarried Christian women aren’t at home learning how to become “a homemaker” like they used to be. Instead, they’re expected to be out on their own, making their own decisions, and earning a living. Again, much of this is do to feminism, but it’s hard to fault men entirely for this outcome. Is it any wonder that problems result?
4. Our culture denigrates the role of the elderly in aiding youth
- We have a tendency to shuttle our old people out of the way by sticking them in nursing homes or lumping them into church groups designated especially for them. But that lack of integration into the functioning community, even in churches, keeps the wisdom of the elderly away from the young people who need it the most. Grandparents used to have a much more important role in mitigating youth problems than they do today. This puts young people at a great disadvantage to their peers of a hundred years ago. Many youth live nowhere near their grandparents, either, but you don’t hear the Church saying anything about how following jobs around the country has broken up the extended family.
5. We set-up singles (and couples) for moral failure
Because our churches corral singles into peer groups, we fail them. We toss sexually-frustrated people into a sexually-frustrated pool and expect folks to be paragons of virtue. It’s like asking a starving dog not to eat the steak we just tossed him. Even the Church has an obsession with career success and this has led young men and women to stay single longer. It only invites moral failure. Again, the Church is sitting on the sidelines and encouraging behavior that only creates wounded people.Because our churches don’t begin marriage and family classes for kids as young as ten, we fail them. Domestic abuse in my area of Ohio is rampant. One reason is that we don’t teach boys at an early age to never strike a woman—ever. Worse still, we never teach young women to avoid the losers out there who are most likely to hit them at some time in their relationship. I know so many promising young women dating guys who are losers, it’s not funny. One of the girls I dated broke up with me and started dating a guy who abused her. She then turned around and started crying on my shoulder about it, while still dating the guy. Folks, that’s pathological, but more common than we care to admit.
(For more on this particular issue, read “Singleness: Radical Answers for a Harsh Reality“.)
6. Our youth groups aren’t discouraging a Girls Gone Wild mentality
When I was in youth group, activities for the sexes were often segregated. The guys played football while the girls did whatever the girls did. (Hey, I wasn’t a girl, so I didn’t know what they did.) But not only have youth activities gotten wilder and stupider, but there’s no keeping the girls out of that craziness. But girls and boys are different. If we open young women to the inane things that boys do, we give them the option to act just as stupid. In our efforts to make our youth groups cool enough to keep kids from dropping out, we’ve inadvertently encouraged the Girls Gone Wild culture.Should we be surprised then that young women today are remarkably aggressive compared to their peers from just thirty years ago? There’s a hardness there that shouldn’t be in a woman, especially a Christian one. Unfettered from whatever expectations we placed on feminine propriety back then, girls today look at themselves as being just like the boys. This is not to say that the boys don’t have a responsibility to grow up, but that we’ve crushed one of the bulwarks of human society: female normalization of males. With the girls out trying to be one of the boys instead of being solidly female, you can’t put all the blame on the boys if they respond to the girls as being just one of the guys, albeit with a different sexual attraction. That only leads to trouble.
7. We’ve encouraged young women to be their own bosses
All the issues I raised above have led to today’s young women thinking that they need nothing from men, especially protection. The problem for men here is that any man with a spine attempting to look out for a girl on the verge of making a mistake is more likely to get a “Butt out” as a response than a “Thank you for protecting me.” I know that this has been the response I’ve received whenever I’ve questioned a young woman about here choice of a guy.Empowering young women to be the masters of their own fate has had this two-edged sword effect: yes, they are more confident in their decision making, but the decisions reached are often ill-advised. And no amount of pressure will change their minds. Given the cultural edicts we’ve erected even within the Church, our hand is forced unless we are willing to question the entire basis of modern femininity within the whole Church structure. As far as I can see, no one is willing to start this kind of soul-searching.
I could go on and on.
But my point here is the same one I made in “Are You a Hamster?” when I responded to Douglas Groothuis: The fix is too simplistic. To Brian I say that it is not enough to ask men to get a spine. All sorts of deep, deep cultural and Church issues are involved here. If we do not deal with those underlying issues, all the backbones in the world won’t help.
In summary, the Church must start questioning
- How we prepare young people for marriage
- What expectations we set in others for determining a good marriage partner
- What makes a true man or woman of God
- What cultural values support or detract from godliness in our sexual roles
- The inroads that feminism has made into Church practice and the subsequent cultural expectations of Christians
- Whether defaulting to kicking the kids out at eighteen or sending them off to college is the way of Christ
- Whether we are contributing to the manliness of women
- Whether the measure of a man, at least the one is that women seem to be prioritizing, is how much money he makes or how successful his career is rather than the depth of his love for Christ.
- Whether women belong in the roles that formerly were held solely by men
Maintaining the sexual status quo we’ve adopted in the Church over the last forty years won’t cut it anymore. It’s not enough to grow a spine unless that spine is able to bear up under tough questions about womanhood and manhood in the American Church and the culture at large.
Are we ready to question it all?