Masculinity and the Emerging Church

One of the unspoken subtexts to the whole emerging church discussion of late has been the issue of masculinity. In some senses this discussion mirrors a wider wrestling going on in contemporary culture about what it is to be male today.

OK remembering that I am speaking in generalizations, so here I go.

On one hand we have one segment of the emerging church, who seems to have taken their cues for new models of masculinity from SNAGS, metrosexuals, and the Neo-Hippies that are to be found across the western world in hipster locales, Bobo neighbourhoods, and latte towns. This model of masculinity is born of a reaction to what is seen as the overly ‘macho’  John Wayne-esque masculinity of previous generations (and some would say evangelicalisms). Thus an attempt is made to live out a softer, more inclusive, more creative, possibly more culturally liberal way of being male.

However many have reacted to this new more sensitive model of masculinity, claiming that this model of masculinity is nothing more than a capitulation to feminism and one of the reasons that the church in the West is floundering. Thus some propose a return to a more manly mode of masculinity. Mark Driscoll writes

“There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

Many (particularly in the emerging reformed camp) have responded to Driscoll’s call for a more macho expression of masculinity. A movement particularly in the United States has sprung up trying to re-masculinize what is seen as a feminized church.  But you see I have a problem with all of this. Both expressions of masculinity seem to me to be inauthentic, both seem to be trying way too hard. 

Both camps have seemingly fallen for what are extremes, what are parodies of gender and masculinity. After over a decade working with youth and young adults you see this all the time in young guys that you disciple. Often guys would come into your church who had not been affirmed in their sense of masculinity. Some, particularly those who had been raised in largely female environments or by violent, angry or emotionally distant fathers would tend to relate to females or other males with the cues that they had learnt from their mothers and the females in their lives. On the other hand, guys who had been affirmed in their masculinity by their fathers but not their mothers, would often attempt to relate to the world through a kind of exaggerated masculinity. Over time you begin to realize that both reactions were simply two responses to young guys feeling insecure about their sense of  masculinity.

On one hand I do think that many guys today have grown up in female only environments, with only mothers, or distant fathers. They go to schools with a majority of female teachers and thus grow up with very few genuine male role models. Thus we have seen the rise of what I call emo-sexuals, that is heterosexual males who relate to females in the way that traditionally females have (just watch the films Garden State or Elizabethtown to see example of the emo-sexual male love story). This has in some situations created environments and practices in Christian culture which alienates some males, and tends to focus on a more feminized theology and praxis.

Yet many of the attempts to reconnect with a genuine sense of masculinity seem trapped in externals and posturing, and seem like surface dressing. I can’t help but feel this as I read Driscoll’s quote. On one hand I agree with him that many in the emerging church ( or should I say emergent church) have unwittingly recast Jesus as some kind of 21st century indecisive inner city hipster in skinny jeans, yet I also cannot buy Jesus as some kind of tattooed, no rules fighter driving a black SUV with a gun rack. Both metaphors seem to be stretching. A recent survey here in Australia surveyed thousands of young men, it found that level to which they drove what were seen as more ‘manly’ cars, the more insecure they were about their masculinity. Thus the more someone talks and makes a deal of their ‘macho-ness’ the more likely they are to be deeply insecure about their sense of being male, and insecure about their interactions with females.

C.S Lewis once said that if you met a truly humble man you would probably not realize it, he would just be a pleasant guy who would not be prattling on about how truly humble he is. I think that when you meet men who are truly comfortable with their sense of masculinity you would not realize it because they would not be showing how macho they were by outward displays of faux-masculinity. When I think of men who are comfortable in their sense of masculinity, I think of men who are equally comfortable in relating to both men and women, who can be strong, decisive and responsible, who  yet also creative, nuturing and caring, who are not afraid to tell it how it is with fire and brimstone, yet who are also comes with a gentle, inclusive word. You know, kind of like that guy, what’s his name? Oh yeah Jesus.


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