Act Like Jesus
This weekend in Hamilton is the Act Like Men conference. No, I didn’t attend. I had a few friends encourage me to so that I could write on it more accurately, but I didn’t think I could do it without yelling in rage (wait, is that manly? maybe they’d love me for it) or walking out. Based on the speaker list, though, I think I can safely assume that it is going to be the same kind of stuff that is usually associated with that phrase. Even if my assumption is wrong, I really want to target that phrase and the problems that come with it.
As in most harmful things, there is some good buried. This phrase and the men’s movement in conservative Christianity do typically try to call men to be better followers of Jesus. They really believe that men in our contemporary Western world are generally not mature enough, and I agree with that. I also understand and agree with the idea that the church has not done well enough helping men in recent years.
What exactly that looks like – what a real, mature man looks like – is where the problem comes in. Their definition of maturity is in many cases what I define as immaturity.
This “act like men” attitude typically promotes dominance as strength, but I think that Jesus and the rest of the New Testament really models to us that it is really those who are weak who are strong. Jesus never sided with the power-brokers, and was in fact killed by them, so why would we say that being a real godly man means to be the type of man that killed Jesus and is consistently opposed by Scripture? If Jesus went for dominance instead of service, there would be no atonement, no salvation, no new creation. Jesus did not “act like a man” and for that we owe him everything.
In one of the more ridiculous ways, “act like men” often means to be violent or at the very least enjoy violence in sports and other entertainment. I’ve heard horror stories of children being forced to do pushups over animal feces while being yelled at to “be a man.” That story isn’t from last century; they are from my generation. You aren’t considered a real man if you don’t love power and violence. And yet Jesus consistently taught nonviolence and never promoted it, not even in sport (I’m not saying aggression and physicality is wrong in sport, but enjoying it definitely isn’t necessary). In other words, Jesus did not “act like a man.”
Similarly, real mature men, according to many of these teachers, look at women as lesser. Maybe not in some abstract theoretical equality sense which really means nothing, but definitely in the practical sense. And yet Jesus commissioned women as the earliest evangelists, he taught women directly even though society did not approve, he healed unclean women who should never have been even close to him, and he welcomed hundreds of women as his followers. Jesus consistently demonstrated that women were worth as much to him as men. In other words, Jesus did not “act like a man.”
We are told by some of these teachers that real men are not emotional, always making decisions completely rationally based on the pure objective truth. And yet we see that Jesus wept at the death of a friend and we see that Jesus constantly valued love over truth, relationship over being right. Jesus did not “act like a man.”
A real man is one who loves like Jesus, serves like Jesus, nonviolently battles the oppressions of the world (including against women) like Jesus, and isn’t afraid to prioritize relationship even if it means not taking the opportunity to show he’s right.
A real woman is one who loves like Jesus, serves like Jesus, nonviolently battles the oppressions of the world (including against women) like Jesus, and isn’t afraid to prioritize relationship even if it means not taking the opportunity to show she’s right.
So men, don’t “act like a man.” Women, don’t “act like a woman.” Act like Jesus. That’s what we were made to act like and remade to act like as new creations in Jesus, no matter what parts you have between your legs.
I was happy to learn this morning that there was an alternate conference last weekend called “Act Like Men?” I learned too late to go, but I’ve started listening to the podcasts from it which are available here. My favourite tidbit so far is that the phrase “Act Like Men” is indeed in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 16:13, but guess who it was addressed to? Women. There’s more unpacking of that in the second talk on that link, but it is essentially an idiom for being courageous.