I’ve just spent a lot of time reviewing a book about Biblical Womanhood. As a man, I have to admit I was feeling a little left out. So I decided to go ahead and talk briefly about the complementary qualities which are often subscribed to men in the biblical manhood movement which typically runs alongside the biblical womanhood movement. We are talking about a complementarian worldview, after all, so in theory what women are supposed to has its complement in what men are supposed to do, and that is indeed how it is usually taught.
Women are supposed to be quiet and gentle and men are supposed to be tough and angry. At least that’s what some complementarians like Mark Driscoll repeatedly tell us (there are lots of complementarians who don’t believe that but it is more prominent from those in the biblical manhood movement). Yet Paul includes gentleness among the fruits of the Spirit for both men and women, and while Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, he also was always primarily focused on the good of the other to the point of sacrificing his life for everyone else. As he tells Pilate, he could have summoned an army of angels to rescue him, but that’s not what his Kingdom does. His Kingdom serves the weak, not beats up people to prove its manliness. It seems like Jesus wasn’t very good at biblical manhood. If we are part of his Kingdom, we should be modelling his teachings and his lifestyle with a willingness to tell the straight truth, yes, but also be always grounded in the dignity of the other person which inevitably leads us to being gentle as we do so.
If women are supposed to be the domestic goddess, staying at home to cook, clean, and take care of the children, men are supposed to be out in the workforce making money. I’ve heard complementarian teachers advise women to make sure that 1. if you have children, you shouldn’t be working at all because you need to put all your energy into your family, and 2. if you don’t have and do work, you need to make less money than the man. I’ve talked about the former off and on through this series, attempting to debunk the idea that a woman’s worth is found only in being married and with kids by pointing out how highly singleness is esteemed in Scripture and the church all the way up to the Reformation.
I think the idea on the latter is that our fragile manly pride will be hurt if we are making less money than our wives. To that I ask: isn’t pride usually considered a sin? Why are we trying to protect it? In the case for complementarians, I think it is because they see it as the correct role for men so we better not discourage that even if it means invoking something we identify as a sin to do it. That’s the level that the debate is at: pride, traditionally amongst the 7 deadly sins, is still a lesser evil than a woman making money. Even if your marriage opts for the man to work and the woman to stay at home for whatever reason, men need to be seriously careful of falling into this trap that they are better because they make more money.
This one is the complement to Rachel’s chapters on Obedience and Submission. Most complementarians prefer the language of submission and would shy away from saying that women must obey, but for many egalitarians there isn’t really any difference between the two terms. So do men need to lead? I talked about this a bit in my post on submission, but to say it again, we need to pay attention to the commands to the men in the household codes instead of only the ones to the women. Men and women are called to mutually submit. Men are called to love their wives the way Christ loved the church, which means service to the point of giving up his life. We’ve got the hard job, and the only way that is being the Master is the same way that Jesus was the master – being the least and serving her needs about our own.
This one’s a little confusing. Rachel explained that women in Scripture are really seen as valorous, but that’s not how Christian subculture usually portrays things. To reference Wild At Heart and Captivated, men are supposed to be heroes and women are supposed to be swept along for the ride – involved and active, sure, but ultimately as the damsel in distress to be rescued by her knight in shining armour. This definition of valour does go back to the other points about being tough, angry and out of the home. Once again, it doesn’t really seem to be how Jesus operates. He was the greatest hero of all time and he did it by serving others and dieing for them, not what we usually think of heroes.
Insatiable Sex DriveRachel in her tent for “that time of the month”
This one combines Rachel’s chapters on Beauty, Modesty, and Purity. Like women, men in complementarian circles are told to be pure, which almost always means sexually pure. A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about the idea of purity and I asked how he would define it. I asked about 3 different times in different ways, but all of his answers were about sexuality one way or another. It’s interesting that we’ve scrapped most of the other concepts of purity but held onto that one. For clarification, purity in its original form was about being ritually clean and able to participate in religious activities. It wasn’t a matter of sinfulness. Now we use it to mean sinfulness, but only sexual sinfulness, which ignores all of the other purity codes like the no-touching-men-while-menstruating rule. It’s probably a large part of why most evangelicals think of sexual sins as worse than any other kind of sin. I wonder what it would look like if we started dropping the p-word for other sins like greed or violence?
At the same time, we men are less likely expected to actually stay pure. To be fair, this does fit Scripture a lot better where it was always a woman’s fault no matter what. Women were just property after all. This is why our sisters are usually blamed. Women need to be modest because if not, the insatiable sex drive of men will kick in, instigate something it shouldn’t, and it will be primarily her fault because he really couldn’t help himself. Sure, he will be a little chastised for it, too, but in most churches he will quickly be forgiven while it will be held over her head for years. A couple of years ago I heard of a church which even made a rape victim apologize in front of the 200+ congregation for wrecking the man’s marriage while the rapist/adulterer never did similar. This blame the victim mentality drives me crazy since it makes us men nothing more than animals and then it blames women for it. I can only assume this idea was started by men in order to get off the hook from the consequences of a lot of their treatment of women. This has a lot more to do with the fact they could do whatever they wanted since women were property than it has to do with them not really being unable to control themselves, but some Christian groups still perpetuate this idea that men are just sex animals and women must tame them by dressing modest enough to not attract other men but sexy enough to keep their husband from looking elsewhere.
Women are supposed to be mothers. Less often stressed but still seen as the norm, men are supposed to be fathers. Singleness is typically not appreciated. I’ve touched on this multiple times in the series because it is not just a different interpretation of Scripture and not just missing from Scripture, but it is actually contradictory to the New Testament approach to marriage. Singleness was strongly encouraged then and in my opinion should still be now.
While women are often encouraged to be forgiving to the point of passivity, men are usually encouraged to dole out righteous judgements. Men are typically far more expected to punish the wicked and reward the good. From an Anabaptist perspective, it is really interesting that women used to be kept from voting in order to maintain their innocence. It was assumed that getting involved in politics would somehow be a compromise of Kingdom morals. But instead of trying to subvert that political system, they settled for saying that men can get their hands dirty while we protect women at home. Over time, then, it became honourable for men to act in the ways of the world while women were supposed to be something completely different. I, on the other hand, think that both genders are expected to be acting for justice but it is a far better concept of justice than the retributive kind. We are all called to be a part of restoring the world. Part of restoring the world, of course, is undoing the curse that men would rule over their wives.
While women are supposed to be quiet, men are supposed to be vocal. After all, we’re the ones who are supposed to do all the teaching and be the ones in the workforce. We’re the ones who need to lead the nation in creating retributive justice. We’re the ones who need to teach the church because, after all, the other half of the image of God doesn’t have anything to say to us. I can’t believe some people would rather have Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist as their pastor than have a skilled woman. I do understand that on average, men are more likely to be more confident in vocal settings, but I can’t help but think that the reason for that is because we’re told we should be while women are told the opposite.
In summary, I do think the biblical manhood movement is at least as dangerous as the biblical womanhood movement. It encourages attitudes like anger and judgement that are not good for anyone and it puts men into a box of what they need to be almost as much as the biblical womanhood movement does to women. The picture I posted at the start of the post makes light of it, but the reality is that patriarchy is as bad for men in the long run as it is for women. We might think we’ve climbed our way to the top and need to hold on to it against the threat of losing our power to those pesky egalitarians, but Jesus tells us that the last will be first. By continually striving for the power-over of the world we neglect the power-under of the Kingdom of God which calls us to a life of loving service to all, regardless of gender.