From time to time I read articles that talk about Christianity and masculinity.While every article has its own idiosyncrasies the main message I tend to read is that only the hyper-macho, jock type masculinity is of true value to the church. All other types of men, and women are by default of lesser importance. This has bothered me quite a lot. I cannot help but hear echoes of locker room bullying in these pieces.
Responding to this idea with either my past (how dare you bully shame on you) or our cultural present (don’t you know that we have moved beyond such rigid stereotypes) while not wrong is not entirely helpful. The problem is these teachers put forward their ideas in a way that says, ‘this is what the bible says therefore this is what is; right, holy, just, and true’.
In that light I would rather debate them as bible teachers then challenge them on their cultural sensitivity.
Talking about the role of men and women in the bible is always a contentious issue and it will likely remain one for a long time still. So this will hardly be the last word on the issue. Never the less here we go.
I think the major texts to be considered are;
When we look at these passages there are a number of things that we should take away. First both men and women are created with equal dignity before God. This cannot be overstated. Man and woman both were made in the image of God. It wasn’t that man was made in the image of God and woman was made in the image of man. In the sees of God men and women were created equal.
Second Eve was created as Adam’s helper. This has caused a great deal of ink to be spilled claiming this proves Eve’s inferiority. I disagree. At the very least I want help from someone who is equally skilled at a task as I am. But ideally I want help from someone who is more skilled at a task than I am. I tend not to ask people whose skills are inferior to my own for help which would be counterproductive.
It is also worth noting that God is referred to as Israel’s helper. I suspect no one reads this passage at attempts to make the argument that because God is the helper, he is inferior to the nation of Israel.
Lastly when we look at the somewhat infamous ‘wives & husbands’ passages we see the teaching is; that husbands and wives must mutually submit and love each other. That really is it. Again I think too much has been said about the difference between submission and love. To love someone there must be submission, and in this context the submission ought to be one of love not brute force. To make my marriage work I have to submit to my wife some of who I am, some of my wants, my desires, some of my authority and she has to do that same. If we don’t all we will do is demand our own way every day in a battle of wills and selfishness.
To force these passages to say more than they do damages the texts. It means we are importing our own ideas about men and women into the text, which is not helpful. These passages do not define what gender roles ought to look like, they really only talk about our mutual value, and that we must adopt a Christ-like attitude of submission and love. The rest of the issues (who stays home with the kids, who cooks, who is the main money earner etc) seem to be more cultural than scriptural in nature.
Lastly if the biblical passages about men and women are not enough to give you pause when ascribing hard and fast gender roles a number of passages about God should. God seems far less shy to associate with images that are typically ‘feminine’ than many men.
Yes, the vast majority of imagery associated with God are masculine in nature. The bible talks about God as father, warrior, protector, builder, king and so on. We should expect that. The bible was written in a patriarchal society.
What is more interesting is the fact that we find a fair amount of female imagery associated with God. In these passages we see God taking on imagery of being a women, a mother, even female animals (hens and bears).
When I read these passages I not only see an affirmation of the value of women, I also see affirmation of a more sensitive less testosterone driven masculinity. As the title implies I see God has some Mr. Mom tendencies.
So do I think the idea that men are only men if they faithfully conform to macho stereotypes absolutely not. Men we don’t need to become a burly lumberjack to be accepted by God as a ‘true man’. Likewise women you do not need to feel like God has deemed you as second class citizens.
It is time for this macho centered bullying attitude masking itself as biblical truth to disappear.