Abuses of manliness exist. That’s why the caricatures are so easy to draw. But unless we’re also willing to admit that manliness exists, and that it’s not only approved but commanded by God, we will continue turning the males who attend churches into something God never intended. Oh, they may be gentle, emotionally-expressive, and compliant, all right. They’ll have all the approved traits! But they won’t be men.
A friend of mine on Facebook observed that there seems to be a new procedure for writing on the subject of masculinity: 1.) Pick a typically masculine trait (say, strength). 2.) Create a false dilemma between this trait and an approved trait (say, gentleness). 3.) Pen an article expounding this false dilemma by using corruptions and exaggerations of the masculine trait to prove its incompatibility with the approved trait (for example, “traditionally strong men cannot be gentle”). 4.) Redefine the masculine trait as equivalent to the approved trait (e.g., “The Strongest Men Are Gentle”).
This in fact was the headline of a recent article at Desiring God, which isn’t that bad taken on its own terms, but turns on the bizarre premise that gentleness is in short supply among today’s Christian men (it even includes the awkwardly allusive subheading: “Let’s Bring Gentle Back”).
Here’s the thing: I don’t think gentleness went anywhere. To put it in modest terms, if a visitor from an exoplanet orbiting the hypergiant Arcturus landed in the average evangelical congregation this Sunday, I doubt he would say “Whoa, testosterone overload! It’s like a WWE match in here, you guys need to rediscover gentleness.” On the contrary. Drowning in tensile denim, man-buns, vocal fry and uptalk-inflected sentences that begin almost exclusively with “I feel like,” this extraterrestrial would likely wonder how our species ever found the courage to sail across oceans and colonize new continents, and where we mustered the intestinal fortitude to visit the moon.
All of this makes it even odder that so many Christians are in such a tizzy over “toxic masculinity.” It is, quite obviously to anyone with two working peepers, the vice of which we are least in danger. As premiere news source The Babylon Bee reports, “Least Masculine Society In Human History Decides Masculinity Is A Growing Threat.”
I’m not just picking on one writer, here. Aimee Byrd of Carl Trueman’s popular “Mortification of Spin” podcast recently shared how “triggered” she is by the “pervasive” emphasis on masculinity in the evangelical church. In reaction to a Patheos blog post by one pastor who advised men to give firm handshakes and limit how often they touch other men’s wives, Byrd heaps 1,600 words of scorn and 1950s caricatures on the very idea that we need to raise men to act differently from women. This is the same Aimee Byrd, by the way, who thinks the “Mike Pence Rule” is “pickpocketing purity,” and argues in a recent book that men and women ought to have more frequent and intimate one-on-one friendships with one another (what could go wrong?).