In my previous post and poll I talked about the fact that gender has been argued to be either a product of biological factors, sociocultural factors or some mix of the two. I also presented a pair of married Christian authors who suggested God was also involved and use both factors to author human sexuality.
The majority people voted that gender and sexuality was a net sum or some even balance between the nature and nurture. Close to that were people who though biological factors were primarily responsible for gender. Only one person voted that gender was primarily constructed by social influences. (The poll is still open so these numbers might change.)
Personally, I believe that sociocultural factors do have a significant part to play in gender formation in human beings. What our culture, our society, our friends, our parents, and our religious communities teach us overtly and covertly about masculinity and femininity inform our self-understanding and the expectations regarding our behavior and thinking.
A very simple example of this is that if I grew up in a culture that celebrates men who are unemotional (labeling them “a man’s man” or a “real mensch”), and chastises men who are emotional (calling them “sissies”, “women” etc.) this encourages me to believe that part of masculinity is being unemotional. If I believe I am a male, then this means that I should be unemotional and encourages me to live in line with that.
In light of this I believe the church needs to come up with an answer for this question: What is Christian masculinity and Christian femininity?
As part of the sociocultural influence on people, the church has a part to play in its members’ gender formation. What we communicate about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman influences those in our pews and in our pulpits. What’s more is we have a special place in people’s lives as the church, especially to very young children, speak for God himself.
For example the pastor of my home church, Pastor Rick Countryman, is very physically strong and he goes to the gym a lot. He has occasionally referenced this in his sermons and it is obvious that he is physically fit. More often than he has talked about working out at the gym he has talked openly about his struggle with depression and asks for prayer for encouragement when he hits a hard time. He, because he is a male and a leader, is communicating (intentionally or unintentionally) characteristics of Christian masculinity to the congregants. I am grateful that this is a rather balanced portrait overall.
Another example is what the church does when it splits the sexes, such as events planned only for men and events planned only for women. Men’s retreats (Or as some church now put it “Men’s advances…because men don’t retreat, they advance”) are often centered around sports (such as golf), hiking, fishing or other outdoor activities. Women’s retreats in contrast are usually much more relational in nature (often involving some speaker and or small group discussion), reflective, and usually have nothing to do with any kind of organized or rigorous physical activity. This again communicates to everyone what a man or a woman should be or at the very least should be interested in.
Before I would like to start on discussion what the Church should and should not communicate regarding this issue, I would like to know what people currently have experienced from the church. What has the church communicated to you about what a man or a woman should be like? What are some of the messages you’ve heard from Christians on this issue? What scripture passages or books were referenced?
Kevin, I really enjoy your search. For me, I don’t remember hearing much about roles as a youth growing up Catholic; as an adult, in conservative evangelical churches, most teaching focused on women being submissive. I remember only 1-2 sermons focused on men’s roles or behaviors. THIS I believe had led to much of the male dominance and passivity of Christian men. Changes are greatly needed. Keep up the good work.
Feel free to disregard my comment, I’m sure you’ll find it an outlier. 🙂
In the various churches I’ve been in (Mennonite, Dunkard Brethren, BCF and to a very small extent GB)there is emphasis on the distinct roles that men and women have. There is talk of submission of women to their own husbands, husbands to love their wives and mutual submission as well. Now that is the talk. But practically what I’ve seen is that women can pretty much do whatever they want and get away with it — their husbands usually bear the brunt of responsibility when it comes to consequences of their actions (if there are any).
Within these communities what I see feminine ideals promoted are hospitality, hard work, kindness, emphasis on running the home, patience, it’s ok for women to be concerned about beauty looks, but not obsessed. Masculine ideals are hard work, value kindness (but minor displays of anger/impatience are ok), bearing up under hardship, aren’t supposed to care about looks. While both sexes are expected to be devout, men are expected to take a more active and public role in understanding and explaining the Scriptures (preaching/teaching).
In some ways there is not a lot of difference between what is expected of the genders. I’ve never once heard anyone say “men shouldn’t cry”
–I grew up with ministers crying from the pulpit.
Briefly here’s what I’ve picked up on the churches I’ve attended:
A man is supposed to be a leader a provider and the spiritual head of the house.
A woman is supposed to be patiently waiting for that man to pick her and then she will become the spiritual leader of the children she will be expected to raise as a stay at home mother.
Men are most definitely encouraged to have emotions when it comes to the spirit moving them but nothing else that I’ve seen.
Women are supposed to be submissive, being assertive can be seen as a sign that a woman is not ready to be married and apparently that’s the most important test, whether or not a woman is ready to be married.
The church has told me a lot of things about what I am as a man and what I should be. They’ve told me that I am sex-crazed and that I need to stay as far away from girls as possible or I will sleep with them and maybe even rape them. That’s not much of an exaggeration. In high school I saw adults in the church consistently treat young men with sexual suspicion. I remember during one of many youth group guys/girls talks we were told that as men we were more visual and thought about sex more than women. The girls in the youth group needed to dress more modestly or they would cause our inner sexual monsters to come out. It was irrelevant how guys dressed of course, because girls were only objects of the sexual desires of men, not sexual beings in their own right.
As far as what I should be — some in the church have told me that I am a barbarian who needs to be tamed. Then others have told me that I’m ‘Wild at Heart’ and need to let out my repressed man and go rescue a beauty (gag). The Wild at Heart business has been especially prominent in my circles. I stay away from most Men’s Ministry stuff, because in an attempt to be ‘relevant’ to men there ends up being an emphasis on sports and other ‘manly’ topics and activities. As a pacifist vegetarian who hates sports I don’t really fit into the stereotype that such ministries are trying to reach. To be honest, I would rather go on a woman’s retreat. I resent one version of American masculinity being sanctified.
As for women — I’ve heard young girls told by men and women that being a biblical woman means learning how to submit, and that they won’t be happy until they do.
Personally, I’ve come to the point where I have virtually no interest in learning about being a ‘biblical’ man. I don’t want to hear any more baptized Men are From Mars Women are From Venus nonsense in church. I’m more interested in my church teaching me what is means to be a disciple of Christ, regardless of what sex organ happens to lie below my belt.
I guess I can think back to Bethel, and through my time at APU.
I never encountered “men who cry are sissies” type of treatment when I was Bethel. In fact, everybody seemed to love the one assistant pastor who did for that reason. I can’t remember any intentional emphasis on team sports or physical activity. Though, Bruce Bradford and a few pastors worked out regularly. This did not feel like an imposition on me, since I like to work out.
One thing that stands out was feeling like that we were expected to be a-sexual. I feel like responses to physical attractiveness was really looked down upon. Any sex-thought was a bad thought by virtue of it being sexual. There were plenty of lists of inappropriate things that one could door in regards to relationships and such, but to this day I cannot remember ever hearing a single positive thing said about male-sexuality.
Since APU and such I have attended Christian traditions that affirm a kind of gender egalitarianism. Even if the they only recognize male pastors, I am used to seeing women in almost any other role. I have never been in a church where I have felt that gender roles needed to be “enforced.” I would likely feel uncomfortable if I was in one.
The few books I’ve read on “Men’s Issues” in church tend to emphasize the virtues and need for adulthood. One-on-one mentoring seems to be a big deal. “To own a Dragon” comes to mind. I remember listening to one preacher described the “biblical man” and held up a businesses man-enterpuener as an archetype. He described the “Put First Things First” chapter from “7 Habits of Highly effective people” (but without citation or credit). Good advice, for certain, but it is hardly from the Bible…
Having just read James’ comments, I can agree with much of what he said. Especially the superficiality of “Wild-at-Heart.”
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I don’t know if you are still active in this post? I’m going for it anyway. I’m researching the influence of Christian meaning in gender-roles/identity… I have to say it’s somewhat of an uphill battle. I’ve spoken with many many people, both males and females from different Christian-based churches, and done so much research my head is spinning.
I’m really curious if you have any more to add to this discussion after (almost) two years? Do have have more insight into what meaning Christianity brings to your experience as a man? The fact that you have thought about the Christianity-gender role/identity relationship is remarkable to me… I have run into very few Christian men (including pastors) who have given time to this. Thanks-you so much for your posts!
Oddly enough I was just thinking about doing another post or update to this as it has come up again. I recently went to a Men’s group at my church and what it means to be a Christian man came up again. I’ll re-read what I wrote and probably do another post in the next several days. I’ll link it here if and when I do.
And thanks for the encouragement. Like most of my life gender issues are not something I thought about growing up but it was something worth thinking about because it informs how I understand and treat other people. As a follower of Jesus, it I should make sure that this area of my life is surrendered to Christ and not just “the way things are and have always been.”