The Masculinity of Jesus . . . Wasn’t “Masculinity” (Part One)

Yesterday greeted the evangelical community and the media that watches them with the exciting announcement from a retired Army general that Jesus was, in fact, a “man’s man,” with “big ole bulging veins” and muscles, a trim waist, and broad, strong shoulders.  He was not, the audience at the annual Men’s International Prayer Breakfast was assured, the “effeminate” Jesus that the Church has presented — the one who so repels modern men.

And the crowd inside shouted a hearty, masculine, “Amen,” although my guess is that there was some consternation among the attendees, given that very few were likely to match their Savior’s body type and fewer still were comfortable applauding the chiseled form of another man.

But while the evangelical guys in attendance were applauding and sucking in their collective guts, the rest of the world was howling.  In a world where questions of sexuality and gender, maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity, are discussed and debated and most often rejected as hopelessly anachronistic, here was a controversial, uber-patriarchal evangelical Army man sneering at a contemporary evangelical portrayal of Jesus as someone that he, the General, just wouldn’t want to hang around with — soft, tender, effeminate, and hopelessly out of touch with his own masculinity.  No wonder so many guys don’t like going to church, the General boomed.  Who wants to hang out with — which we charitably here presume means “abide in” — a guy like THAT?  Reports indicate that he was met with thunderously masculine applause.

Ahhh, revival.  Such a wondrous thing.

But what’s being “revived” here is the pernicious Victorian Christian emphasis on Jesus’ maleness (his sex) and his masculinity (his gender) that swept the American Church when those dainty ladies of the era left their proper sphere of home and hearth and began rocking their communities and congregations with astonishing displays of the Holy Spirit’s power.  As is the way of masculinity, no thought toward the righteousness of their actions and beliefs was given before the preaching patriarchs of the day condemned them, the work they did, and the soft, sentimental, unmanly climate that presumably spawned the horrors of such things as women preaching, women evangelizing, women teaching, and women setting the world around them on its religious and cultural rear end.  Soon, women were ushered back to where, God be praised, they refused to remain, and rugged men of chest remade the Body of Christ into a hearty and hideous masculinist parody of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom it announces.

Men retook their pulpits and pews, developed weak and piteous arguments against women’s involvement in ecclesiastical matters, and inflamed those teachings into a dominant evangelical culture that rewarded stubbornness and certainty, independence and competition, hierarchy and dominion, and law over grace.  As the First Wave of feminism spread throughout a culture steeped in and sickened by political and social patriarchy, the Church clamped down harder, refusing women the exercise of the gifts God had given them and cursing by its actions the legacy of centuries of strong, beautiful, passionately gifted sisters before it.  Men were called “back” to “Biblical headship” in their homes and women were called back to the pews and out of the pulpits, back to their kitchens and out of the meeting rooms, and back to silence and out of positions of influence in home and in society, but especially in their Church.  And while the rest of the world was accommodating the advances gained by women, if not necessarily grateful for their presence, the Church in the United States clung to sinful masculinism, applauded the harm wrought by patriarchy, congratulated its men on their status in the world and rebuked its women for daring to aspire to any status not dependent on their wombs, and decided to cooperate with Satan by attempting to win the world for the Savior with half of its strength and twice the bluster of the sinful world around it.

Around the turn of the last century, of course, the culture soon to be lost by the Church was in turmoil, and blaming soft men for unladylike women was easier, given that most of the society around it was still unfamiliar with the presence of women in positions of leadership in the home and out.  As women began finding freedom in the world around them and shedding the fetters of patriarchy, many of them, confident of the promise of Jesus in the Gospels that there were, in His Church, to be no division between rich and poor, slave and free, and men and women, flocked to evangelical congregations that welcomed their pies and their childcare skills but objected to their voices and their ideas.  But as the women’s movement grew, the men of the Church, enjoying their taste of power and influence in a burgeoning culture, clamped down on the role of women within its doors.  Let the gals of Babylon take over business and leave their children in daycare, the patriarchs bellowed — we keep ours where God intended.  And if the world around us mocks our truculence and marvels at our impotence, they said, then Hallelujah!  After all, persecution is a sign of the Church’s obedience and God’s approval.  How great, they wondered, must be the blessings of God that the world beyond the church’s door finds the people inside hopelessly irrelevant.

And so, then and now, the Church limps along, bringing the knife of masculinist voices to a cultural gunfight and tying one arm of female strength behind it as it grapples with a fully-equipped enemy.  That the world around it marvels that the Church would overthrow the entirety of the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ — and call itself faithful — while clinging to three or four dissonant verses in the New Testament easily understood and accepted once examined bothers it not.  Indeed, the patriarchs widen their stance, adjust their belt buckles, clear their throats, and confidently, absurdly, defend what empowers them, promotes them, and assures their positions of prominence wherever they go, insisting that the voices of women and men in their own congregations are hopelessly contaminated by the culture around them.  They gorge themselves on testosterone and congratulate themselves on remaining “true Christians” as they systematically mock the Fruit of the Holy Spirit that, when evinced among other men, looks effeminate and sissyfied.  And they watch their sisters in Christ walk out the door in disgust or wither on the vine in despair, offering only rebuke and remonstration, always speaking, never listening, never hearing, never feeling, knowing much and yet utterly lacking in wisdom.

These are the men who need a big tough guy who tells them that the Savior they worship is as big and tough as he is.  They deserve your anger, your rejection; they need your prayers and deserve your pity.  For the One they call Lord stands in judgment of this world and holds the keys to the next, and when His Church deliberately wanders from the truth He established, no amount of muscle, no amount of bluster, no amount of power, will open the gates that Jesus Himself has declared off-limits to those who seek the world and still pretend they adhere to the Way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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