The Evangelical Manliness Crisis(?)

Evangelicals are in a manliness crisis!

The problem permeates our whole view of Christianity, and we all know it. The evangelical church in America has become too–

My guess is half of you would say the church is too macho, and the other half would say it isn’t macho enough. Depending on the blog you read, the book that just launched, or the last guy you passed on the sidewalk, evangelicalism is either brimming with cavemen or castrati.

Not to get too analytical, but they can’t both be true. How can we have two opposite crises at the same time? Some thoughts:

  1. First Draft. At first, I had a great plan for this article. I was going to argue that the church kept swinging back and forth on manliness. In elementary school, it was afraid of manliness, in high school, it was obsessed with it, in college it was…you get the idea. So I started writing about how my boyhood church was too soft.

I would explain how Sunday school Jesus was a nice man with a big smile and a pet lamb, and how our only lesson was being nice and gentle too. Then I’d explain how this skewed version of manliness impacted high school.

There was only one problem with this draft: it wasn’t true.

  1. On second thought. Try as I might, I couldn’t name any example of  “emasculated evangelicalism” growing up. Sure, I could spin things–Sunday school Jesus for example. But that was more a matter of age than manliness–I was four, and that simple lesson was all I could handle.

In elementary school, my Sunday school teacher was a former wrestler. He taught us about David’s mighty men and Samson’s jawbone, and then we’d have foot races in the church lot. That sounds pretty manly. If I wanted, I could spin that to argue that my childhood was too obsessed with manliness.

  1. Narrative Flair. So how could I take a childhood with normal levels of manliness, and twist it to fit either side’s story? Narrative.

Anyone who’s watched tv with me knows that narrative might be the thing I like to complain about the most1. Look at political debates. The words the candidates say mean nothing–what matters is the narratives that emerge from them. In a rational world, we would all note that in one debate Rubio struggled to answer some attacks from Christie. Sure, we’d say, he had one bad exchange, but that doesn’t really reveal anything important about the campaign. It certainly doesn’t reflect on how he’d be as President. But none of that mattered. The narrative was entrenched: Christie DESTROYED Rubio! Rubio’s campaign is in crisis!

Sports are the same way. For years, the narrative was that Tom Brady was a winner and Peyton Manning wasn’t. The reasoning? Brady had a better playoff record. Again, that’s dumb. Football has eleven players on the field, and lots of things influence playoff games beyond quarterback play. Playoff records are, at best, statistical curiosities from a short sample size. Then Peyton goes out with a Super Bowl thanks to a great defense, and the narrative flips–Peyton has a better record against Brady in the playoffs! Now he’s more clutch! Objectively, this is all ridiculous2. But logic and perspective don’t matter: it’s all narrative.

So what does all this narrative mean for manliness?

  1. Dueling narratives. The one thing evangelicals agree on is that there’s a manliness crisis. But what that crisis is depends on who you’re talking to. Growing up, that made things complicated. Sometimes–like when I was talking to a youth pastor, or rock climbing with a girl–it meant I had to pretend to be manly. Other times, like when I was in college and trying to convince hipster girls I was sensitive, it meant pretending that manliness was offensive. But that’s a story for another blog post3.

So where does this leave us?  For one thing, sweeping generalizations are never correct4. It’s easy to make grand diagnoses of problems that infect every part of the church. It’s a great way to sell books. But it’s usually not the best way to arrive at truth. And, as you’ll see in my next post, buying into one of the extreme narratives only leads to humiliation5.

____________

1  But in my defense, I’m probably right.
2  Even though I have used that exact argument before…
3 Yes, that’s a teaser.
4  Yay for irony!
5  Yes, that’s also a teaser.

Photo credit: Morten Christiansen

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