When Jesus Redefines Masculinity

man looking out at water

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Since coming out you might notice I cross my legs. When I’m animated or struggling to find words, I wave my hands around. I communicate primarily through my facial expressions, and when I do share my thoughts, my voice tends to be tentative and soft. I’m passionate about relational and artistic subjects like social politics, theology, psychological and spiritual flourishing, literature, spiritual memoirs, the craft of writing, film, and music. Culturally speaking, I’m no man’s man. By many churches’ standards, I’m a failure as a Christian.

 

I’m not a biblical man.

 

Or am I?

 

One of the many aspects I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to interact with other writers. Over the past year I’ve become somewhat acquainted with Pastor Nate Pyle after he shared a lovely post with me about his intention to stay in the LGBTQ conversation. Nate recently published a book on masculinity called Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. I despise most books on biblical masculinity and gender roles, but Nate’s message resonated with me.

 

Man Enough by Nate Pyle

 

Nate stresses multiple times throughout his book that there isn’t one single biblical definition for masculinity, but multiple ones. Rather than restricting men to a narrow definition of manliness, Nate offers a far more liberating, countercultural perspective:

 

“It is time to stop defining masculinity by what men do and start defining it by who men are. It is time to stop pushing men to fulfill a role and start focusing on helping men become human. Rather than focusing on making men breadwinners, warriors, or even better husbands, it is time to focus on encouraging men to be fully human and alive. If men can learn to be courageous—and not a ‘run into a burning house’ courageous but a ‘be authentic about who you are’ courageous—then men will be better husbands, better fathers, better coworkers, better neighbors, better friends. Better humans. Embodying characteristics such as vulnerability, integrity, gentleness, and courage will serve men far better in a changing world than forcing them to accept some predetermined role.”¹

 

At first, Nate’s message felt obvious for me. I’m nearly 30, and I’ve journeyed far enough in my story to care little about how others perceive me. I’m never going to be the guy who likes sports or hunting or understands the mechanics of a car. I’m never going to date a girl, get married, and have kids. But truth be told, I feel pressure to act more masculine. I lift weights most weeks and in my early twenties I trained myself to say “Man” and “Dude.” If I want to be recognized as a writer, speaker, and activist in a heteronormative culture, then I’m going to feel pressured to act “normal,” meaning masculine. Gay culture, even Gay Christian subculture, values masculinity in gay males. It’s seen as more attractive, confident, and strong. I once pursued a guy I liked during my brief Side A experience. He told me I was cute but not enough of a “bro” to be his boyfriend. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t man enough.

 

What I appreciated most about Nate’s message in Man Enough was his call for men to become authentic human beings. It’s a message that doesn’t bash masculinity or femininity, but recognizes of our unique personalities that suffocate under rigid gender role designations. Nate offers a strong warning: “Using the gospel to reinforce gender roles and ideals redirects our attention away from its central goal: that men and women will become like Jesus.”² This goal of developing Christ-like qualities lays the foundation of Nate’s argument. Popular culture and even church culture divides our humanity, esteeming some characteristics while minimizing others. But in Jesus we see complete humanity. We see a man who experiences righteous fury in the temple but also weeps when a friend dies. We see a man willing to face death, but is also comfortable when John lays his head on his chest. We can see great might and courage in Jesus’ personality, but also countercultural tenderness and intimacy.

 

The queer community has a lot to offer the church. Sure, it means pushing people outside of their comfort zones, but why is that such a bad thing? When the church can esteem my masculinity for who I am in Christ, not for my ability to perform certain cultural expectations, the entire church benefits. Straight men are given freedom to be Christ-like without being seen as pathetic and women are elevated as equal image bearers of God and not seen as inferior or a symbol of weakness. I cannot, and will never fit within any kind of biblical masculinity mold, and I don’t have to. God intends for my life to reflect his son, not some hollow macho ideal I could never attain.

 

Most days I don’t worry how masculine or effeminate I appear to the world around me. It’s subjective and not worth my time or energy. Grace establishes the foundation for the Christian faith. It’s not what I do, but what Christ has done. As Ephesians 2 notes, salvation is not of works lest we should boast. So I don’t need bulging muscles, sporty cars, wilderness survival skills, or an impressive career to matter. I’m thankful for Nate’s reminder that I’m man enough right now and I don’t need to prove anything to God or to the world. I’m free to be vulnerable and I can rest knowing who I am: a beloved son of God.

 

  1. Nate Pyle, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, p. 61.
  2. Ibid, p. 157.

My Sister’s Keeper: A Response to Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist”

 There’s something redemptive about a man affirming the worth of a woman.

I love the way Greg Laswell reinterpreted Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” He stripped away the pop song to reveal the pain hidden within the lyrics. And as he says in the video, it’s a sad song. It’s the pain of a broken woman.

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Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist is like having a conversation with a bosom friend as Anne Shirley would say. I love deep discussions that tackle how theology impacts our daily lives. And that’s what I love about Jesus Feminist. Sarah provides a safe and friendly space to discuss a heated topic. It’s a work of bridge building, and I enthusiastically support those kinds of efforts. We need to be respectfully challenged. Christians may disagree on a woman’s role in the church, but we all can learn from Sarah’s fantastic insights.

 

jesus feminist by sarah bessey

 

When I look at scripture, I see some amazing, countercultural women (Bessey does a great job at examining these mighty ladies of God). Just look at the very first woman, Eve. Made from man, but not designed to be less than Adam. She wasn’t property or a slave. Eve was uniquely designed as a helper. All the rest of creation was unfit to work alongside Adam, but Eve was the perfect pairing—and made community possible.

 

This beautiful community we find in Eden makes me question patriarchy. The curse of the fall required women to be ruled by men. And women in God’s kingdom were given a domestic role in a physical kingdom to ensure Israel survived. But Christianity is no longer a physical empire. It does not grow through sexual reproduction, but through spiritual conversion. The New Testament esteems women as women. They were given amazing rights and privileges that were unheard of during the Roman Empire. Scripture declares that men and women are equal and co-heirs in Christ, echoing back to our status in Eden. Women regain their pre-fallen role of helpers in God’s kingdom and Christianity is far stronger and more effective when both voices work together to bring about shalom—the prospering and redemption of creation.

 

How this works out in the church remains controversial. For minorities, we sometimes feel left with scraps and crumbs–with no voice and no role in the church. Straight men largely determine scriptural interpretation. I don’t want to jump into the other ditch and hate on men, but I am saying straight men have a lot of privileges. As depraved human beings, we don’t handle privileges very well. We’re selfish, greedy, power-hungry, and forgetful. It makes some Christians into jerks. And there’s nothing worse than a jerk who thinks he’s doing God a service.

 

Back when I was a preteen, my denomination was falling apart over the issue of evangelism. Hyper-Calvinists in our churches didn’t believe we should send missionaries to foreign countries. They said it wasn’t scriptural or in keeping with our denomination’s traditions (more of the latter). My church was undecided. But that changed when a woman wrote the pastor. Her letter was reasonable and outlined her beliefs why she believed scripture supported evangelism. It outraged the pastor. He brought the letter to church and showed everyone. Evangelism wasn’t one of our traditions, and neither were women who wrote to their pastors. One woman’s courage was partly responsible for the formation of a new church that enthusiastically supported missionaries.

 

As I’ve grown up in the church, I’ve come across other things that bothered me. I’ve heard a decent amount of crap about women in the pulpit. One time a pastor exhorted women to keep their husbands from stumbling into lust or adultery by giving their men more sex. I walked out. Women often take the blame for a man’s lack of self-control. There’s the sermons on gender roles, “biblical womanhood” and biblical manhood” which supposedly free us, but often enslave men and women in shackles of shame for not meeting up to their pastor’s standards. And as a gay man, I’ve found a lot of sermons on homosexuality to be utterly unhelpful and offensive. I don’t envy pastors. They have a tough job studying scripture to discern what God is telling us today. But sometimes pastors can be presumptuous and arrogant. They take scripture and form their own theories in a void separate of real people and real life. In my experience, most conservatives stick with their own kind and create their own assumptions about those outside the fold.

 

But sometimes the outsiders you fear are right here; in your pew. That intelligent, free-spirited girl that struggles to keep her mouth shut to make you happy. That kind but distant gay guy who doesn’t know how to participate outside the straight paradigm. You think you know them. But they aren’t free to be known in your congregation.

 

woman in church

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user nealebc3

 

Being one of those inside-outsiders, I can say some of those pastoral assumptions wound the soul and take a long time to heal. I’ve become defensive around pastors. Walls fortify my heart; mental filters protect me from anything that might potentially hurt. But a Christian can’t really grow in that kind of environment—LGBT or straight woman. We can’t learn, we just stagnate in bitterness and hide wounds that fester. We need a safe place of vulnerability to God’s Spirit of conviction, because as the old hymn says, we are prone to wander from the God we love. And it’s far easier to wander when you’re alone.

 

Reading Jesus Feminist was a reminder that, yes, I am my brother’s keeper. But I’m also my sister’s keeper. And my sisters, we your brothers have failed you over and over. Men have patronized you, assuming you weren’t smart enough to sit at the table. Or they were so intimidated by your intelligence that they pushed you out. Men have reduced your worth to your beauty and objectified you. Or they made you feel worthless because they didn’t deem you worth a second look. They built a standard no woman could keep up. Men come up with silly ideas that they want respect and women want love. Why can’t you have both? They want to feel powerful, and they don’t like it when you show strength. Your strength is beautiful, because your strength is from the Lord. Not from an immature muscle-man.

 

No, girls. You haven’t been the fortunate ones. Men will take a beautiful girl and hide her, silence her, from the rest of the world. All you wanted was the freedom to feel the warmth of the sun. The freedom to know you matter without a man. The freedom to know you equally reflect God’s image to the world. The freedom to laugh, run, feel, speak in all the beauty of God’s kingdom. To know you belong.

 

I may be one man, but this man is reminding you this: You aren’t alone. I’m taking this journey with you. And you belong, my sisters.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey also blogs here.