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Volume 14, Issue 3: Recipio

Pickled Masculinity

Ben Merkle

Laments over the emasculation of the Church are common enough. Unfortunately, actual answers are fairly rare. One difficulty in addressing the issue is that of the definition itself. We frequently allow our definition of what constitutes masculinity to be set by the world. In general, if a crowd of young Christian men are asked, "What constitutes masculinity?" the answer given will, if chased far enough down the road, amount to apostasy. For instance, the proverbial "guy movie" represents a conception of masculinity that Christians unthinkingly imbibe. And yet, the hero of the proverbial guy movie is devoted to adultery, fornication, drunkenness, and violence motivated by the wrath of man which does not produce the righteousness of God. In other words, the central characteristic of our masculine heroes is that of apostasy. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that apostasy is manly.

By allowing the world to define masculinity for us we have put the boys growing up within our congregations in an awkward bind. We paint them a picture of masculine apostasy and effeminate fidelity and ask them to choose. The typical thirteen-year-old covenant member is given one of two roads to take—apostasy or castration—leaving us with a Church full of good but neutered boys,
while those treasuring the Y-chromosome head for the kegger.
But sooner or later many of those who initially opted for the masculinity of apostasy are hunted down by their consciences, and, under the prodding of the Spirit, reluctantly abandon their lives of sin, returning to the Church. After years of rebellious living, they are finally willing to pay the price of castration to be brought back into the fellowship of the Church. However, although they have finally succumbed to the feminization of the Church by abandoning their apostasy, they are not put back into quite the same category as the rest of the boys. Because of their past apostasy, they will always have bragging rights. When it comes time to tell "manly" stories around the campfire, they will always have the best ones, because they were apostate. If someone points out the effeminate religion that they currently subscribe to, they will always be able to tell stories about "back in the day." "Yes, it's true that I cry like a little girl at church now, but there was a time when I was a real hell-raiser."
The result is the ability to preserve the masculinity of one's apostasy by pickling it in the form of a testimony. This gives at least one explanation of the prominent fixation that evangelicals have for giving their testimonies. For many men, it is the only proof that they have left of their gender. But this creates a self-perpetuating cycle. The next crop of boys growing up in youth group will be raised listening to the stories of pagan debauchery, and day dreaming of the time when they too will be able to impress the crowds with stories of wild sin.
This wrongheaded view of masculinity perpetuates itself in the same manner as the US Post Office, by eliminating competition. Since the Church offers no picture of biblical masculinity, the Church is doomed to have her boys follow after pagan role models. But the solution is simple. The Church must cultivate a sense of biblical masculinity. The Church must make it possible to be both masculine and faithful. If we refuse to allow masculinity within the Church, we can't be surprised by the spiritual sterility of our young men.
Churches must be able to paint a picture of thoroughly biblical masculinity. This means that we must reconsider the attributes that we will admire in our young men. For instance, Proverbs tells us that "the glory of young men is their strength" (Prov. 20:29). Do we reward strength in our boys? Or do we soften them with pity? Do we teach them to loath the sins that will attack their strength, like laziness, gluttony, and sexual sin? Or do we paper over these sins and pretend that they are the Christian virtues of meekness and tender-heartedness? If the Church is going to have an answer to pagan masculinity, it must understand what godly strength looks like and how to cultivate it in young men.
But personal virtues, virtues that stand off in the corner by themselves, are not enough. Godly masculinity is infectious. We pride our boys for having said "no" to drugs and then walking away, as if "able to resist peer pressure" was the highest praise we could possibly give a boy. We praise a boy's godliness because he saved his own hide and abandoned the rest. But that's not godliness, that's premillenialism. Iron sharpens iron, it doesn't walk away. Notice again how we have conceded that masculinity is the world's virtue. We have assumed that only the pagans can be granted the weight of peer pressure and that the godly boys must always be sitting quietly, with hands nicely folded in laps. We must teach our boys to demand that faithful Christianity be the standard that their peer groups are held to.
It is frightening how far the metaphor of emasculation can be applied. One of the things that necessarily goes with emasculation is sterility. And oddly enough, one thing that becomes immediately apparent in churches that have no sense of biblical masculinity is the fact that those churches can't reproduce. The casualty rate in modern evangelical youth groups is frightening. Evangelicalism, like homosexuality, has become an impotent religion. This is a hard providence for a faith founded on generational blessings. But we must remember that the promise of a thousand generations was given in the last place we would have expected, a hundred-year-old man, well past his years of potency. This tells us that our repentance, like all good things, must begin with faith.

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