Spiritual Fruit — Masculine? Feminine? Or Simply Christlike?

“The church’s tendency to define and highlight gender distinctions between men and women, both in its structure and teachings, often leave us with confusing, harmful, and unbiblical understandings of masculinity, femininity, and Christian virtues.”

(Lisa Baumert, Wheaton College, quoted in Arise e-magazine, July 14, 2010)

Nowhere is this more true than in discussions of the Spiritual fruit described in Galatians 5, the preaching of which is part of every pastor’s arsenal and the actual demonstration of which often cause for great consternation, insofar as genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, mercy and self-control appear the primary culprit in what masculinists lament as the “feminization” of the Church.

In her discussion of the arbitrary, culturally-conditioned designations of the masculine and the feminine within the life of the Body, Baumert continues with an evaluation of the “macho Jesus” heralded by pastors who decry this “feminization.” Unfortunately for them and for the Gospel, “feminization” is what they seem to think happens when a Church reflects the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Biblical evidence of a Spirit-filled life too seen these days as ineffably “soft” when expressed corporately. And masculinist pastors join their congregations, as Baumert notes, in blindly assigning these characteristics to the “feminine” side of both the human heart and the church aisle, leaving a vacuum for corresponding “masculine” fruit of their own design. These guardians of Godly masculinity leap on the fear of looking less than masculine, hoping to stanch this perceived flow of the feminine in our sanctuaries and multi-purpose rooms, Bible studies and sacraments. This, as if most of the problems in the world didn’t somehow stem from an excessive, warped masculinity, just as most men’s sinfulness is manifested in an imbalance of the masculine and a diminishment of the feminine that inevitably results in a rejection of the truly Christlike. A guy might be confronted by his brothers in his struggle with pornography or rebuked for his crude treatment of his wife, but he generally remains in the “guy fold” as long as he steadfastly avoids the too-exuberant embrace of his accountability partner or the insightful, public examination of his emotional hurts.

This is what leads to Cage-Fighting For Jesus, evangelism via phone-book ripping, and anguished cries for a church experience that’s “relevant” to guys, men whose ineffable dudeship must be respected — so say the masculinist pastors — before we can ever hope to have them follow the Lord, Savior, and Guy-Christ of the Bible. (In response to concerns that cage-fighting is gratuitously violent and therefore an inappropriate pasttime for Christian men, which would have seemed evident in Christ’s day, one Tough Guy Pastor insists that because the word originates from “violation,” it’s not “violent” when two buds willingly go at it ’til one of them is down; it’s only a “violation” if someone beats the crap out of another guy without his OK, a distinction lost both to common sense and a confused world).

But this insistence that men find the Church too soft, too gentle, too girly, puts those pastors terrified of the feminine in a real bind. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t an option for the believer; it isn’t a persona donned for Sunday mornings along with khakis, sweater vests, and Merrells. The Word says that the Fruit is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in the believer’s life, male and female, and is an expected product of Christian maturity; that a clear demonstration, much less an abundance, of this Fruit looks “feminine” to some pastors, instead of looking simply “Christian,” leads to desperate attempts either to re-cast the Fruit as “masculine,” or add to the God-breathed list other characteristics more familiar to The Dudes Among Us. This presumably is necessary so that men don’t turn into effeminate, sentimental pushovers who, if not themselves ashamed of the Gospel, nonetheless bring shame to their testosterone-drunk pastors, who take an odd sort of pride in their determination never to hug other guys lest they look fruity rather than fruitful.

Unfortunately, a “masculine” expression of love, or joy, or patience, or kindness, looks astonishingly like . . . well, every other expression of love, joy, patience and kindness. The Fruit — the term must be kept in the singular; it’s not a smorgasbord — isn’t gender-specific, nor is it gender-differentiated. The circumstances might be, but the expression itself isn’t. My husband might demonstrate kindness to someone in need by changing their tire; I might cook them a meal. Sometimes, Jeff might extend an embrace, while I might offer necessary rebuke. Neither of us then experiences a weakening or wavering of our inherent ontology. We’re just acting like Jesus, who sometimes acted less than what we see now as masculine, what with the tears, the maternal imagery, the reclining on the breast of the disciple, and that sort of thing.

It’s safe to say that Jesus would not make other guys today feel comfortable, unless, of course, they re-design him according to a template not from the Word but from the world — less Nazarene, more NASCAR, perhaps.

The masculinist pastors have a problem, and the solution often involves rounding up muscle-bound Christian guys to tear up phone books on the altar while pastors pepper their sermons with tavern-appropriate swear words, Mark Driscoll-style. Under the guise of “saving guys’ souls,” they carefully hammer the message of the Gospel into a tool that respects masculinity and looks little like Christianity. What’s wrought by a masculinist ecclesiology, a macho evangelism, is something that highlights the tough, just because it’s tough, rather than highlighting the Christlike — in the same way wrenches or saws won’t ever be mistaken for tweezers or nail files, and are assumed to always be the better tools whose use, regardless of the job, is always deemed the better choice.

May God be praised that this sinful world offers myriad opportunities to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Some will present themselves more readily, because of situations and not ontology, to women than to men — and vice-versa. Nonetheless, we are not at liberty to re-define the list of Spiritual Fruit, nor add to it more “masculine” traits so that men feel at home. God spoke clearly on this one; he speaks just as clearly every time a man demonstrates peace, self-control, patience and goodness without regard to how his behavior corresponds to societal views of masculinity. That sort of behavior reminds him, I think, of his own Son.

Pastors who worry about how to get guys into church and how to get them to stay even when there’s a game on need to remember that no spiritual good ever came from attracting men by assuring them that their sinful traits aren’t cause for repentance but are, in reality, just hallmarks of being guys. We don’t evangelize the thief by promising him a dip in the treasury, nor seek the porn addict by offering free Wi-Fi. In the same way, it’s wrong — not just poor evangelism, but dead wrong — to try to attract men by highlighting a supposed masculinity that mirrors the “culture gone haywire” of the Fall rather than true Christian character.

One Response to “Spiritual Fruit — Masculine? Feminine? Or Simply Christlike?”

  1. Ashwin says:

    Regarding your thoughts on Marc Driscoll and the other “masculine” churches trying to attract men, here are a couple of verses for you.

    I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.

    And also Philippians 1:18
    But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

    And finally just as a reminder from our Lord here is Matthew 7:1-5:
    “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

    God bless!

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