American evangelical men face a strange double bind when it comes to masculinity. On one hand, they are called to eschew the broader culture’s image of men proving their worth through sexual promiscuity and collection of material wealth. However, walk into any evangelical bookstore and you will find numerous resources purporting to be the definitive guide on how to be a “real” man.
Even those outside of the world of Evangelicalism have heard Mark Driscroll bragging about how his Jesus can beat up your Jesus in the Mixed Martial Arts ring. More recently, John Piper has stated that G-d means for Christianity and the church to be masculine. This undue elevation of masculinity within the Church both marginalizes women and forces men into a one size fits all way of living.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a person adhering to the gender roles society prescribes to them because of their genetic makeup. By all means, men who enjoy tossing footballs in muddy fields and women who find contentment in baking cookies do not need to change their actions. The problem comes when these roles are unquestionably sanctified into a dividing line between those who fall into the category of a good Christian and those who are reprobate sinners.
Cedarville is not immune to this phenomenon. Whether it be chapel speakers urging the men in the audience to shout out their call to greatness (as opposed to the women’s call to domesticity?) because they happen to possess a Y chromosome, or weeks devoted to teaching students how to “man up,” the university has done its fair share of strengthening the connection between socially constructed gender roles and biological sex.
Oftentimes, those who want to support masculine gender roles point to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter and his encounter with the moneychangers at the temple as Biblical evidence for their definition of masculinity. This paints a very one sided portrait of Jesus’ character though. His earthly ministry was marked by a radical compassion and empathy, traits that during his time—and even in many areas of society today—were viewed as feminine characteristics. Jesus wept. He did not come in order to provide a norm of masculinity, but to provide a vision of perfected humanity in all aspects, encapsulating both the masculine and the feminine.
Even the attribution of a purely masculine persona onto G-d is problematic. While Yahweh is traditionally referred to using male pronouns, G-d is pure spirit and thus transcends gender. Oftentimes, focus is put on the masculine metaphors of father, king and warrior in the Bible. However, G-d is also compared to a mother (Hosea 11:3-4, Isaiah 66:13, Psalm 131:2), a queen (Jeremiah 44:25) and a midwife (Psalm 22:9-10, Psalm 71:6, Isaiah 66:9).
Most importantly, both men and women exhibit the image of G-d. Most conservative interpreters of the creation story emphasize that in Genesis 1:27, G-d created humans as male and female. However, they gloss over the crucial fact that both male and female are primarily created in the image of G-d. Thus, we can find G-d’s image within women just as clearly as we can find it within men. If our view of G-d consists only of masculine qualities, then we miss half of G-d’s being.
Instead of spending so much time and energy focusing on how to be good men or good women in evangelicalism, maybe we should instead focus on being good followers of Christ’s example regardless of whether we were born male, female or intersex. Yes, intersex; google that if it’s a new concept for you. Let us continue his work of breaking down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, the powerful and the oppressed, male and female. For in the end, the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our life is not based on how well we ascribe to cultural gender molds. It is demonstrated by the presence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our everyday interactions.